The third Tuesday of the tenth month of the year isn't remarkable for what happens so much as for what doesn't.
The bar doesn't get particularly crowded—even early fall's Tuesday evenings, when the sky goes blue-grey cold over Boston and the basement window makes an orange sunspot on the sidewalk, are still Tuesday evenings. The after-work rush meanders in dazed, and back out nearly sleeping. Sam, who is not so obnoxious tonight as he is, say, on Fridays, and on the odd Wednesday afternoon, wonders aloud if maybe they'll just knock off early. And Diane doesn't have to slam the heel of her palm against the aluminum side of the tampon dispenser in the ladies' room to unstick it, the whole ordeal smelling of nickel, because she forgot her own at home. Nor does she have to sidle up to Carla from her blind spot, hoping she's brought her big purse, and that she is in a charitable mood. Diane does not have to do either of these things on this, the third Tuesday of the tenth month in the year 1984. Because this week, for only the second time in her 29-odd-years, Diane does not get her period.
But she sidles up behind Carla at the bar anyway. She doesn't know what she's expecting, only that she's feeling too-hot all of the sudden, come out of the ladies' room again and back out under the bar lights.
"Took you long enough," Carla gripes. "Can you take 11? Guy's rude as hell." She half-turns with a drink in hand, pausing for napkins. "Calling me 'ma'am.' He's dreamin.'"
Diane nods. "Mm-hmm. Um, Carla?"
"What?" Carla turns fully. "You alright, blondie? You need me to have Sam install a revolving door on that bathroom for you?"
"Yes, you're terribly funny." Diane manages only a kind of lofty deadpan. And even that is undone in about a second as she slips into a kind of anxious prolixity: "I did want to ask you something—a favor, well, not a favor really, though I suppose I'm asking you to give me an answer. That's kind of like a favor. But it's mostly a question because it's not as if I want any particular answer. Though I won't pretend not to have a preference—"
"Ma'am?" The guy at 11 raises his eyes and his empty glass.
Carla squints, handing Diane the draft. "That's you now, stick."
Diane sets the drink back on the bar. "Hang on a second, Carla. I just wanted to ask," she summons all the gut and gumption and glowing sense of gendered fellowship her three whole semesters as a Women's Studies major had imbued in her. "I wanted to ask: have you ever missed your period and—"
How had she never noticed until right this terrible moment how close ma'am sounds to mom? Just a slip of a syllable, really. An elision away. Is the man insane? Is he out to persecute her, specifically, right now, this third Tuesday, on which she is asking Carla, Carla, of all people, something she only dreamed of having to ask anyone outside of a clean white room?
"Oh, shut up!" she snaps over her shoulder, and for a hellish second, she thinks she's going to lose the lunch she barely touched earlier. But then, no, all that fails her is her entire vocabulary. She turns back to Carla dumb, reduced to gesturing at the considerable space between their two stomachs. "Have you ever missed your, your, you know what, and had it not be, you know, that?"
Carla is staring at her with less horror than she thinks is warranted, given this whole "that" situation. She blinks, nonchalant, and then has the nerve to look vaguely bemused. She says, "Just the one?"
"Yes," Diane exhales, all but bowled over by the familiar, fervent relief of acing an unexpected pop quiz. Except. "Well." She wrinkles her nose, rests her fingertips lightly on the bar. "And a half."
Carla snorts, but she picks Ma'am Man's drink back up off the bar to deliver it herself. "I can't help ya." She shrugs, turning away. "I haven't gotten my period regular in years."
Diane follows her to the edge of the bar. "How's that?" Even to her own ears, her voice is tinny.
Carla doesn't even turn over her shoulder. "I'm always pregnant."
From Carla, who is indeed pregnant at this very moment, this answer is not unexpected. What is unexpected, mostly because she did not know it could happen to people, is the way Diane feels all the color drain from her face like how you can feel your stomach drop coming off the high point of a swing. She tilts down and to the right in accordance with what must be all of the blue-red blood in her entire body, and nearly brings her elbow down hard into the rum soda Sam has just put in front of her.
"Hey!" Her elbow comes down only on clean air; Sam has caught her up around the arm, lurched out awkwardly over the bar. "Hey, sit down there, Diane."
She sinks into Norm's stool—relieved that even he hadn't managed to make it in tonight, although she thinks it might have been sort of nice to have him there to catch her. Without him, the stool is uncomfortable, warped with the memory of warm weight. Her heart is somewhere in her ears, and loud. For an irrational second, she misses Norman—misses Coach, who isn't in tonight either, misses her childhood cat, wants her mother. Oh, she thinks if anyone touches her or speaks kindly to her, she will start crying and never stop.
Sam puts a hand on her back. Come around close from behind the bar, he can speak low at her shoulder. "You alright? Thought you were gonna end up in the ice bin, there."
Scratch that. She's only going to cry if the person touching and speaking kindly to her isn't Sam. She flinches, sniffs and blinks then stacks her stubborn spine under his hot palm. Sam, who she had been trying not to look at head-on for a whole month, and she all but falls right into his hands. "Yes, fine. I just got lightheaded a moment, is all."
"You look real pale, stick." Carla back from the table across the bar to give her a long, curious look. "I mean, more even than usual. We could lose ya in white sheets. Anybody got any?"
"Lay off," Sam mutters. "You want water, or somethin'? You, I dunno, you want me to call Frasier?"
"S—" She remembers she has been trying to address him directly less, too, just for something like old time's sake. It wasn't the same as last summer, when she'd developed a kind of selective, uncontrollable catatonia; it was just personal preference. She's been over-familiar, to say the least. He's her ex. He's her employer. Maybe she'll start calling him Mr. Malone.
Skipping his name, she's still surprised by his question into an aborted wheeze of laughter: "Call Frasier? Why on earth would anyone need to call Frasier? Frasier and I ended things weeks ago." Frasier, Frasier, Frasier! another name she's been trying not to say. She feels metaphysically queasy, then abruptly hungover. She twitches her shoulder blades until Sam brings his hand off her and into his back pocket.
"I know, I don't know—he's a doctor?"
"Not the kind of doctor I need," she corrects. "Or would need, if I needed a doctor, which I don't. I just need a moment. I'll be fine. I'll go sit in the, um," she almost says "office" and then remembers she's been trying to avoid that, too. The way it always smelled like Sam had just ducked out and would be back soon, whether he was in there or not. The scattershot shelves. The stupid, ugly, too-soft couch. "The backroom," she finishes quietly. "I'll just be a minute."
Carla pipes up then from the corner of space between Diane and the bar. "And a half?"
Diane looks over fast, wariness creeping up her neck like a light buzz. But Carla looks back at her straight on, not-quite smiling, a hand on her barely-there stomach. And the cumulative effect is strangely un-cruel—it trends almost towards conspiratorial.
"Yeah," Diane agrees, nodding slowly and finding herself suddenly bone-weary, compliant. "And a half."
In which Shelley Long and I finally have our way with Cheers' third season, some thirty years later. Title from the New Order track. I'm notoriously bad at updating/ever finishing chaptered stories, so I make no promises-but yes, it's going where you think it's going.