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A child's birthday party on a pleasant summers afternoon is the setting for a tragic unexpected event.....

THE BIRTHDAY.

It was quite a grand affair, not at all what I was used to, but my girlfriend had been invited and I guess, if truth be known, I was simply tagging along for support. The free booze also helped in levering me from my chair.

I didn’t know anybody there, she knew a handful. It was a very big garden, I’d say half an acre at least, with a pool, over fifty people milled around with drinks and smiles with varying degrees of honesty. The sun blazed down, it was July, a very hot day indeed.

The host was a good friend of my girlfriend’s, she was using her rich parents address to throw the party, her son’s third birthday.

Like I say it was hot, too hot, the kind of day for sitting in the shade with a cold drink and gazing off. It had been hot for weeks, people were getting as though they’d had enough.

Down one side of the garden a table was stretched out full of food, good food; Salmon, cheeses, cold meats, dips, fruit and fresh bread. Another table just as long ran opposite this one, and was loaded with booze, every kind of booze; Champagne, wine, spirits, buckets of bottled beer resting idle in rapidly melting ice.

I hung in the background, my preferred place, my girlfriend mingled. I worked my way back and forth to the food and drink tables.

I was wearing a cream shirt and I could feel the sweat on my back and under my armpits, I kept on drinking the icy beer, kept on sweating, some time passed.

I was introduced to the hosts father. He was a big guy, very big, when he smiled at me his eyes disappeared. He wasn‘t very tall, maybe five three, but built like a shed. He had lots of money, I could tell, everything about him was overfed.

“I’m Ted,” he said.

“Raymond.”

“Pleased to meet you Raymond. Great day for it isn’t it?”

“It is,” I replied feeling my shirt finally glue itself to my back.

“I made my money in insurance a long time ago you know, never looked back.”

I pulled at my shirt, it fell back onto my skin with a quiet slap.

“Really?”

“I haven’t worked for a good fifteen years, I guess you could say my timing was spot on.”

“Sounds like it.”

“And who are you here with again?”

“I’m with Anna your daughters friend.”

“Oh yes Anna, nice girl. You been together long?” he asked, a large smile spreading across his face.

“About five years,” I replied but I could tell he wasn’t listening, something behind me had caught his attention.

In his hand he held a thick heel of bread smothered with pâté, in his other he clutched a glass of wine. He bit down on the bread and chewed, swallowed, then drank off half of his drink.

“Please forgive me but I must chat with a gentleman over there.”

He went, and I went to get another beer. I removed one from a bucket, watched my girlfriend chatting with another couple, she looked great in the sunshine, her smile lit beautifully, I felt lucky, lucky but out of place. I took a long drink.

I watched the children charge around the big garden with big smiles. One boy around four held a long piece of pink ribbon with a red balloon on the end. Nobody seemed to notice him, he stood by himself and watched the other kids, his balloon moving with the gentle warm breeze. Some more time passed and the weather held and people drank more. I’d had a few myself when she arrived.

She came alone but didn’t seem to need anyone. Heads turned as she strode out across the big lawn towards the mingling crowd. Her smile seemed unreal and unshakeable at the same time, she wore just a simple summer dress in white with the occasional red flower here and there, just for colour. Some of the older men turned from their wives, the look of interest playing around on their faces, like maybe it wasn’t too late for miracles to happen after-all. The wives looked on carefully, through pinched eyes, probably recalling a time when they could hold a space full of people without ever opening their mouths.

I pulled another bottle of beer from the watery ice. I watched Anna, who was oblivious to the woman in the simple summer dress, something that pleased me. I knew if the two were to meet Anna wouldn’t regard her any differently than anyone else here. Nobody got special privileges with Anna, I’d waited a long time to be with someone like this.

The woman in the simple summer dress knew a few people, she held out a hand limply, then delicately pecked a few cheeks, she seemed well rehearsed for such occasions.

I noticed nobody was smoking, or if they were they were doing it someplace out of sight, how ridiculous I thought.

I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and got one lit, worked on my beer, the two went together perfectly.

