Mindy played with her menu and shot nervous looks toward the door. She was early by design. She wanted to arrive first in the hopes that it would give her some sort of edge. But instead it made her feel like the lunch was important to her, the exact opposite of the image she was hoping to project.
The door opened and an old woman entered, squinting as she came into the dark from the bright sun. Mindy glanced at her and then back at the menu in her hand. But when she looked back again, she realized that the old woman was in fact her mother. It had been twenty years since they last saw each other, and her mother had not aged well. She raised her hand in a little half wave. Her mother caught her eye and walked over to the table.
“Interesting restaurant, Mindy,” she said as she slid into the booth
Mindy poured them both tea and tapped the menu lightly. “Shall we order?”
Her mother waved her hand dismissively. “Order whatever you’d like. I don’t really like Chinese food.” She reached in her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
“I don’t think you can smoke in her, Mother.”
Her mother sighed and tapped the lighter on the table. “Of course I can’t. Damned government is always telling me I can’t smoke somewhere.”
Mindy ordered fried rice, crab rangoons and kung pao shrimp.
“And egg rolls,” her mother over enunciated her words to the Asian-American waiter like he didn’t speak English. “Egg. Rolls.”
Mindy gave the waiter an apologetic look and reluctantly handed him her menu. She wished she could keep it to use as a shield.
She took a sip of tea and cleared her throat. “So, Mother, I was surprised that you called.”
“Mother sounds so stuck up. If you can’t call me mom why don’t you just call me Luann? It will be like we’re old friends.”
“But we’re not old friends, Luann. You’re my mother and we’ve haven’t spoken in a long time. Why did you call?”
Her mother fiddled with her lighter for a moment. “Can’t a mother want to see her daughter? Like you said, it’s been a while.” She smiled unconvincingly. “How have you been?”
Mindy ignored the question. “How did you even get my number?”
“The online White Pages.”
Mindy gestured to the waiter. “Could I please have a glass of Chardonnay? Mother, do you want anything?”
Her mother glanced longingly at the wine menu and shook her head. “I’m not drinking anymore,” she said after the waiter walked away.
Mindy nodded. “That’s good.”
“Why didn’t you ever come see me in the hospital?”
The non sequitur caused Mindy to pause. “I was so young. Aunt Jean didn’t think it would be good for me to visit you in an institution.”
“What about when you were older. Jean died when you were seventeen. You could have visited then.”
The waiter brought Mindy’s wine and the food. They filled their plates and Mindy took a bite of rice before answering. “It didn’t want to visit you, Mother. I didn’t know you. I still don’t know you. I remember you drinking then I remember you leaving me with Aunt Jean. That’s it.”
Her mother played with her fork then took a bite of her egg roll. “I don’t like Chinese food,” she repeated, putting it back down on her plate. Mindy took a sip of wine.
“Ok, look, enough bullshit” her mother said. “My liver is shot. I need a transplant. I’m on the list, but not high up because I drank for so long. They said a relative is my best bet. You’re my closest relative. I don’t need the whole thing. Just a piece of it.”
Mindy set her wineglass back down and stared at her mother. “What?”
Her mother sighed, exasperated. “I want you to donate part of your liver to me. I’m your mother. It’s the least you can do.”
“Are you seriously asking me to give you a piece of my liver? We haven’t seen each other or even spoken in twenty years and you just waltz in here and demand my liver?”
“I’m not demanding. I’m asking. Think of it as a way to reconnect.”
Mindy laughed. “Oh yes. We could spend long happy hours, recovering together in a shared hospital room.”
Missing Mindy’s sarcasm, her mother leaned forward, encouraged. “Yes! We can talk and play games. It will be just like when you were a little girl.”
“When I was a little girl you were too busy drinking and having breakdowns to play games with me, Mother. I have a good life now. I have a job I like and a boyfriend. I’m even going to church. Why would I put all that on hold and have major surgery for you?”
Her mother leaned back in the booth. “Who’s your boyfriend?”
“His name is Daniel. We work together at the shoe store in the mall.”
Her mother scoffed and reached for her cup of tea. “Sounds like a real winner.”
Mindy put her napkin on the table and reached for her purse. “Good bye, Mother. Good luck.”
As she slid out of the booth her mother grabbed her wrist. “You said you were going to church now. You should do the Christian thing and help your mother. I need you.”
Mindy sat back down. “You know what I needed? A mother. A real mother who loved me and helped me and was there for me. Instead I got a selfish, insane drunk who finally had the decency to dump me with her sister and take off. We don’t always get what we need, do we?”
As she walked toward the door, her mother called out to her one more time. The urgency in her mother’s voice made Mindy look back. “Aren’t you at least going to pay for lunch?”
“No, I’m not.” And she left.