The Birthday

I hadn’t baked a gluten-free cake for it this year. Life is too short. I deduced the birthday would be non-celebratory therefore. Sainsbury’s only do their iced fruit for Xmas. Marks didn’t have an icing sugared sponge.

John said, “Do you want the bad news?” He’d be in town four days that week, including the Sunday, the birthday itself. Oh joy unconfined. The good news subsequently was there was no place in a hostel arranged for him that week, so in the event he’d only be visiting me on the Saturday as usual, the day before the birthday. When I told my neighbour, Yvann, John wouldn’t be here on the day he was sympathetic, as if I’d be disappointed not to have my lover on my birthday. “It doesn’t matter.”

My friend Kate popped in with a card on her way up town because she’d be in Burgundy on the birthday. “You won’t be stopping for a glass of champagne then?” Out the fridge came a Louis Roederer I found out she especially liked. She stopped. For two. And a bit. She’s slimming, not easy, considering her greed. “It could be worse. Your vice might’ve been cruelty, an itch you must scratch, or lust,” coveting her neighbour’s arse, as Americans don’t say. John and Kate’s not being there confirmed the birthday would be non-celebratory though Yvann made threatening noises about making sure the day was marked with his presence.

Jean asked had I anything planned for the day, wanting her, me and Quentin to get together. I told her no. Thinking she then might be planning something, I asked her to let me know by email Saturday morning if she was coming, in case John had whisked me out of the library as usual before I got round to Facebook, that I might make sure I’d things in for her, who doesn’t drink alcohol nor anything with caffeine in it, and for Quentin, who’s vegetarian, once I got John out of the way. “Charming!” he said. He’d borrowed £50 to buy me flowers though I’m continually telling him not to waste his money, and mine. Arranged in my rectilinear glass vase, they’re beautiful, a large sunflower beaming out at the front. He also bought me a big pink card with a pink bow and a see-through heart ‘for the One I Love’ which is in the best possible taste. He gave me what he’d taken to be a silk duvet cover and pillowcases I did not doubt at the time and a brown cherub with legs like turds attached to an urn that was asking to be looked in the mouth. “It’ll grow on you.” “Like fungus.” “It’ll grow on you ‘like fungus’,” he repeated. “It’s breakable,” he assured, that I might treat this expensive artefact with the care it deserves. I will. He gave me it. I have to doubt, however, my value as an object of love when such was my lover’s aesthetic taste. “You’ll find a place for it.” I did, on the balcony edge at the end of my herb garden. It looks fine there if still too fat-legged.

I brought three lots of infusions to the forefront of the cupboard and took a look in the fridge for vegetarian. Jean left no email. Quentin aggrievedly and reproachfully excused himself from coming as if I’d been overly demanding he should. He was bestowing his favours elsewhere and on elsewhom. In my response I couldn’t actually culminate with ‘I don’t care’ because he’d take that as I didn’t care. Whatever it takes. To sum up: John, Kate, Jean and Quentin won’t be coming on the day and I haven’t heard from Greg in ages. The non-celebratory birthday will be going ahead as planned.

Comes the day, the newsagent asks what my neighbour, Diana’s number is. That morning she’d been abusive and customers didn’t know of her condition. “Care in the community,” I said. Diana was sitting outside on her white garden chair. She wailed she hadn’t bought me a present. “I don’t want one.” “I want to buy you one.” “Then not too expensive.” She was tired all the time now and, in an additional twist to her spiralling down, people were going to assassinate her. I noted the self-importance in inversion. “I was nearly killed myself this year. It’s not going to happen to you,” I assured her, wanting to deflect any self-piteous crying because once she starts she drips; it’d take longer to get away and I hadn’t had breakfast and the teapot was cooling. She has a miserable life, more miserable than Quentin’s. I said, later she could take her shoes off, stop smoking and come into my flat where she might sit down for a chat and a glass of champagne or if she didn’t want to take her shoes off and stop smoking I’d put out a stool for her and we could have a chat. Meanwhile another neighbour had put a card through my door.

Majestic delivered my order and I tipped the boy, “Wish me a happy birthday.” I noticed Diana had left a bag of food with a card in it.

I punctured a Marks’ fruit cake with eighteen candles which made a lovely blaze I blew out with a wish.

Having bought two more bottles, I racked the wine in the shed, thanking Tina for her card and telling of Diana whom she’d overheard speaking. Tina’s concern was I should read her meter Tuesday. In my thank-you card to Diana I wrote no one would assassinate her while I was here, and to be on the safe side I’d bumped off the assassin while out shopping. When I handed her the card she was recovered. So far, as planned. We’re waiting for the twist, aren’t we? me here, you there. There won’t be one. All the twisting has been beforehand to achieve the birthday as planned.


About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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