The young woman seated at the desk had barely reacted when Kate said, "Well, I can't have it." She probably heard that same statement a dozen times a day, maybe more. From the looks of the waiting room, there were dozens of young women in Kate's shoes, slumped dejectedly in the molded plastic chairs, waiting for a stranger to tell them the results of a question they already knew the answer to.
"Then you'll want to schedule an appointment as soon as possible," the nurse replied, reaching for an oversized black appointment book. "You're already 10 weeks along."
September 30. That was the day Kate had chosen, the one day of many empty squares in the clinic's calendar. Kate stared again at the masthead of the discarded New York Times she had picked up from the counter after ordering her usual Cafe Mocha - September 30, 2006. Thirty years ago today.
What would it be like to have a 30 year old daughter, Kate wondered, settling into her usual table by the back window. For some reason, she was convinced of the femaleness of that unwanted child, even though her body had produced four male children in the three decades since. She smiled, thinking of her boys, each one so much like his father~big, masculine men, who loved ribald jokes and roughhousing, and whose idea of cultural entertainment was James Bond movies and Bruce Springsteen concerts. They were good men, all of them, strong yet tenderhearted, always around when she needed a hand. One or the other of them stopped by nearly every day now, since Robert had died. Usually they would pretend to be looking for a handout-a fresh cup of coffee, some homemade cookies or cake, a meatloaf sandwich if it happened to be lunchtime. She knew they were just checking on her, making sure she wasn't lonely, rambling around alone in their big house.
Kate sipped her warm coffee and reflexively wiped a dab of whipped cream from the tip of her nose. Funny thing, Robert had really wanted her to have that baby. Even though it wasn't his, even though its due date was just days shy of the elaborate wedding they had already finished planning.
"I can't have it!" she had cried out to him. "My mother would never forgive me!"
"Kate, you're 23 years old, and about to be married," he had said. "Isn't it time you stopped worrying about what your mother will think?"
But that's what daughters did, Kate thought. They worried about their mothers - what they thought, whether they approved. Kate wondered again about this daughter she might have had, the one that would be almost 30 years old now. Would they be close, going to concerts together, meeting for coffee in this very Starbucks to talk about the latest bestseller they had read? Or would they have butted heads from the very beginning, ending up as family but not friends, walking on eggshells with one another, avoiding revelations that would be greeted with disapproval or scorn.
Kate shook her head, clearing these cobwebs from her mind. Too late now, she told herself, briskly turning to the editorial section. It's water under the bridge, as her own mother used to say. "You don't get second chances with life," she would warn, usually when Kate had made a decision she didn't agree with.
Maybe not, Kate thought, tucking the blanket tighter around her granddaughter, who had been sleeping peacefully in the stroller while Kate finished her coffee. She smiled wistfully at the tiny face, full of possibility. Maybe there are no second chances, she thought, but at least there are new opportunities.