"As is," an antique dealer tells a young couple who are pondering over a round pedestal table for their kitchen.
The husband is hesitant. Through the dusty store window, he eyes their convertible in the gravel lot. They close on their home in a few weeks yet he already mourns the loss of their urban loft lifestyle and fears suburbia will turn him fat and sedentary.
"We'll take it!" the pregnant wife beams. She tells the dealer how similar the kitchen table is to one she grew up with. The one she and her family lingered over, sharing the details of each day.
He counts cash into the dealer's hand.
A year passes and on their second anniversary, he leaves the office early to shop for and prepare her favorite meal, setting the table - their table - with wedding china and citronella candles. He rolls the table through the French doors onto their deck.
Of course, she's delighted. Unaware of the changes that loom, they make plans. A vegetable garden, a sandbox, a fence to stop balls? They find the perfect spot to plant a tree.
They do not savor each bite, each sip, each uninterrupted moment as they should. How can they know how precious their time together will be after children arrive - how they'll need to pay a sitter to reclaim this peace?
Along comes baby. Their antique table, previously adorned with a vibrant runner and polished until it gleamed, is now the dumping ground for junk mail, bills, and piles of bibs. When the highchair appears, baby joins them to experience his first pureed pea, cheerio, lick of birthday cake frosting.
As their family grows, so do the demands of his career, which means more travel, more late nights, and cold dinners for him alone at the table. Many sticky fingers later, the runner is long gone and the beautifully ornate pedestal feet are splattered with spilled milk and defaced by permanent marker.
"Why do you let them do that?" he asks, walking in the door at half past ten in the evening.
Her never idle father makes three new leafs for the table. He has measured and stained the wood so well everyone is impressed with the hand-made retrofit. He even installed latches underneath to hold the cracks together.
The table is the center of their lives. She helps the children mold play-doh, hold crayons, manipulate scissors. The finger paints and peanut butter smears bother her. In order to set the table for the next meal, she must clear the messes. Exasperated, she scrubs off glitter glue and sweeps away scattered scraps of construction paper and notices for the first time how cracked and old her hands look.
Overnight the coloring books have turned into textbooks, the dot-to-dot crafts morph into science fair projects, the sippy cups and suction bowls are replaced with pop cans and pizza boxes. But the table is still the focal point. He teaches their son about fractions using an orange and a paring knife. She helps their daughter practice cursive. The twins play underneath with matchbox cars.
Years later, as she sips a glass of Pinot at the table, the phone rings. Is it her son with another excuse for missing curfew or her husband saying the flight is delayed? Maybe her daughter's sleep-over went awry. "Hello?" It's her parents, calling to say happy anniversary.
The twins go off to college leaving the house dormant until Thanksgiving when he and she will encourage them to bring home roommates, fraternity brothers, volleyball friends. They are united in these invitations. Please distract us from each other, they jest.
Years later, the house is quiet once more. When she tries to pass him the salt but can't reach, they burst into laughter, realizing the distance between them. He unlatches the locks, removes the leafs, and they push the ends together and stare at the table.
"I don't remember it being so small," she says.
He rolls it onto the deck and moves chairs for them to sit and reminisce. They marvel at the mature row of pine trees planted for each child.
They hold hands quietly, happy.