I strolled about the garden slowly, calmly, with no purpose whatsoever other than to make my way back over to the booze table when I’d run dry. I stared at the many types of flowers and plants that were thriving, I didn’t know any of there names, but no one was asking me either.

As I walked around, smiling when needed, I received a few scowls from a couple of the older guys at the party. They reminded me of the hosts father. They all had that older successful thing going on, and most of them had their guts sucked in and either a glass of white wine of a beer in their hands. One in particular, a broad shouldered tanned man with a thick shock of silver hair seemed to be the life and soul of a conversation happening between a group of maybe four or five.

He stood back from the rest with his legs apart. He wore a pair of summer weight light grey slacks and a lemon polo shirt, and at one stage in his life he would have looked like a man who worked out regularly.

I stepped a little closer, noticed some faded blue tattoo’s on his arms just above the wrists, birds and scrolls I think.

He had one of those mahogany rich voices where the words that came out of his mouth all had three coats of varnish. He was saying something about the younger generation being idle, about them having no get up and go, he then drifted onto himself and when he came out of the army, something to do with realizing your potential, and him going into business for himself in the carpet and upholstery industry.

“You see nobody’s going to point you in the right direction, it’s something you do yourself, I knew that back then, many didn’t but I did, the army gave me that realisation.”

The folk gathered around him were all nodding in agreement, I found it fascinating, I leaned in a little closer, not to close though, I wanted no part other than listening. I lit another cigarette, worked on it some.

“No I agree with you Carl actually,” squeaked a woman in her early sixties with straight white hair cut into a bob. “I do too think the problem is motivation, the young crowd today just don’t seem to have any. If you ask me they have it far too easy, take our day,” she wrinkled her forehead at the guy in the lemon polo, the one they called Carl, he worked on his drink, popped a couple of peanuts into his mouth. “We simply didn’t have the choices, the ease the young have today.”

I made my way back over to the drinks table. The ice had melted, the beer was still cold though. I went over to the food table, put some crisps into my mouth. At the other end of the table was the woman in the simple summer dress, she was working a couple of slices of smoked salmon onto a triangle of toast whilst carefully holding a flute of champagne. She was smiling at everyone but most had stopped looking, she‘d made her entrance. She went at the food in a nervous way, like she were guilty of something. She didn’t notice me standing there with the mouthful of crisps in the sweat stained shirt.

I watched her devour the smoked salmon on toast then help herself to some more, she did this four times then reached out for some large whole-wheat crackers and spread them thickly with the duck pate. Whilst filling her mouth with the pate she worked in small pieces of fruit such as cherries, cubes of watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, quarters of baked fig topped with some sort of white cheese. She ate like it was something new to her.

Before leaving the table to mingle she had herself another helping of smoked salmon accompanied by lobster salad in pink sauce, she used a plate for this but never once bothered with a napkin.

She walked away from the table, the sunlight playing about in her long golden hair. Right then Anna came up to me, she was smiling, I leaned down and gave her a kiss.

“You okay,” she asked. She’d had a couple of drinks and had a looseness about her I liked.

“Yeah I’m fine.”

“But you seem all alone, you should mingle, spread yourself about a bit.”

“Yeah I guess, but I’m okay, really.”

Her face mocked sadness and she tickled my side with a finger.

“Okay I’ll leave you to it, as long as your fine, I’m fine. You sure you don’t mind me talking to everyone?”

“Not at all, you go for it.”

She still didn’t seem sure.

“Really, go, I don’t mind.”

Her smile returned, she was happy, I was fine, big celebrations and social events were never my thing. I watched her walk away, she turned once and waved, I waved back.

I took a drink from my beer, sucked some food particles from between my teeth.

The sky was still cloudless and the air warm, I loosened a button on my shirt and squinted down the yard. I walked off slowly with my beer, staring around at nothing in particular.

Some time passed. I had a few more drinks, nibbled on more snacks, watched the sky soften. Then found myself ear-wigging another conversation, this time it was Simple Summer Dress who was holding court. The guy they called Carl was there too, she had him in the palm of her hand. He stood back, let her speak, a smile so wide that his mouth reminded of a toothpaste commercial. Now and then he’d nod his head, and sometimes try to cut in but she had him, she was as good as him at it and he knew it.

