- What Happened When the Young Woman Turned Thirty-five
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On the afternoon before her thirty-fifth birthday, the young woman closed the bakery early, much to the disappointment of the two elderly ladies, a woman from Fayetteville who always smelled like peanut butter and an even older woman from Dewitt who never went anywhere without a hat, which the young woman, who was turning thirty-five, suspected was due to hair loss. What from she didn’t know, but Hat Woman always wore a different hat, each one originally pretty, you could tell, but now faded, pilled or stained yellow. She had been spotted in her hats at the grocery store, the [End Page 61] pharmacy and the medical building where the young woman had had shoulder x-rays after an injury involving a box of files, high-heeled boots and a tree stake she hadn’t seen until too late.
The older women didn’t understand why the bakery was closing early on Wednesday when the birthday in question was on Thursday. The young woman bagged up apple muffins for Peanut Butter Lady and a baguette and éclairs for Hat Woman. As she escorted them to the door, they howled and protested limply. Houdini, the golden retriever who came to the bakery every day with an employee, howled with them, thinking it was a new song. It left them laughing yet also protesting that it would be days before they could get their baked goods again. And it was true: the bakery would be closed until Saturday morning while the young woman ruminated on turning thirty-five.
Every morning for three months now, up to this eve of her thirty-fifth birthday, she had untangled from her husband’s legs and the sheets and blankets that twisted and knotted them during the night and placed her feet on the floor, trying to make sense of why thirty-five seemed different than birthdays one through thirty-four. She’d concluded it was because at thirty-five she could see future birthdays adding up more quickly to forty, but that hadn’t seemed so terrible. The floor had been cold in November and December and was cold now, in January. But when the young woman thought about it, she realized the floor was cold in summer too, just a different cold, cooling more than burning. Refreshing. Not like coming in from a snowy outside with bare hands that stung while warming. As to why this birthday should be different, bothering her, she had tried to think of reasons—whether it was that it had been thirteen years since college graduation, whether it was the number of gray hairs she spotted or the young girls in miniskirts. But she wasn’t sure about any of these reasons. It just happened that each morning since November she had woken with dread that in January, amidst the snow deluge, she would turn thirty-five.
Her husband hadn’t understood the preoccupation with her thirty-fifth birthday. He continued to ask her what she wanted, and she told him that she wanted to be able to sit outside and feel the sun on her face. He said she would be awfully cold sitting outside in Syracuse in the middle of winter. Also, she would be hard-pressed to find the sun on her birthday, since the days were mostly the same, gray and snowing. The young woman said she wanted the rosebush closest to the house—the one that bloomed with pink roses—to bloom on her birthday because she felt she shouldn’t have to turn thirty-five. She wanted to stay thirty-four (which everyone knew wasn’t the way birthdays [End Page 62] worked), therefore wanting the impossible, setting him up for failure. That had mostly been the case in their ten-year marriage. The man felt he had never quite lived up to the secret benchmarks his wife had set for him. As on a spring day in March, when they had walked the neighborhood sidewalks, past the local florist, and his wife had...