Remember when birthdays were fun? For me, that was a long time ago, as I seem to recall the last good one happening when I was six years old.
It had been raining all morning, but as soon as the weather cleared up, there were sausages and burgers grilling in the backyard. A group of men stood around the fire, talking about sports and taking turns gesturing at each other, each with a can of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Women in short skirts and sunglasses were chasing kids around, while struggling to keep their high-heels from sinking into the soggy lawn.
The kids were all supposed to be my friends, but in reality I only liked two of them. The Were-cow-skee twins from across the street, both wearing matching denim overalls and getting mud on their brand-new Reeboks.
Old Mrs. Van Dijk was there too, smiling sweetly while holding a Salem Menthol in her pale, wrinkled hand. She took drags from the perfectly straight, crisp white cigarette, and left smears of blood-red lipstick on the filter end, while a glowing tip of ash dangled precariously from the opposite end.
Hundreds of black ants formed dotted-line trails, as they streamed up the legs of a folding table, and disappeared into a collection of plates and napkins. Legions of tiny, six-legged soldiers, marching toward a cake that was supposed to be an edible replica of a World War II fighter airplane. It looked more like a dead shark whose skin peeled back into a rigid smile, as it decomposed in the summer heat. Humidity clung to sugary icing in sticky globules. Fat, heavy drops rolled down the sides, leaving glistening trails behind them. There was even a small swarm of hungry insects buzzing around, giving the scene a truly macabre effect.
One of the kids had a nosebleed. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to snatch one of the fondant-colored candles from the cake, while everybody was distracted. I took a moment to admire its pearly, confectionary appearance before popping it into my mouth, and hastily chewing it into a shockingly flavorless, waxy paste.
I started gagging, and Mom became hysterical. Another man held onto my father’s arm, probably to steady him, because he was drunk and staggering towards us. He laughed and announced that it would be easy enough to make a new kid, if this one died from candle poisoning. Mom was kneeling in front of me, with one hand formed into a fingernail-tipped vise that gripped my face so hard, it made my cheeks hurt. The other hand was swiping at my nose, mouth, and chin, using a napkin that she repeatedly dabbed against her tongue with each pass.
Then I started to cry, and the last good birthday of my life was over. That was also the year my parents started shouting, slamming doors, and frequently sending me to my room “so the adults could talk.”
This is an excerpt from Brad Lee and The BIG 2K. Drop by next week for a new episode! Full-length audiobook + EPUB available soon.