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"Birthday Month," short story excerpt

Thursday 4/14/22

I’ve noticed there are women who celebrate their birthday for a month as they approach forty, and then throughout that decade. They rev it up fast, too.


“Birthday month starts early this year!” you’ll encounter in a teeming horde of Facebook posts, like one of those snake mating balls that roll out of a cave in the spring.


I’ve had birthday cards myself I haven’t opened for months. I liked to see them around. It’s a day when people are kind to you. I’d think, okay, that big issue? Well, you can bring it up that day. With tact. Have the conversation. No one can box your proverbial ears. There’s a notion for you—proverbial ears, like you walk around with the sides of your head italicized or something. Maybe we do. It’s your birthday. Lay out my reasons for why I felt as I did. No one wants to hear that they did you wrong, but you can always say, “What part isn’t true?” Say it with regret, not boast.


A friend describes a neighbor of his who sits in her car parked in the street outside of her home. When he gets back from work he’ll find here there, drinking vodka out of one of those family-sized bottles if vodka bottles were labeled like bags of Cape Cod potato chips. She doesn’t hide it. There’s no rush to stash the bottle under the seat. But neither does she offer him a swig in the way of a generous hobo riding the rails in the ancient Middle West of boxcars and gloves with the tops of the fingers cut away. Her husband is inside roaring around with the kids. My buddy says you can see them playing through the windows. He calls it roughhousing. Makes them seem close. And high-spirited. Sometimes someone gets hurt, but inadvertent elbows are only inadvertent elbows. They’re not messages. Nor intentions.


My friend went over to the woman’s car once and asked, “Are you okay?” Her window was down because it was summer, so he didn’t have to wave or tap, but she also has it down a lot in winter, a detail he’s added in the past, like I’ve forgotten, though that’s one that would never get lost on me.


“Yep,” was all she said, and took a drink with my buddy standing there.


She probably has a whole birthday month, which tend not to come off, or the hope for a birthday month, because who’d really indulge you? I’ve kept birthday cards and drawings that nieces and nephews made for me so that if I died, then someone cleaning out my apartment would say, “he kept this, Jesus, I’m shocked. Look at his stash of the photos of all of us on top of his toaster. it must have meant more to him than we knew.”


What we don’t give others, it’s not like we keep it for ourselves, don’t you think? It just kind of goes away, which is something that occurs to me more than it used to. It’s one of those kinds of thoughts that you think you should write down. You want to remember them. A task you ought to do. A goal. A film you’ve been meaning to check out. You don’t write it down, though. You forget, and you try to recall. You don’t know what it is, but there is that feeling, to varying degrees, that it will return to you, if it’s meant to be.


When John Lennon and Paul McCartney started writing songs, before the Beatles existed and they were just pals, they wouldn’t write anything out. They couldn’t notate music, but they wouldn’t write down the lyrics either. They thought, well, if it’s that good, if it’s worthy, we’ll remember it, won’t we? I’d say that’s faith. Or, if not faith, then it’s trust. In yourself. Which is the hardest faith to have. Don’t get me started on trust.