Happy Birthday

Book Cover: Happy Birthday

Ben Clifford is about to have his 29th birthday. He's not expecting much.

He is going to be surprised.

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Twenty-nine was a birthday I didn't really want to celebrate.

My one-room was a disaster, but that wasn't the reason. I scanned the place, over microwave wrappers, dirty dishes, and empty beer bottles, to a mirror. A stubbled, ugly guy stared back me, looking just a bit like my grandpa.

The fridge was near empty. A six-pack and a take-out spinach-something that I hadn't wanted when it was fresh. I punched breakfast delivery into my phone with one hand, and grabbed a beer with the other, kicked the door shut.

"It's my birthday," I explained to the bottle, then popped its head off.

Birthdays just didn't matter much to me any more. When I was a boy, grandpa had made them special, making sure we celebrated in style. The zoo. Then, as I got older, amusement parks. Sky jumps. Underwater dives. Gliders.

And the gifts. A bike. A laptop. A kayak.

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Every time, the day would end with a huge mountain of ice cream, like a white volcano oozing caramel sauce down the sides.

He wouldn't let my mother argue. With an affectionate one-armed hug, he'd say, "Darlin'. I paid for the privilege of spoiling him. Give an old man some joy. Some day I'll be gone. He should remember the good times."

I'd grin and nod, already tasting caramel.

Then, one day, grampa was gone. College came and went. An apartment. A job. A life.

I missed him. I missed the outrageous, the astonishing.

"I'm an adult now," I said. "Dependable. Responsible. Dull."

I belched at this wisdom and set the empty bottle next to a comrade on the dresser, and groped under some dirty clothes for my remote.

The door bell rang. Had I actually sent the breakfast order?

No. She was tall. Black-rimmed glasses framed bright green eyes. Her lips were cherry-red. Dark hair was twisted back in a tight bun. A long red jacket came to bare thighs and high boots.

I grunted surprise. Supposed to be residents-only, my building, but somehow people wandered through all the time. Not usually this sort.

"Ben Clifford?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered uncertainly.

"I wonder if I might have a word."

Have a word?

"Not really up for visitors--"

"Thank you," she said, pushing past me as if she lived here, stepping over piles of scattered clothes and shoes. She brushed an empty bag of chips off my couch, and sat, looking entirely at home.

I blinked and closed the door.

"Ah. Why are you here?"

COLLAPSE

Anthology Imps and Minions, edited by David F. Shultz. Aug 2019.

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