“So the problem does not lie with the young you people, it lies with us all, all of us in the western world, we simply have too many luxuries we don’t need.”

“Such as?” squeaked the old woman with the white hair defensively. Simple Summer Dress placed her eyes on the old dear, her smile could have been painted on.

“Such as luxuries like new cars and holidays in the sun, take this food and drink we have here today, we don’t need all this, why there’s thousands of pounds of food here, we don’t need all this expensive food, we could all eat much simpler. Do you think tribes folk in Africa who live in total harmony with each other and nature feed off smoked salmon and duck liver pâté?”

She went on and until eventually, She had them all. They were silent, the one they named Carl was still smiling.

“What I’m really getting at is we could all learn a thing or two from these simple people in these so called starved landscapes of the world, only they aren’t starved, not really, they just do not have too much, they aren’t spoilt, like we.”

It was great, the small gathering she had were the perfect audience, and by the time she’d finished they all, even Carl with the toothpaste commercial mouth, were silent. Silent in thought, she’d made them think, she’d conquered and she knew it.

She glided off and took a seat by the pool, fitted a pair of dark sunglasses onto her face and sipped on a glass of white wine.

Carl watched her for a while, rubbing his mouth in anticipation, what to do next seemed like a very important thing for him all of a sudden. He stared at all the food that was left for quite a long time, but walked past the table and helped himself to another drink.

The sky became ribboned with pink as the sun hung idle with its fate, things seemed to be winding down a little, there were still plenty of folk and some a little worse for wear from the afternoons cocktail of fizzy alcohol and sunshine. You could count me among them, but I still kept drinking, I had to, there was nothing else. Some of the children had fallen asleep on their parents laps, the ones that remained awake were either having tantrums or very soon would be.

Anna kept it all together great though, she always did. Her slim figure moved between bodies, and I noticed now she’d switched to large glasses of water filled with ice from someplace, she’d probably popped into the kitchen without anyone knowing.

At the drinks table the one they called Carl took a long slender glass. He looked about suspiciously. Then in a determined way grabbed a bottle of something that looked like whiskey. He unscrewed the cap, poured in a more than double measure. He did this three times, then put the bottle back in the exact spot from which it came.

He stepped away from the table and started walking towards the pool. He took long purposeful strides, I remember him passing me and the pungent aroma of cologne that followed.

He removed his lemon polo with one action, the way Burt Lancaster maybe would have. Carl was still fit, but with a generous layer covering the muscle, a representation of the years he’d not done any exercise. A bit like the circles inside a tree as proof of age. Only with Carl it was the depth of the blubber.

He kicked off his shoes. He unbuckled his trousers and let them fall as he kept moving, eyes forward. He reminded me of a brainwashed soldier hell bent on fulfilling orders.

He pushed his way through the shrubbery, by this time others had noticed. Simple summer dress looked at him as he was removing his socks. He gazed down at her, a broad smile suddenly coming to life on his face. She cocked her sunglasses down her nose a little, and Carl leaped into the pool head first.

There was a moment when I thought he’d been down too long. Like maybe he was trying to prove something to himself. Then the moment arrived when I knew for definite, he’d been down too long.

Nobody seemed to notice he’d been in there so long. As soon as he’d leaped in everyone went back to what they were saying and doing, figuring maybe he just wanted a swim and that was all. But I knew different, and so did simple summer dress.

I started to walk over and she began to rise from her chair. She slowly removed her dark glasses.

When I got to the pool all I could see was Carl’s hairy tanned back bobbing about on the surface. It’d turned cool and sun was making a rapid descent now. I looked over at her and she at me, there was nothing to say. She dashed off to get someone, and I jumped into the pool fully clothed.

Not much later, after the paramedics had arrived, and pronounced Carl dead from a massive heart attack he’d had whilst under the water, we left. We strolled home quiet and in thought, under a moon that reminded me of an extremely large thumbnail end.

 

 

 


Submitted: October 02, 2007

© Copyright 2022 jason hillard. All rights reserved.

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