WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD IT MAKE? • by L. Mahayla Smith

It was the end of the day in the dermatologist’s office. Only I and another masked patient remained in the socially-distant minor procedure waiting room. When the receptionist summoned a woman to complete paperwork, she called a name that even seventy-plus years later never failed to make me turn my head.

“Molly, bring these back with your insurance card and driver’s license.”

I’ve written only one poem in my ninety-six years — a requirement at Lusk School, where grades ten through twelve met in the same classroom and emphasis was math and grammar. And no one, including the teacher, knew a poem didn’t have to rhyme. I wasn’t allowed to read it to the class. Not because it was about a younger girl with golden hair and russet eyes two rows ahead. But because, the teacher said, she would never allow “that kind of poem.” It was tame by today’s standards. And the only thing I knew of breasts was the feeding of younger siblings, the Song of Solomon from Sunday school… and Molly.

The last time I saw her, I had a train ticket headed to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois the following morning. She’d borrowed her uncle’s truck and filled the bed with quilts made by her grandmother. My grandchildren and even my own children who attended college in the sixties would guffaw if they could’ve observed my sweaty, half-naked frame lying beside Molly under the September moonlight explaining why we needed to exercise restraint.

“Damn it, Graham! Those damn Baptists have you brainwashed.” She rolled toward me and covered my lips with a passionate kiss. “Besides, what difference would it make?”

I had to stop immediately or not at all. I told Molly I’d marry her when I got home. She catapulted out of the truck bed in a huff with me following her. The next thing I knew, the truck’s cab door slammed, and it whizzed past me. Molly never looked back.

I wondered if she’d even recognize me now, my pate bald, and not nearly as straight-backed as 1944. But I knew it was her. The gray hair was cropped short. She wore stylish glasses over chestnut eyes and had precisely penciled in her eyebrows just like always. She was trim. Not surprisingly, she’d garnered the determination not to stoop.

“Molly?” I asked, standing as she walked past me.

She stopped and perused my wrinkles as though she were trying to see my soul. “Have we met?”

“Graham Lawson.” I started to extend my hand, but worried about the appropriateness.

She gazed a second longer, then surrounded me with a vice-like embrace. “Oh my god,” she said into my good ear. She stood back and looked me up and down.

They say those of advanced age speak tactlessly and have lost our filters. Molly never had one. “I thought you were dead,” she said.

“All evidence to the contrary,” I said. “You look good — what I can see of you!”

Molly sat down in the chair next to mine labelled PLEASE LEAVE EMPTY FOR SOCIAL DISTANCE, pulling me down next to her by my jacket sleeve. She ogled my left hand, fourth finger.

“She died six years ago,” I explained. “No one you knew.”

Molly nodded.

“What did you do? After I left?” I asked.

Molly didn’t answer me, but taking my hand, asked, “What’re you doing here?”

I felt my heart flutter at the warmth of her fingers and her tightening grip. I thought it might be my angina until a pleasant balminess spread into my chest and I noticed I had no pain. None at all. I pulled down my facemask to show her the scaly alien perched at the end of my nose. “Basal cell,” I said.

Molly pulled up her floral blouse, lifted her bra-less left breast, and showed me a black spot on the bottom side.

“Molly, no!” I said, tugging at her shirt.

She rolled her eyes. “What difference does it make? We’re the only ones here. Besides, it’s melanoma. WebMD says I’m gonna die. Too many years of topless sunbathing. And another good reason old people shouldn’t stop having sex. How am I supposed to see it there? You would’ve seen it.”

The heat of embarrassment left me, and I felt my lower lip quiver.

“Oh, please, Graham. No tears. Besides, I’m starving. Let’s eat something.”

Stunned, I sat next to her as she rummaged through her purse. “I usually have something in here for low blood sugar.” She produced a fortune cookie. “We’ll have to split it. But since you’re going to live, you get the fortune.”

I stammered, “Molly, we’re not supposed to eat anything before a procedure.”

She shook her head. “You know, Graham. You haven’t changed one bit except for the thing on your nose. I bet you’re still a fantastic kisser.” She broke the fortune cookie in two and handed me the half with the paper.

I straightened the paper and my reading glasses. “It says, When I want to feel jolly, I go to find Molly, Her scent is like heaven, Like roses from Devon, Her chest is twin fawns, I’ll love her till I’m gone.”

“I remember.” Molly put her arm around me.

“I like the real fortune, too,” I said.

She took the paper from me and read it aloud. “A beautiful, smart and loving person will come into your life.”

The nurse appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Lawson, Dr. Dailey will see you now. And you can bring your wife with you to hold your hand.”

I started to correct the nurse about our relationship, but Molly said, “C’mon, dear.”

I tried to object. “But you’ll miss your…”

Molly held her finger up in a “shush” sign and said, “Really, Graham. What difference would it make?” We stood there together again, as we had so many years ago. This time, I took her arm and we walked toward the nurse. That made all the difference.


L. Mahayla Smith resides in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, home to several household-name writers whose ranks she hopes to one day join. She is kept sane most of the time by her computer geek, music-freak husband and two tuxedo cats, Xul and Sonia. She credits any story of worth to the assistance of her regular writing group, Writers Without Class, and their teacher, Ms. Julia Watts.


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