The room is dimly lit. The woman who just impressed you by gulping her Budweiser in one of those craft-brew bars is now asking if you have children. Before this, she’d liked the way you won the game of pool to a regular she’s obviously gone home with on a previous day. She’d halfway complimented you by being surprised by your age: 74. And she thought your skepticism was cute regarding the rotating bar menu with a focus on hops combined with a myriad of pickled beets and carrots. Among other root vegetables.
She’s not a fan of the menu either. Says she “rarely enjoys anything with roots.” This throws you off — only because things are clicking along for a nice Thursday evening. Except, now you’re unsure on how to answer. You don’t even realize you’re unsure — or rather you’re unsure because you realize it’s odd at your age to say “no, I don’t have kids.” It’s just expected. The hesitation is not showing on your face, just the years of drinking and construction work sit there. You delay by pretending to read the back of your own Budweiser bottle. Still stalling, you point to the light fixture on the wall and tell her how good electricians are difficult to find. She wouldn’t know you are avoiding the question about having kids, in fact, only few would — but you’ve been able to stay estranged from anyone who may challenge the story you tell strangers, and in this moment, you’re getting ready to paint a picture of when you had children or when you lost children. Or how you never had children. Or how they deserted you. Ingrates.
You can spin this perfectly to go to her house, which she’s already told you is “just down the street.” She calls you pool-shark Al, and you find this amusing. A fast nickname.
Like Mando or Adam-dadum. Ratferd and Booby: nicknames you created and sometimes wonder if they are still in use.
You wish she’d asked about grandchildren. Actually, it would’ve been easier to reinvent that route. A solid number. You’re sure there are only two. But since you don’t use the Internet, you can’t really know.
You buy another round. You ask her if she’d like to have pool-shark Al show her some pointers, just like he showed his kids growing up. You don’t tell her that part. You omit letting your nine-year-old daughter stay up until 1 a.m. while you explain the Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, and Jesus Christ Superstar all while you sink the striped balls in every pocket you name ahead of time.
You keep the conversation going by calling this woman a Budweiser gulp-y. She finds this endearing. She tells you her only child died in a car accident on 9/11/2001 and you comfort her by saying it has to be hard to share that date with layered ugliness. Your grandson was a witness to the Hudson River landing in 2009. It’s the only anecdotal contribution you share.
The woman is satisfied with your response.
Later, her apartment smells half like lemons and half like feta cheese. Another half-rack of Budweiser greets you when you open her refrigerator. You’ll call your second wife in the morning to tell her how you lent a hand to fix the electrical issues the bar was having. You’ll let her know they’ll keep a tab for you both to use. And this will satisfy her. She’s easily pleased.
The children are grown. You Google them from your phone while she’s still sleeping and you find one is a musician, one an author. They will perform songs about loss and write stories to guess what you are doing. But they won’t be very far off. Considerably accurate, you would say.
Mandy Nadyne Clark lives in Corvallis, Oregon and loves pizza and rain in no particular order. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with an MFA in Creative Writing. Her fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, and poetry has appeared in Whitefish Review Literary Journal, RWW Soundings, 100 Word Story, High Shelf Press, Third Point Press, Sunspot Lit, Drunk Monkeys, Prose Online, and is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction.