prosecco corks pop on the beach
here’s to the next sixty five!
then all in the sea
as flat as a mirror
to splash and pat backs and exchange all their memories
Two years ago,
I forgot your birthday
remembered in the evening
when there were candles on a cake for a different purpose.
This year though, this year.
Yesterday I could not recall the date. After twenty two years.
Perhaps it would be tomorrow
or perhaps two days before.
Of course it is, of course.
It’s today and always will be, as it has been for ninety five years,
even for the last twenty two.
Of course it is.
Happy birthday mum.
There will be cake.
I wear my birthdays like teeth on a string around my neck. Is today a big one? No, not really, perhaps a canine, it’s been a sharp, bitey kind of year but next year, well next year is the big one, a molar with a golden crown, deep roots catching on the fur on my chest. They say I look like a wolf when I smile so I tend not to. Not often.
The turning of a month, the turning of a year.
A birthday ticking over from nine to none.
The turning of a page, an opening,
Even at the end of the book.
A new chapter, a new story.
The turning of the year, the turning of your year.
The turning of a page begins a new story.
The turning of a year begins new life.
He stood in the rain holding a tray with six glasses, singing “Happy birthday to me” as the glasses slowly filled.
Some or many years ago of course my mum was there. Nine months earlier and the man they called my father had been too. Now both are disappeared, one too soon before the other, and the counting of the years wears thin.
The best thing remain the candles – if you forget the jokes about the fire risk and the firemen and now the fire service. Each candle stands for a memory, a year that has passed or a friend, and calmly shines its light into the future. The more candles on the cake, the brighter the light they cast, the better they show us what is to come.
Though, through fear, we may not want to know. So we blow out the candles and pinch out the stubs and blow away the memories and shade out the light. The future is arriving fast enough; I do not want to see it.
Daddy lay still, the only sound the hiss of the ventilator. Jonny screamed when his new uncle blew up his birthday balloons.
Donna Assuntina was surprised I did not know where the blacksmith’s was in the next village in from the sea. To her it was still there, where it had been eighty years ago, when the handsome apprentice had seen her swinging the iron on its ribbons, firing the coals to press her father’s Sunday trousers. Sparks flew in the duskling.
“Well, if you don’t know where it is, just look it up in that internet of yours if it’s so clever.”
“I will, Donna Tina, I will, but only when I’ve had a piece of your birthday cake and drunk some prosecco with you. Then I’ll hear some more of your stories.”
“Stories? Stories? These aren’t stories. These are true stories, they all happened. But you’re right. First a drop of prosecco. And pass me a taralluccio. My new teeth need practice.”
We sat quietly and drank together, the geckos translucent above the light.
“My mother gave coal to the sixpenceman at Christmas. He gave my dada a nip from his bottle at new year. My mother didn’t trust his moustache or the way he looked up from under his eyebrows. My dada slapped him on the back though, and roared. Then the rest of the year dada was calm and proper, a cold sausage on a Monday kind of man. And the dogs, the dogs. The sixpenceman had two huge beasts who walked one ahead and one behind him. The blacker one snipped Lito behind the knee when he was only nine and had a stone in his hand and never walked right again. But he always went out to the fields every dawning, one leg swinging round the way. He was seventy, a young seventy, when he died in the field. They found him lying crooked. Lito’s father shot the dog himself and looked the sixpenceman in the eyes in silence. And that was over for this lifetime. And I shall be too if I sit in this draught any longer. Hand me my shawl and call my granddaughter to help me up. We’ll talk more when you visit next.”
So I sat and sucked a tarallino as if I had no teeth and washed the crumbs down with the flat prosecco. The geckos had disappeared.
Dad would have been 99 today. Just one more year until he returned the telegram to sender. That small satisfaction was not to be.
Madeleine licked, crunched, swallowed an iced birthday biscuit. And another. Father had said no cake so she sat alone and ate birthday biscuits. The sweet licking, the soft crunching, the gritty swallowing, she loved it, over, over and over. Until later. Then no more iced biscuits for ever. She remembers.