After All This Time, photograph by Marilyn Johnston

Likes to Talk Politics, Loves to Read Poetry

After I texted my daughter about the date, she sent me that video about bitchy resting face. The message said, “Just smile.” “Who asked you?” I thought. But when I walked into the restaurant and the guy at the bar smiled, I automatically raised the corners of my mouth. 




He reached out. His hand was warm. His profile said “retired attorney.” Did that mean he hadn’t made partner? Was I a bad person because I wondered? 

“I cannot tell a lie.” 

But actually, I could, and had arranged for Darlene to call me at 7:15 so I could bail. Like last time. 

Adam led me to the table he had chosen. Is this where he takes all his first dates? I wondered and felt the corners of my mouth drop.

As he pulled my chair out, I glanced at his shoes. They were good. Guys in their seventies don’t always get the shoes right. That’s usually a wife thing. He had been divorced for a long time. Or so he said. I remembered the video and smiled. 

He smiled back.

We had dry martinis. We agreed that Fareed Zakaria was a god. We found out we both loved Emily Dickinson. When my phone buzzed as we ordered, I let Darlene go to voicemail. 

During dinner, he asked questions and waited for answers. He didn’t talk about his ex. I didn’t talk about Jerry’s chemo. We did not discuss our children. He mentioned grandchildren. I wanted grandchildren. We shared a piece of key lime pie – and lingered.

When we headed out, I felt his hand alight on my shoulder, just above the strap of the $150 bra I had bought for the date. I realized I wanted him to kiss me and undo it. I let myself feel the tiniest bit of hope that he might. 

Which is when he said, “So, do you want to go get tattoos? There’s a place around the corner.” 

Too shocked to consider that he might be kidding, I smiled and said, “What kind?”

An hour later, I had an outline of a tiny bird under a bloody Band-Aid on the inside of my left wrist. He had one on his right wrist. As he walked me to my car, he reached to hold my hand. I pulled back. 

“It hurts.”

“If we hold hands, the birds will touch.” 

“I forgot it would hurt.” 

“Come on. You knew I was joking. I only went with it because you did.”  

“Good to know. Thank you for a lovely evening.”

We reached my car. He put his hand on my shoulder again. 

“Lydia, I am just as afraid as you are. But what exactly do we have to lose?” 

I had a list. But before I could get started, he kissed me. I may have been a crazy sixty-eight-year-old widow who just got a tattoo on a date with a guy she didn’t know, but I knew what I liked. Then my wrist throbbed.

“I have to go.” 

“Do you?” 

I drove home, took the half of a Xanax that had been at the back of my makeup drawer in a baggie for three years, and slept until Darlene called the next morning. I didn’t mention the tattoo.

“He’s a good kisser.” 

“Call me after he calls.” 

When he hadn’t called by lunch, I was thoroughly humiliated, sobbing uncontrollably, and sure my wrist was infected. I proceeded to eat all the cheese and crackers, google “tattoo removal,” leave a message with my therapist, and send Darlene to voice mail three times. By the time Rachel Maddow came on, I was icing, alternating between my swollen eyes and my aching wrist. My phone pinged. A text? Really! “Sorry I was too scared to call. Dinner tomorrow? 

It was signed with an emoji of a bird.  I smiled without thinking.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad to get a tattoo on a first date. Okay, it was ridiculous. But what if the Bard of Amherst got it right? What if hope was a thing with feathers?

I took a breath and took off the Band-Aid. 

My tiny bird was red around the edges. Inside the outline of her body, my pulse beat wildly. It looked like her heart was pounding. Like she was ready to fly but wanted to stay. I took a photo and hit reply. 


Joy Falls
by Barbara Allen
Published by Crooked Hearts Press
    Crooked Hearts Press publishes forgotten, overlooked, and thus disappeared women writers over the age of 55, alongside veteran writers we recognize for their excellence. In Barbara Allen’s Joy Falls, the most recent Crooked Hearts Press publication, a traumatized family has an elusive desire for normalcy that is found in lyrical moments and humorous problem-solving. The novel is filled with characters who have the stamina for the chaotic present even as their personal histories invade. Joy Falls helps us, not in a self-help way, but in the way fiction helps through storytelling, interesting characters, and laughter. It is about the profoundness of children, the importance of humor, and what happens when we show up for our own lives. "Barbara Allen’s gorgeous debut novel, Joy Falls, is a true knockout. Allen has created a vibrating—more than vibrant!—world in this comic-tragedy of family madness and love. That she can be so laugh-out-loud funny and heart-breaking and wise all at once never ceases to amaze me. As soon as I finished the book, I had to read it again. I so look forward to more work from her in the future!” -- Elizabeth Evans, As Good As Dead Go to the Crooked Hearts Press website to purchase Joy Falls and other Crooked Hearts books.
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Denise Osso’s essays and short stories have been featured in The Los Angeles Review,, and The Los Angeles New Fiction Emerging Writer Series. Her story Flight Plan: A Fable received a 2019 Craft Short Fiction Prize Honorable Mention. She is a Tin House Summer Workshop graduate and a fellow of the Ragdale Foundation and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.

Marilyn Johnston is an Oregon writer and filmmaker. She proudly teaches in the Artists in the Schools program.


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