Thursday, July 12, 2007

Entry: Short Story July 2 - July 13

The Birthday Party
By Amy Barkman

Debbie couldn’t really afford five dollars out of the little she had for groceries, but she didn’t care. She put the store brand chocolate cupcakes, ice cream, and birthday candles in her cart. It was Friday and as usual she cashed her check from the factory at the grocery on her way home.

Laurie’s fourth birthday was tomorrow and at least her little girl would have ice cream and cake to celebrate her life. While Debbie worked, Laurie stayed with the downstairs neighbor, Carlene. She seemed to be happy spending her days with the sitter’s two children who were three and two. She got to play big sister to Jameisha and Kyle.

On Tuesday of that week, Debbie told Laurie that the two little ones were invited to her birthday party on Saturday and they would have ice cream and cake. Laurie’s big brown eyes widened.

“And fairies too? I want fairies to come to my birdday party, Mama.”

Debbie’s heart sank. There was no way that she could arrange fairies.

“Well, maybe not fairies, sweetheart. But we’ll have fun.” She already asked for, and stashed away, a large sheet of paper from work. She was going to draw a donkey and let the little ones tape tails on the drawing. The prize would be an extra cupcake.

As Debbie reached the checkout lane an idea came to her mind. She could draw a fairy instead. And the kids could tape a wand in the fairy’s hand. She breathed a sigh of relief. Her Laurie would have a fairy at her party after all. Even if it was one her mother drew.

Debbie was grateful for the supervisor from work who gave her the paper. Brenda was a good woman. Not only did she give Debbie the large sheet that lined one of the incoming boxes but because she knew what Debbie was going to use it for, she brought some magic markers from home. Since she thought it was going to be a donkey picture, the markers were black and brown. But that was okay, Debbie could draw the outline of a fairy and the children’s imagination could fill in the rest.

Brenda was different from many of the other supervisors. She really seemed to care about those who worked for her. This week Brenda acted interested in all the details of Laurie’s birthday party and asked a lot of questions about it. Once several months earlier she actually invited Debbie to come to church.

Debbie considered going. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in God but she knew she wasn’t good enough for God. Look at the mess she’d made of her life. She really ought to take Laurie. Neither of them owned anything to wear to a church but the invitation made her start thinking. She found a Bible story book at the Good Will for twenty five cents and started reading to her little girl about God and His people. The child was interested in the Bible stories, especially the ones about angels, but she was more interested in the book of fairies that her mother found at the same time.

When she got to the apartment building, Debbie took the groceries upstairs and put them away before going to get Laurie from the sitter’s. Thank goodness the child didn’t know about real birthday parties, the kind Debbie remembered from her own childhood. Big cake with her name on it, balloons, lots of people and presents, and games. If Laurie knew about those things, she would be disappointed; but she didn’t and so tomorrow would be special and fun.

Carlene opened the door and Laurie looked up from where she sat on the floor playing patty cake with Jameisha. “Is it time for birdday, Mama?”

She gathered her child in her arms and enjoyed the innocent baby shampoo smell of her hair as she buried her nose in the brown curls. “No, sweetheart. That’s tomorrow. We eat supper and then go to sleep and then eat lunch and then we have the birthday party.”

Jameisha chimed in, “Birfday party! Birfday party!” She clapped her hands.

Carlene smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “They keep chattering about the birthday party. Kyle could care less but the girls…”

Debbie looked at Carlene with sadness. “I hope they aren’t too disappointed. It’s not going to be much.”

“It’ll be okay,” the sitter said.

After Laurie was in bed asleep, all the doubts and fears surfaced in Debbie’s heart. Why did she tell her baby about the party ahead of time? Now she was all excited and building it up in her mind. And what could her mother provide? Cupcakes, ice cream, and a homemade game. She went and retrieved the paper and markers. She got out the story book and did a fair job of reproducing the picture of Laurie’s favorite fairy. Debbie was always good at drawing. She thought back on the painting lessons she loved so much. Then with a bitter laugh she thought of the dance lessons, piano lessons, and flower arranging lessons. Her parents really prepared her for life!

She shook her head. It was her own fault, not theirs. But she wouldn’t trade her little girl for all the money in the world. She and Laurie would make it. She wished she could give her daughter all the things her own parents had given her. She couldn’t do that, but there was one thing she was able to give her baby. She would never turn her back on Laurie. She would give her child the most important thing, the thing her parents didn’t give her. She would love her and accept her no matter what she did.

Saturday morning gave the promise of a pretty day. It was April and the sun was shining but it was not yet too hot. By July the apartment would be oppressive and the window fan would just make it bearable, not comfortable but bearable.

