Tim and I sit in the Melrose diner. Pictures of horse-drawn carriages and clip art signs advertising pies cover the chrome walls. Our booth is leftover from the middle of the last century, its maroon panels aged by time and sunlight and decades-old cigarette smoke.
I order an omelet with no cheese, hold the toast. My mug of decaf comes within seconds, along with a bowl of half-and-half cups. I open one and then hesitate. I hold it in my hand and watch the cup steam until our waitress comes back. I ask if she has any non-dairy creamer, even though I know it’s a ridiculous request in a place like this.
I wonder what the consequences will be if I add the creamer. I’d given up dairy and gluten months ago because it did not agree with my body, but now I hold onto this abstinence like a talisman. These days, my head is an endless game of if/then. If I don’t touch a drop of dairy or a speck of wheat, then I will get pregnant. If I stray, then I won’t. The rational part of me says this is not quite right, a little too extreme, but then another part says, but what if it’s not? How do you know?
I drink the coffee black.
Grey-haired couples dot the booths around us. They sit at the counters and talk to the servers. They exchange gossip, tsk-tsks and an occasional bark of laughter. They order their own regimented meals, the same ones they’ve been eating for three decades: a lone pancake on a plate, one egg over hard, a small cranberry juice.
We’ve arrived at the diner after an early morning doctor appointment. “Likely what happened,” the doctor had told us just a few minutes earlier, “is that you were pregnant for a very short time, maybe a day or so, and then you miscarried.” His back was turned to us as he said this, his fingers clacking on the computer keyboard. “We’ll never really know, though.”
This doctor, his hair white from years of medical experience, is the hotshot at our clinic. He won Best Philadelphia Doctor in his field a million years running in a handful of magazines. Arguably, he’s the best of the best. But all he could really tell us for sure is that he doesn’t know.
Before our meal arrives, I walk to the restroom. I stop to look at myself in the mirror. Though I’ve just turned 37, I feel as old as the couples out there with their reedy laughter and their one pancake. I trace the wrinkles around my forehead, my eyes, my mouth. My face is thinner than it used to be. My hair is not quite as shiny. I can’t help but wonder if my insides are the same—if my eggs are weathered with time, chromosomally abnormal, unfit. I imagine my body rejecting them one by one, like skipping stones sent out across a still pond.
Back at home, my daughter is learning how to ride a bike. Her chubby legs barely look strong enough to support her big toddler belly, let alone a bulky metal frame. She is freshly two years old. Her hands are like tiny white starfish, her eyes blue points of light. Every time she laughs, my heart fills with a bittersweet mix of joy and desperation. I want to capture her unruly curls, her jumbled sentences, and the feel of her hand as she strokes my face and says, “Gentle, mama.” If it turns out that she is my only one, my only baby, time should at least slow for us, right?
She is unsure on the bike at first. Her dad steadies her, his back in a deep arch, as she steps and wobbles. She makes a few rounds around the house like this, smiling at her grandparents and me when she passes by. Then Tim releases her and she’s off, her hair like flames in the late morning light as she moves away from us.