Thirty-Five by G.P. Ching
‘Dandelion Seeds’ by OpenCage
Thirty-five. It’s the magic number, the age when the biological clock strikes midnight and everything changes. After thirty-five the chance of conceiving naturally plummets by fifty percent, a down-syndrome baby is twice as likely and overall, mother nature wreaks havoc on the entire baby-making process.
I am 33. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
This blind date, this rendezvous, is important. It is silver sling back heels and backless dress, nothing-to-eat-but-salad-for-three-days important.
“A doctor!” my mother says, in that high-pitched way of slathering surprise and hope over the gritty residue of disappointment. Never mind that I am a doctor with a staff and clientele and this is the reason I haven’t been on a date in three years.
Still, it is not enough until there are grandchildren.
In my mother’s era, I would be considered a spinster and given private lessons to learn how to become marriageable material. A decade before that, I would be a lost cause.
This date may be my last chance.
I arrive at the restaurant and am pleased that my girlfriend did not exaggerate the qualities of my date: an elegant design of height and muscle, a dark temptation. My imagination wanders. The maître d’ seats us near the window and I can’t escape the fairy tale ambiance, like we are the picture that comes with the frame. But, every date I go on feels like a cardboard cut out of real life; I’m talking but my mind is elsewhere, long bored with the weather and the history of the restaurant. Plastic smiles and artificial egos flow freely but no spark.
I’m much more interested in the old woman who walks through the door and sits down at the table next to us. The maître d’ missed her entrance, distracted by another guest. When she pours sweetener and then cream into a glass of water, stirring it with a knife, tastes her concoction and announces, “The coffee here is terrible,” I smile, but my date, the doctor, looks annoyed. He motions for the maître d’ and tries to distract me from the woman by asking about my family. But, she has my eye.
“When do we open presents?” she asks me. Smile lines decorate foggy green eyes. Wrapping her plate in the linen napkin, the area under her elbow becomes of particular concern to her and she nestles and rocks what she sees there in the emptiness. “We’d better hurry,” she announces, “My baby will wake up any minute now.”
The doctor takes my hand, wants to know something about me, but I know these signs. Geriatrics is my specialty. Alzheimer’s – I am almost certain. My nurse calls them the hiking club, these patients prone to roving away from their caregivers. Someone is worried about this woman.
The doctor says something to me that I don’t hear, something about his family. I know I should pay attention, that I’m ruining my chances, but my heart is with this stranger who is lost here. I stand up and walk over to the woman, crouching down to her level.
“May I ask your name?” I say to her.
“Joan,” she responds.
“Is someone meeting you here today, Joan?”
“My son. He’s right here under my arm,” she says.
“Do you know your phone number? Can I call someone for you?”
“No, thank you. He’s already here. All grown up.”
And then the doctor is at my elbow, apologizing. The woman reaches up and my date returns her hug. I hear his voice and see him for the first time.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I hired a nurse to care for her but she’s quite adept at getting where she wants to go. This is my mother.”
His words are soft, fringed with pride and something else, trepidation I think.
“Well then, she’ll just have to join us for dinner,” I say.
He smiles, a great beam of light, and I can see the tension bleed out of his face and shoulders. Moving her chair to our table, we sit again in the window, still within the frame, but a much different picture.
From this view, I can hardly hear the clock ticking.
G.P. Ching’s short fiction has appeared in multiple print and electronic publications, including Muse Literary Journal, Flashquake and Western New York Family magazines. She lives in Illinois with her husband and two daughters, and is currently writing her third novel.