He grimaces when he sees the cake. Decorated in pale blue sludge and hosting a forest fire of candles. Why are women so damned pragmatic? He knows how old he is, he doesn’t need a cake with 47 candles burning away to remind him. Sharon’s smiling as if the party was hers, and of course it is. She has organised it, she has marshaled the troops, drawn up the plan of attack and she has led the charge. He now wishes he had gone AWOL when he had the chance.
Of course he has played his part. He wandered into the house as though it were an ordinary day. Dutifully played the role of unsuspecting husband. He acted surprised, shaken his head at the deceit and laughed when every one said he could never trust Sharon again. He doesn’t. Although that isn’t surprising, he trusts no one.
Fifteen people begin to sing Happy Birthday off key. He smiles, smiles so that his face feels like it could set into new and unprepared lines. When they begin to cheer he bends down and blows out the candles in one breath. More cheers. Men clap him on the shoulder, their wives wrap their tentacled arms around his neck and kiss his cheek.
Happy Birthday they all chorus. Sharon comes up to him, her dress too tight, her hair too high, her eyes too glazed with birthday celebration. She doesn’t kiss him, instead she rests her cheek against his, one hand clutching him to her tightly. He becomes engulfed in her sickly sweet perfume, in the memories of the years shared. Then he is released and led to a small table heaped with colourfully wrapped presents. Open them they say. He rips open envelopes and nods at joke cards. Reading out loud the witty sayings and well wishes from those assembled. Then the presents.
Exploding golf balls, silk ties embellished with naked women, a dog eared copy of the Karma Sutra, bottles of young red wine and even younger bottles of port, boxes of chocolate for his non-existent sweet tooth. More laughter, then someone finds the CD player and music from the sixties pulses into the room. The Beatles begging Please, Please Me. He nods, raises his glass at those present, watches as they wander to sit cosily in groups or begin middle-aged gyrations to now defunct pop idols.
With no one noticing, he escapes. The kitchen is cool white, saved from being cold by touches of blue. Not frost touched blue, or the deep blue of the sea, this is the blue of the summer sky. That blue that promises heat. He finds her there. She’s sitting on a counter top, a glass of wine in one hand, a chicken leg in the other. She smiles in guilt. I’ve been discovered she says. And by the birthday boy. Why are you hiding he asks. I could ask the same of you she says. It’s my birthday he says and shrugs as though that were reason enough. She nods in understanding. Small white teeth picking at the chicken’s nuggety brown flesh.
I saw the cake she says. He nods, he has nothing to say about the cake. Sharon has made it, spent the afternoon following her mother’s tried and true recipe. It has failed as most of her attempts at culinary delight did. The blue icing is intended to deceive, to trick the eye into believing that it is splendid. Given enough drinks and the assembled cast will all agree that the cake is indeed splendid, even raise it to measures of unseen nobility.
Given enough drinks and anything is possible.
So what did you get? He shrugs and prepares for silence but knows that she waits for an answer. Stuff he says. Stuff she says. Stuff he repeats and the silence grows. From the safety of the kitchen the party can be heard as though from another dimension. One of drunken laughter and raised voices. The Who demanding Who Are You. In here is the dimension of serenity and rising tension.
I didn’t give you a present she says. She chews thoughtfully on the chicken bone, glances up at him, then back down. It doesn’t matter he says. He watches as she places the remnants of fried poultry on a plate and daintily wipes her fingers on a serviette. Each finger is wiped slowly, given its due and consideration. She dabs at the corners of her mouth. He watches the movements. She doesn’t wear the garish red lips of the women in the other room. That explicit red that shrieks of sex.
Her lips are peach toned. Plump and just as sweet. He watches as her small pink tongue runs over them, tasting them, flicking out as though in search of something else. I have something for you she says and slides down from the bench top. It’s not wrapped, there’s no fancy bows, no ribbons or cute card attached. He nods and watches as she walks closer and closer. She is so close now that he can sense her fragrance. Vanilla, marshmallows and cream.
He licks his suddenly dry lips. What is it he asks. She smiles at him, looks deep into his eyes and he feels himself dissolving, feels himself hardening. One cool, long fingered hand comes out and gently traces the curve of his face. Runs gently over his lips. A blast of music and the door opens. Sharon comes in with a unsteady step. More wine she says, we must have more wine. She selects a bottle from the fridge and holds it near sightedly to her face. She shrugs then walks to him, loops her arms through his. Come on darling she gushes, you must come out of the kitchen. It’s your birthday after all. He leaves the kitchen to the Rolling Stones stating that they get no satisfaction.