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She was 40 years old. Halfway to eighty, she thought. 

Half her life is over. 

“Today is my birthday,” she said to the waiter at the café. 

“Happy birthday, ma’am,” the young handsome man said to her. 

People were calling her “ma’am” now. Was she looking like a “ma’am”? To her it seemed like just a week or so ago that she was wearing tight black jeans and motorcycle jackets and staying out at discos until 4:00 a.m. and she was as far away from being a “ma’am” as you could get. 

“I’ll just have a coffee, thanks,” she said. “Black.”

“Sounds good,” the young man said, a smile creeping across his face that made her think, “Maybe I’m not such a ‘ma’am’ after all.” 

“Is it alright if I smoke in here?” she asked him. 

“No, sorry,” he replied. “But if you’d like, join me for a smoke in five minutes out in front. I’m ready for a break.” 

“Sounds good,” she said. 

He brought the coffee and she enjoyed it for a few minutes, until she joined him for a smoke on the sidewalk in front of the small restaurant. 

He was already there when she joined him on the sidewalk. 

“My name’s Lou,” he said. 

“Nice to meet you, Lou. I’m Elizabeth.” 

He was a student at one of the city colleges. His first year. 

He’d just turned 20 a week before. Almost exactly half her age. 

“What is it like being 40?” he asked her. “You don’t look 40, by the way.” “Well, thank you,” Elizabeth said, in between drags on her “natural” cigarette. 

“Of course,” she continued, “maybe I’d be better off if I looked every day of my 40 years. Showed some wisdom.” 

“Yea, that’s what we were talking about the other day in my Intro Philosophy class.” Lou said, his dark bangs just about covering his brown eyes. “Wisdom.” 

“I wish I had more of it,” Elizabeth said. 

She was leaning against the building, just about done with her cigarette. He was leaning against the building, too, about two feet from her. 

He moved closer to her. 

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing all by herself in the big city on her birthday?” he asked.

“I ran away from home,” she said. 

“Come back at 4:00, and I”ll take you out for a drink,” he said. 


She spent the morning walking around the city, checking out shops and bookstores and city parks. 

For lunch, she ate at her hotel, at the elegant buffet they offered in the lobby. She had a glass of wine, and chatted with the friendly hostess, a woman originally from England who had come to the city some years ago seeking adventure. 

Just like herself. 

“I’ll be home soon, dear,” she said to her 10-year old son, Simon, on the phone. “I just needed a break, dear, on my birthday. I’ll be home in a day or two.” 

“I miss you, Mom,” Simon said, tears breaking up his voice. “I thought you were going to stop doing this.” 

Simon was in the fifth grade. His mother had called him during his lunch hour. “How’s Dad?” she asked him. 

“He’s alright, I guess,” he said. 

“Grandma came over.” 

Elizabeth spent the afternoon in the city’s art museum. She was particularly taken by a modern painting which showed a shadowy figure walking alone along a road. 

She identified with that shadowy, willowy figure. 

As four o’clock approached, she returned to her hotel room. She had brought some sexy clothes, tight leather pants and a low-cut top, and she tried them on now, admiring herself in the mirror. 

She ordered a martini from room service, to build up her nerve. 

She imagined what the night ahead might be like. 

Lou and her might go to a bar, probably filled with young people. A loud place, with sports on televisions all over the place.

Lou might have a beer. Or two, or three. 

She would probably have wine. 

Then they might go to a small, intimate restaurant for dinner, the kind of place Lou couldn’t really afford, but he was thinking, What the hell?This is a chance that comes along once in a blue moon. 

Then they might go to Lou’s place. Or did he even have a place? 

Maybe they would end up back at her hotel room. 

For a night of awkward, delicious sex. 

She took a nap, and dreamed of his 20-year old lightly-muscled, olive-toned body. 

When she awoke, she took a quick shower, then went out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel to have a smoke. 

The city was alive with its mid-day, midtown business hustle. Men and women in suits hurrying here and there. Couples – men and women, men and men – strolling along with smiles on their faces. Singles and friends talking and laughing, drinking sodas, living their lives. 

The troubles that had sent her here seemed to swirl up into the city energy, and leave her, at least for now. 

When she was just about to finish her cigarette, a mother and her young daughter strolled by. 

The little girl was wearing an oversized white t-shirt with a picture of Tweety-bird on it. And the girl’s face had the same joyous look to it as the yellow cartoon on her shirt. 

“Hi,” the little girl said to Elizabeth, strolling up to the middle-aged woman and planting her tiny self right in front of her. 

“Hi, sweetheart,” Elizabeth said. 

The little girl just looked up at Elizabeth and smiled. 

“Bye,” she said, and then went back to her mother, who took her daughter’s hand and strolled with her westwards down the city sidewalk. 

Elizabeth watched the two of them for quite a while, the mother and daughter holding hands, until she lost them in the sidewalk crowds.

She finished her cigarette, and went up to her room to pack. 

She thought about calling the restaurant, and telling Lou that something had come up. But she decided against making that call. 

She checked out of the hotel, and drove home to her husband and son.


 bio: Lawrence Hartmann lives in Chicago, Illinois, USA, where he works in directory publishing and writes in various genres. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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