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I Owe You One: A Novel
Author:Sophie Kinsella

‘Oh, yes. Very. Extremely. He was super-healthy. He was amazing. He was …’

I can’t help it, I’m already reaching for my phone. My father was so handsome. Dr Bamford needs to see, to realize. When I meet people who never knew my father I feel a weird kind of rage almost, that they never saw him, never felt that firm, inspiring handshake, that they don’t understand what has been lost.

He looked like Robert Redford, people used to say. He had that glow. That charisma. He was a golden man, even as he aged, and now he’s been taken from us. And even though it’s been two years, I still wake up some days and just for a few seconds I’ve forgotten, until it hits me in the guts again.

Dr Bamford studies the photo of my father and me. It’s from my childhood – I found the print after he died and I scanned it into my phone. My mother must have taken it. Daddy and I are sitting outside on the terrace of my old family home, underneath the magnolia. We’re laughing at some joke I don’t remember and the dappled summer sun is burnishing both our fair heads.

I watch Dr Bamford carefully for his reaction, wanting him to exclaim, ‘What a terrible loss to the world, how did you bear it?’

But of course he doesn’t. The longer you’ve been bereaved, I’ve noticed, the more muted the reaction you’ll get from the average stranger. Dr Bamford just nods. Then he hands the phone back and says, ‘Very nice. Well, you clearly take after your healthy relatives. Barring accidents, I predict nice long lives for both of you.’

‘Excellent!’ says Dan. ‘That’s what we want to hear!’

‘Oh, we’re all living far longer these days.’ Dr Bamford beams kindly at us. ‘That’s my field of interest, you know, longevity. Life expectancy is going up every year. But the world really hasn’t cottoned on to the fact. The government … industry … pension companies … none of them has properly caught up.’ He laughs gently. ‘How long, for example, do you expect to live, the pair of you?’

‘Oh.’ Dan hesitates. ‘Well … I don’t know. Eighty? Eighty-five?’

‘I’d say ninety,’ I chime in boldly. My granny died when she was ninety, so surely I’ll live as long as her?

‘Oh, you’ll live beyond a hundred,’ says Dr Bamford, sounding assured. ‘A hundred and two, maybe. You …’ He eyes Dan. ‘Maybe shorter. Maybe a hundred.’

‘Life expectancy hasn’t gone up that much,’ says Dan sceptically.

‘Average life expectancy, no,’ agrees Dr Bamford. ‘But you two are way above average in health terms. You look after yourselves, you have good genes … I fully believe that you will both hit one hundred. At least.’

He smiles benevolently as though he’s Father Christmas giving us a present.


I try to imagine myself aged 102. I never thought I’d live that long. I never thought about life expectancy, full stop. I’ve just been going with the flow.

‘That’s something!’ Dan’s face has brightened. ‘A hundred years old!’

‘I’ll be a hundred and two,’ I counter with a laugh. ‘Get me with my super-long life!’

‘How long did you say you’ve been married?’ says Dr Bamford. ‘Seven years?’

‘That’s right.’ I beam at him. ‘Together for ten.’

‘Well, just think what good news this is.’ Dr Bamford twinkles in delight. ‘You should have another sixty-eight more wonderful years of marriage!’



My smile kind of freezes. The air seems to have gone blurry. I’m not sure I can breathe properly.


Did he just say …

Sixty-eight more years of marriage? To Dan?

I mean, I love Dan and everything, but …

Sixty-eight more years?

‘I hope you’ve got plenty of crossword puzzles to keep you going!’ The doctor chortles merrily. ‘You might want to save up some of your conversations. Although there’s always the TV!’ Clearly he thinks this is hilarious. ‘There are always box sets!’

I smile weakly back and glance at Dan to see if he’s appreciating the joke. But he seems in a trance. He’s dropped his empty plastic water glass on the floor without even noticing. His face is ashen.

‘Dan.’ I nudge his foot. ‘Dan!’

‘Right!’ He comes to, and gives me a rictus smile.

‘Isn’t that great news?’ I manage. ‘Sixty-eight more years together! That’s just … I mean … Lucky us!’

‘Absolutely,’ says Dan in a strangled, desperate voice. ‘Sixty-eight years. Lucky … us.’