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"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)

7.02.2010

Happy Birthday

Forty years ago, Sean Tucker insisted on being born into a family that did not want him -- not his mother, who had to carry his unwieldy and squirming body for nine months, not his father who saw him as just another mouth to feed, not his teenage brother who found it all so embarrassing, and certainly not his ten year old sister who did not want to give up the rights and title of the baby of the family.

Fate decided to punish Sean for his audacity and tenacity.  It began with his very first birthday, the day that he was born.  There were complications, a placental abruption, and his mother died during child birth.

It's not that he had an unhappy childhood.  He didn't.  His family eventually grew to love and accept him, as families in these circumstances do.  His father forgave him because he had his mother's eyes, and having the boy around was almost like not having to let her go.  His teenage brother discovered that cute little toddlers were chick magnets.  Even his sister decided he could stick around once she found he was much more entertaining to dress and play with than her dolls.

And yet, every year, on his birthday, something invariably went wrong.  Sometimes it was subtle, like his birthday falling on moving day, or the time there was a printing error on the invitations and he spent his party alone.  Sometimes it was quite violent, like the year he fell off his bicycle and broke his arm, or the day his divorce papers arrived to be signed.  One year, he received the announcement that his favorite teacher, Mrs. Simms, had died.  He blamed himself for her death, just as he blamed himself for his mother's.

And now his 40th birthday was upon him.  There was such significance surrounding the number forty.  Half his life lived; half his life still ahead of him. 

He expected fate to be particularly cruel that day, so he had taken precautions.  He informed his ex-wife that he couldn't take the girls that weekend, even though it meant a month would pass before he'd be with them again.  He called in to work sick, the first time he had missed since joining the firm.  He had made excuses to all his friends and his girlfriend, insisting he was too busy to join them tonight.  Safe in the cocoon of his bachelor pad apartment, he faced his birthday with confidence.

The day passed slowly.  He finished the crossword puzzle in the paper.  He worked out on the elliptical for a good hour.  He read through two magazines.  He cleaned out his closet and caught up on his e-mail.  He had leftovers for lunch and ordered pizza for dinner.  Strident voices from the 24-hour news channel buzzing in the background were the only company he kept all day.  Yet, as the minutes and then hours ticked by without incidence, he congratulated himself on finally outsmarting fate and the curse of the birthdays.

He decided to call it an early night.  When was the last time he was in bed by nine o'clock?  That in itself was a luxury.  A birthday gift to me, he told himself.  He brushed his teeth, climbed into bed, and read a book for half an hour.  Then he turned off the light and waited for sleep to come.  As the darkness settled around him, the loneliness of the day crept into his heart, black, acrid, suffocating, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly to fight back tears.

Ah, yes, fate had been cruelest of all this year.

*****

Today's prompt is: Write about a man with an impossibly bad streak of luck on his birthdays, who, as his 40th birthday approaches, is scared of what might happen.

To play along, visit Write Anything's [Fiction] Friday.

 

13 comments:

Laura Rachel Fox said...

Nice story this week, Shelli. You've painted a great picture of his sad birth and subsequent unlucky birthdays. I got a real feel for his family and what it must have been like for him growing up after his mother died in child birth. Great characterization.

I like the ending. Very clever making the point that spending one's birthday all alone might be the worst way to spend it. It seems his birthday curse still found a way to get him.

Melissa said...

i liked this story and how it had an ironic twist. very well written. thanks for posting!

Renee said...

This story reminded me of someone I know who feels the same way about life and his birthday. Wow...I love the ending because it really points out the lonliness or isolation is worse than not being in control of what happens any day...let alone our birthdays.
I am always blown away by your gifted writing, Shelli...seriously....you need to write a book. Maybe you already have, but I want to be the first one who reads it, friend. You rock!

Karen Adair said...

Well, you've done it again, my friend. You have such a gift. I found my heart wrenched and pulled, lifting and then falling with each passing of his birthday. I could feel for his decision on his 40th yet something sad entered my heart as I listened to all the wonderful things he was shutting away on his birthday. And thus he sealed his fate by his own hand. Bravo in sending such a message! Talk about the impact of our choices and the sad irony of fear. I loved it, truly!

John Pender said...

Wow Shelli, I feel sorry for the guy!

Susan G. Haws said...

It reminded me of a story I read years ago about a person so scared of death that his actions in running away lead to death. I loved your story. I felt for the guy and kept wondering what would happen that day. I was sad that he cut off so many people that had remembered his birthday, especially having his kids there.
I enjoy your fiction Fri. keep it up.

afullnessinbrevity said...

If hell had an ironic punishment department, this would be deemed as "cruel and unusual." Lovely description that set up a strong emotional ending.
A good read.
Adam

Scott said...

Very nice. As I read about his family in the first paragraph, I kept thinking "I know them." Very nice pacing throughout - and the punch of the ending was very effective. I really enjoyed reading it.

Shelli said...

Thank you, Laura. I tried to give his character a little depth. I appreciate your comments.

Thanks, Melissa!

Renee -- you are a wonderful friend. I always appreciate your encouragement. BTW, I'm almost finished with the first draft of my first novel. Once I get a good second draft out of it, I'd be honored if you'd read it for me!

Karen, thank you. I thought about perception while I was writing this. Bad things happen all the time to everyone. Maybe his bad luck was no worse than anyone else's. Focusing on the negative robs you of so much.

Thanks, John, I always appreciate that you come by to read!

Thank you, Susan -- and don't all of our actions lead us to death? I recently watched an indie film, Expiration Date, which was so-so, but I loved the message in the end: you have to dance in the face of death. Daily, I hope! And I love writing Friday Fiction, so I'm glad you are enjoying reading it.

Thank you, Adam. I always appreciate your opinion and that you took the time to come and read!

Hey -- you guys know I can handle a little criticism, right? You can be tougher on me than this! (But thanks for the wonderful encouragement, too!)

Shelli said...

Scott -- thank you, that is quite a compliment when your characters mimic real people. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

admin said...

There I was expecting the roof to fall in on him or maybe get his finger stuck in an electric plug. The ending actually moved me ... as well as make me contemplate the tragedy of my 9pm bed time last night!

Shelli said...

Thank you, admin -- and I love the luxury of a 9 pm bedtime! As long as the day has been meaningful.

Annie said...

Like the comment before - I was expecting some huge disaster - an asteroid or something - but no -the cruelest blows... nothing..

mine can be seen at http://annieevett.blogspot.com/2010/07/essence.html