SOCIETY is already seated when MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN (MAW) enters the diner. Society watches as MAW approaches and sits down.
SOCIETY: I’m pleased we’re doing this. I know you’ve been wanting to get something off your chest, and —Oh, yes, it is a bit of a crepey situation, isn’t it.
SOCIETY: (reaching across the table to poke MAW’s décolletage) See, there, how it dimples? It should cave. But don’t panic, don’t panic. You came to me for a reason, and I’m happy to help.
MAW: But —
SOCIETY: Do you know, famous women over 50 advertising skin serums show that very, very, very bright light exposure on the face erases visible wrinkles, pores, and flesh while emphasizing that you do still have a mouth, nostrils, and irises.
MAW: That wasn’t what I …Thank you, but I — No, it’s… I’ve been feeling lost, is the thing. I’m almost 50 — not almost-almost, but closer to 50 than 40, anyway, and — (to server) Coffee, please. Two sugars.
SOCIETY: Tch! If you want to look even remotely young at 50, you won’t want annny of that sugar. Nonono.
MAW: Really? But that’s — (to server) Excuse me…Thanks, sorry. I’ll still want the sugars when you bring the coffee, please. (to Society) Anyway, I’ve started to realize that some of the big biggies I used to think were theoretical aren’t theoretical after all. At all. They’re actually real. Like (voice quavering), what if my husband —
SOCIETY: Oh, sweetheart.
MAW: (eyes welling with tears) I must think about it a couple of times a week. Not on the floor in the fetal position, or anything, but I do think, “My god, he could actually — ”
SOCIETY: Sweetheart. Listen. You cannot go down that road. Don’t imagine the worst. But if he does leave you for someone younger, remember: very, very bright lights. Do also avoid matte foundations, dear, and —
MAW: “— have a heart attack,” I was going to say. Liam could have a heart attack. Two of my friend’s husband’s friends just had heart attacks, and we’re all the same age. I mean, Liam and I used to cut class together in high school, and now I’m worried he’ll have a heart attack while he’s out on a jog? What? I even keep track of his route.
SOCIETY: But no, nonono. You mustn’t worry! Widows over 50 can still find love. Don’t be afraid your emerging jowls will make you unlikely to find someone who will see past them. One thing you can do to firm and lift sagging —
MAW: And that friend? I used to hold back her hair so she could drunk-puke when we were in our twenties, and now – just last week – we were pointing out our gray hairs on Zoom. We talked about perimenopause. Perimenopause. That was an actual conversation we had. Did you know our periods could stop for six months, then suddenly we could be bleeding through our pants in some…I don’t know…wherever perimenopausal-aged women go?
SOCIETY: Blood from your down-there is (closes eyes) not what anyone wishes to discuss.
MAW: Our twenty-something selves would kick us in our down-theres for talking about it, but we can’t help it! What’ll happen when our hormones turn on us? There are horror stories. Things changing — emotions, bodies, all that. We don’t want to change! Do you know how terrifying it is to have no idea what —
SOCIETY: Now, now. You can stop that middle-age spread by simply —
MAW: And I know our culture calls it morbid, but I’m a little fixated on my own death, these days. Not my theoretical death, but my concrete, inevitable, actual death. When one of your parents dies, as mine did — and this is the age it starts to happen, apparently — it educates you in a place in your head you never knew you had. It’s deeply unsettling, death. What they say about time going fast, life being short… I swear I just turned 40, and now I’m almost 48. (snaps fingers) Eight years gone like nothing.
SOCIETY: (taking MAW’s hands) Looking youthful after 40 is much easier now than it used to be. Why, all you —
MAW: And! I, me, will have to plan Liam’s funeral. Or he’ll have to plan mine! One day I’ll be standing on the stool to kiss him before he leaves for work — assuming this happens before he retires at 65, obviously — and the next day, one of us won’t be there. Ever again. Is that not insane? It freaks me out. There’s no getting out of it. Most people aren’t lucky enough to die at the same time, you know. It’s not like we can magically Notebook it.
SOCIETY: (whispers a squee) Gena Rowlands was utterly radiant in The Notebook. Seventy-three and hardly any wrinkles at all. How did she do it?
MAW: And I know, I know, I’m not 94. I’m still “young,” so —
SOCIETY: Yes! That’s the spirit! Mature women must embrace their age as they endeavor to conceal it. A happy face is a youthful face, after all. (crunches nose when server sets down coffee and two sugars in front of MAW)
MAW: It’s just that it’s all so complicated. Confusing. And really…(opens the sugar packets and pours them into her coffee)…spiritually heavy.
SOCIETY watches the sugar pour in and sighs disappointedly before pulling a halo lamp out of its ass, strapping it to MAW’s head, and aiming the very bright light at her face.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the post-Roe v. Wade novel The Age of the Child, called “scathing social commentary” and “a novel for right now.” She is also the author of the novels The Year of Dan Palace and Pretty Much True (studied in Dr. Owen W. Gilman, Jr.’s The Hell of War Comes Home: Imaginative Texts from the Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq). Kristen’s interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.