It is a Monday night, which is my Friday, so I’m in a pretty good mood. Plus we are fully staffed tonight which is an added happy bonus. I actually have the time to run down to the hospital cafeteria before the hot food line closes and get something. And this being a Monday night I already know what’s on the menu. It will be fried chicken and mac and cheese. No other day of the week’s menu is set in stone, but for some reason, Monday night is always fried chicken and mac and cheese. Always .”You know, it’s a southern thing.” somebody once told me. I hadn’t realized. Well, the accents of the women who are working in the cafeteria tonight are definitely not southern. Two of the voices are south east asian- Filipino to be specific. The only other person in the cafeteria is a Japanese woman who stands next to me at the hot food counter. She is pulling at the skin under her neck. She says to the woman behind the counter “I want him to do this.” showing how she would look with no neck jowl- or whatever you call it. She is not heavy by any means…maybe in her 50s, if I had to guess. “How much you think he will charge?” asks the Filipina behind the counter who, if I had to guess looks to be 40-ish. “I would only do if it was 3000 dollar or less” “Ahh, I don’t know!” says the Japanese woman, who I’m going to call Keiko just to save time. And then I feel the need to barge in. “I bet it would be around $5000.” “Oh, that’s too much.” says the woman behind the coutner, I’ll call her Rose. ” You think that much?” says Keiko, turning to me. “Well thats just a guess. I think a boob job is around that much.” They nod. “What I would get,” I say, eventhough nobody has asked me,” is a tummy tuck.” Keiko nods, sighs and pats a nonexistent belly bulge below a tightly cinched belt. Rose looks pointedly at my very much in existence belly bulge, her eyes widening. “YOU had a tummy tuck?!” an unmistakable “You Gotta be KIDDING” tone in her voice. Suddenly she and Keiko seem to be studying me a little too closely. “No, No!. I WANT to have one.” Ahhh.” they nod. Apparently agreeing that I am in definite need. And then. Enter the other worker from the grill (Let’s call her Lilly). She comes and stands next to me, eyebrows raised. All the talk of bellies and tummy patting has led her to the one obvious conclusion: that I am pregnant. “Oh my GOSH- you are pregnant- how far along?””What? No, NO, I’m not pregnant! Trust me!” I feel myself flush with embarrasment. Lilly cocks her head and eyebrow, as if I might be in serious denial. Keiko is still looking me over. And then she has a brain storm. “I tell you what YOU should do, you should got to THAILAND. You can get the works. ..tummy, face, EVERYTHING! Best hospital- hotels, food, all included- 15,000 dollar! You should go! They all stand looking at me their heads nod in synchronized agreement. My good mood has completely vanished “That’s a really long plane ride” is the only repsonse I can come up with. Rose agrees. “That’s true!” She knows from personal experience. She hands over a container of the 5000 calorie per serving mac n cheese which I meekly take to the register and Lilly rings up. She sighs. “I will just have to be old and ugly” She looks maybe my age, and more petite in shape than me. “Me too!” says Rose. Keiko laughs and pulls back her neck skin again. “Not me!” ” You guys are NOT ugly.” I say, but nobody is listening to me now.
Back in the lab breakroom I set the mac and cheese on the table and complain to Kristin about the conversation I’ve just had. “Well, look at it this way, she says laughing,” atleast she thought you were young enough to have a baby” This does not comfort me. Not even a little, becuase I think Lilly thought I was both old AND pregnant, which was why she was so interested.
Later in the lab I stand in front of my reflection in a refrigerator window and pull all the skin back from my face and under my chin. I’m just not ready to be frumpy, to be a mama-san. Why can’t I age gracefully like Sally Field? I want to be painfully thin again. I want to look chic in black. I want sweaters to hang on me and to push food away from me uneaten. I want I want I want.
I close my eyes for just a second and imagine my one lone brave little ovary working overtime on my behalf, trying to keep the hormones going, I think of all the people admitted to this hospital right now. I see an old woman, painfully thin, pushing her breakfast tray away uneaten.
I glance at the clock and get back to work.