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The Check Up

Amy Silverberg

I went on a date with a man who was a doctor of pediatric oncology.

“You mean child cancer?” I’d asked. We were in an Irish-themed bar, wood-paneled and velvety, like the inside of a jewelry box. He said he loved his job. I asked him what it was like to meet all those people—those parents—on the worst day of their lives.

“Better me than other doctors,” he said. “I’m good with people.” I liked that answer; it had both selflessness and ego in it. As it turned out, so did the man.

Eventually, we married. Much later, we divorced. In between, life became muddled, like the crushed mint in a cocktail. Like marriage, mint in a drink seems like a good idea at the time, but then it becomes shredded and soggy and gets stuck in your teeth. For a long time, you are continuously picking it out from between your molars. Also, a bartender once told me a mojito is the worst drink to make. It requires the most effort and is sent back the most often. But that is beside the point.

Today, my ex-husband and I ran into each other in the elevator of his old office building, which is filled with doctors.

“The chances!” he said. We are very cordial. He told me I looked good, which might have been true. I was wearing make-up and my hair was sort of carelessly windblown, in a purposeful way. I wondered if I looked the same to him as I always had. He looked the same to me, even though we have been divorced long enough that the memories of each other’s bodies are now smudged.

I told him a story I thought he’d find funny, about driving down an empty street late at night and seeing a naked man standing alone in a McDonald’s. The restaurant was closed but the lights were still on, and I could make out the naked man’s body very clearly, illuminated under the fluorescents. The street was dark and lonely, but there he was.

My ex-husband laughed. “What do you think he was doing in there?” he asked. “Getting naked just for kicks? Waiting for someone?”

“Who knows,” I said, and a small silence followed—it stretched out and reclined between us.

“I never see anything interesting,” my ex-husband said. “Those things seem to follow you around.” I could have said, “maybe it’s because you never notice anything,” but that’s something a married person might say. Me, I’m cordial, and divorced. Don’t forget: I only remember his naked body as though from far away, blurred at the edges. I don’t quite remember the definition in his calves, or the reddish island of a birthmark across his right hip. Surely these are the things that fade.

“Was the man in McDonald’s handsome?” My ex-husband asked. We had to stop at almost every floor. People of varying sizes and sexes got on and off. I hardly noticed. We were both heading to the top.

“He was very handsome,” I said, though the man wasn’t handsome at all. He had a rounded belly and a very hairy chest. I’m not sure why I lied.

“Who are you here to see?” My ex-husband asked. Not only had he been my husband, but also a doctor, so perhaps he felt it was okay to ask.

“A cosmetic dermatologist,” I lied.

“Oh? Steiner?”

“Yes.” Then I said, “Are you coming back from lunch?” and he nodded.

A schedule is easier to remember than a naked body. A schedule imprints itself into your mind; no, into the pads of your fingers—along with the drink someone habitually orders, and their pager number from 1994.

It is so good to catch up, my ex-husband said as we reached his office on the twenty-fifth floor. This building has 26 floors and he said, “I guess you’re going to the very top.”

“I guess,” I said. “You know, maybe we should see each other more often.” I said it like a question.

“Maybe we should,” he said, the faint wink of it in his voice. I watched him, the owner of two unusually broad shoulders, move down the hallway and through a serious looking door. Then I rode the elevator back down again. I didn’t need to see another, different doctor. I had only needed to check on the one I knew. No, I needed to check on his body—to see how much space it still took up in the world, to make sure I still had it right in my mind. Oh, but I did.

 
 
 


Amy Silverberg is a Doctoral fellow in Fiction at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in the LA Review of Books, The Collagist, The Offing, Joyland, and elsewhere. She also performs standup and sketch comedy around LA. Follow her on Twitter at @AmySilverberg.