Laurie came bouncing into the part of the apartment that was both kitchen and living room. “Birdday party, Mama?”

“Not yet. ‘Member? Mama told you after lunch.”

The little girl nodded. “And fairies will come.”

Debbie just hugged her daughter and didn’t answer.

They ate grilled cheese sandwiches with sweet pickles for lunch since that was Laurie’s favorite. Then came time to get ready for the party. The child didn’t own a dress but they put on her best play clothes and Debbie pulled out a ribbon which she pinned in the little girl’s hair.

Laurie stared at herself in the mirror that sat on the bathroom counter. “Pretty, Mama!”

Debbie laughed and kissed her daughter on the nose. “Yes, sweetheart, very pretty. Now, come on, we’re going down to Carlene’s.”

“No, Mama! Birdday party.”

“Yes, but you’re going to stay down there while I get the party ready. Okay?”

Laurie looked at her with suspicion but she went without further rebellion.

Debbie put the cupcakes on a plate and was placing four candles on one of them when a knock came at the door.

To her surprise Brenda stood there and there were several people behind her. One of them held lots of strings to which helium balloons were attached. Another held a box that looked like it came from a bakery. Two of them held wrapped gifts in their hands and one held some sacks.

Debbie stood there in silence, in shock. Then Brenda laughed. “Well, can we come in?”

“Yes! Please. I’m sorry. Come in!”

They all trooped in and laid the boxes and sacks on the table.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Brenda said. “I don’t want to be interfering but I just couldn’t get Laurie’s party out of my mind. So this morning I called some of my friends and, well, here we are.”

“How did you know where to come?”

“Work records. Do you mind?”

“Mind? Of course not.” One of the women took a cake out of the box. It said “Happy Birthday, Laurie” in green letters that were surrounded by yellow roses with green leaves.

Tears sprang to Debbie’s eyes. “How pretty! She will love it.”

Another person put four of the wrapped gifts on the table beside the couch. As she did, she turned to Debbie and handed her some smaller ones. “Here are some small gifts for the other children.”

“Where is Laurie?” Brenda asked.

“Downstairs, while I get ready. Oh! I’ve got to get the game out.” And she took the fairy out of the closet and got the paper wands and tape from a drawer. Brenda helped her tape it to the back of the front door.

“We’ll leave you now.”

“Can’t you stay? It would make it so special for her. There are only going to be the people she spends all day with every day.”

Brenda looked at the others and they all nodded. One of the ladies pulled out birthday plates and bowls from a sack and another opened a pack of plastic spoons.

When all was ready, Debbie took the broom and banged it on the floor three times, the prearranged signal for Carlene to bring the children upstairs.

The look on Laurie’s face when she walked in the door and saw all the people and balloons and birthday cake was worth all Debbie ever sacrificed to keep her baby.

Jameisha won the Pin the Wand on the Fairy game and received a coloring book and crayons. Kyle found the star under his plate and got a big orange ball. They both received another gift to open while Laurie opened her gifts. The first thing the birthday girl opened was a dress, her first dress, all pink and white and lacy. She looked up at Debbie. “Look Mama. For me?”

Debbie swallowed a lump. “Yes, sweetheart. For you.”

There was a Disney Princess coloring book with crayons, and some puzzles. There was also a fairy doll with wings. That drew even more excitement than the dress or other gifts. Then Glenda pulled an envelope out of her purse and handed it to Debbie. “This is a gift card for the mall. It will work in any store there. There’s enough to get some shoes to match the dress and an outfit for yourself.” She looked around at her friends who were laughing with the children. “This is my Sunday School class. They are great people. And we really truly want you to come to church. I think Laurie would enjoy the preschool class and we would love having you in ours.”

Debbie could tell that Brenda sincerely meant it. She nodded. “Okay. We’ll be there. I’ll go to the mall this afternoon. And we’ll see you in the morning. Oh! Where? And what time?”

When the guests left, Carlene and Debbie turned to each other and hugged. They smiled down at their children happily playing with their new possessions.

Later as Debbie and Laurie got out of the car at the mall, Laurie looked up at her Mama.

“No fairies came to my birdday party.”

“But there was a fairy game, and you got a fairy doll.” Debbie nodded toward the doll clutched in the little girl’s hand.

The little girl looked up at her with a very serious look. “I mean real fairies. No fairies came to my birdday party.”

Then she smiled the brightest smile her mother had ever seen on her face.

“No fairies came. But angels did.”

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”
Psalm 27:10

Submitted by
Amy Barkman

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