Flash Fiction

Untitled – Jane Hertenstein

Turning fifty is no big deal. It’s like forty-nine plus. Like size 1 is hardly different than a size 0. As if I knew. Those numbers are so far in my past as to be irrelevant. In fact I’ve never been a 1 or a 0. More to the fact, the closest I’ve ever come to a small was when I was a 11 junior—before the fashion charts got a make-over, adjusted for the new American woman, before an eleven was deemed a nine and a true eight became archaic.

Fifty is a state of mind. A half-way point—if one were to live to a hundred. Current statistics proclaim women will outlive men by seven years. The average woman today will probably make seventy-eight. In that case I am more than half-way there. Three quarters. Only I might have to do it alone.

Since the divorce. Since the death of my ex-husband. Since my man-friend moved to France and my daughter lives on an opposite coast from myself.

If it were spring I’d walk the dog through the park and sit on a bench and soak in the sun. If it were summer I’d call a friend to meet me at an outdoor café for lunch. If it were fall I could rent a car and drive north to see the colors and pull into a Farmer’s Market. Celebrate with a bushel of apples and a jug of cider. But it is neither fall nor winter, but a rain-drenched late afternoon—and the dog hates getting wet. We do the minimal out and in, for her sake and her stubby arthritic legs.

The beige walls of my room are turning green, then moss-brown, then a color not quite day. I hate the time change. Already the street lamps have turned on and commuters are hurrying with newspapers over their heads to the depths of the subway, hustling into cabs, the lit interiors inviting before pulling away.

The Ms. Eggroll Chinese take-away delivers. I have a deck of menus I could fan out and choose from. It’s not too early to go next door to the bar.

Except I’ve promised my daughter I will not drink.

Drink—even the thought, the merest slip of the idea and my lips moisten. I have been three months sober. That after twenty years, after seven years in denial, after joining AA, after losing it and getting it together, after falling and getting back up, after trying to do the right thing, after Jon left for Paris and I broke my promise to Claire, after a bad week and long weekend, after the hospital stay. There is so much history. Yet my sponsor says each day is a new beginning.

I only have to make up my mind.

I crank up the radio, spread the menus before me, pace the room, straighten a picture on the wall, all the while refusing to turn on the lights. I stare at the phone and contemplate calling Claire in California. What time is it in Paris? Why do I do this to myself?

Panic rises up inside of me. If fifty is a state of mind, then I am losing mine. I feel it—an uncontrollable madness, a degree above rage and a smidgen below absolute fear. As if nothing will ever change. The weariness, the loneliness, the shame, all this will be with me the rest of my life. Even the dog goes to hide under the sofa. A requiem by Arvo Pärt plays on the classical music station.

Streaks of rain at the windowpanes cast waterfall reflections against the walls of the room.

As a child I used to love playing in the backyard pool. I’d dive in with eyes closed, shutting out the world above; I’d descend to another world, one of treasure chests and blue lagoons, and grottos filled with mermaids and mythic sirens. If even only for a moment I’d leave everything behind—the heat, the jets circling the airport near our house, my bossy big sister, and my mother listless in her own pain-killer haze. Underwater I softened, became boneless, weightless. Light from above bent and shattered into illuminated mosaics. I could float, slipping in between, pretending to disappear. Before popping up at last to breathe. Renewed and ready to dive in again.

Breathe. I put back my umbrella; I toss the raincoat I was holding over the back of the couch and flick on the lights, erasing shimmery shadows. Eggrolls actually sound good.


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