Issue Thirty-Six - Summer 2020

A Birthday Story

By Lita Kurth

“Jesus!” Gina grumbled, ostensibly to herself but loud enough so Boyd could hear. “This drives me nuts! How many different places can you put hammers? Five? Why?” Righteously, she hauled hammers # 3, 4, and 5 — found in three separate drawers in three different areas of the basement and garage — into the tool shed to join hammers # 1 and 2 already hanging from hooks on the wall.

She dusted off her hands and went inside to look for her grater. Tomorrow was Boyd’s birthday, and despite his defects, she was going to bake his favorite cake: carrot with pineapple, not coconut; walnuts, not raisins. She opened the bottom cupboard and dug around. She had two graters for sure. Possibly three? Five cupboards later, she found one of them. Quietly, she decided to keep her mouth shut from now on about the diaspora of hammers.

The next day, she assembled her secret ingredients on the counter: light olive oil, Mexican vanilla, and extra fine sugar which she created herself in a coffee grinder.

While the two layers of heart-shaped cake baked, she dug around for her pale-green candles. They should have been with the pink, violet, and red candles, but instead, she found them in a random box holding thread-spools, scissors, two boxes of Lactaid, and something electronic: a shiny black device shaped like a wedge of Emmenthaler cheese. Her old Toshiba CD player. Unlike so many objects from the past, it did not look clunky or ridiculous, but classic, elegant in design, little white letters and sleek red lines in just the right place, across and down. She popped it open. A CD rested inside. The title gave her a pang. That song she had listened to, driving in the dark, a song that expressed so fiercely her longing — before she knew Boyd loved her, before he knew she loved him.

When the cake was done, Gina put the candles in white wooden holders and set them on a taupe tablecloth, the colors of early spring, of pussy willows about to burst open. “Don’t come in yet!” she warned Boyd.

“Okay,” he said from the den, a smile in his voice.

Between the candles, she set the cake which had turned out perfectly, no cracks or holes when she removed the layers from the pans. Now it was frosted, quite professionally, she thought, with waves of cream cheese frosting. To the side, she placed an old photo of the two of them, he standing behind her with his arms around her, she smiling upwards. Oh, those high-waisted jeans!

She lit the candles, plugged in the CD player, and pressed the arrow. “Okay,” she called.

Boyd entered the room. He’d changed his shirt to a black one subtly interwoven with thin red threads. White hair became him. The song began. His eyes opened in recognition. Gina went to him, turned around in his arms, and pulled them around her. How warm his body was against her back. They stood and watched the candle flames turning, growing, bending as if they were alive, until the song ended.

Copyright Kurth 2020