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.
Jeanie’s birthday dress was cotton white and crisply ironed. She wanted to wear it in the box. The flowers they had brought her were white too, with the odd speckle of violet for her eyes. She held the loose bunch to her chest as she lay back in her armchair.
“Those candles you’ve put on my cake…. Bless you, you couldn’t fit a hundred on there, could you? Those candles, put them round the box when I go. I’ll blow them out before they burn down. That’s easy. Now the fire needs to burn down to embers and away. I’ll close my eyes and leave you. I’ve waited too long for this day.”
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, held the flowers a little tighter and breathed out.
“Mamma, why is Nonno crying? It’s his birthday, I gave him a present.”
“Oh, don’t worry, little one, he loves his present and he’s crying because he’s so happy.”
It was 60 years since he’d killed his mother at first light, first breath. Every year on this day he cried. Happy birthday.
His daughter knew the story, one of the few. She thought she knew why he cried.
But he cried because on his tenth birthday he’d killed Bella in his mother’s honour; people thought the dog had run away. From his twentieth on, he’d killed people, one every ten years. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty. Happy, heartbreaking, birthday.
And today he was sixty. He cried for his daughter. Or his granddaughter. He cried for them but there was nothing else to do now he couldn’t leave the house any more. Today is the day. He would cut the cake first. Happy birthday.