The Shine Journal - The Light Left Behind

Journeys Through Grief and Beyond

The Birthday Wish
Diane Valentine
Susan stood back and admired the cake she just finished decorating.  She hadn’t lost her touch, even with the shaky hands of age.  She inserted eight candles among the roses on the thick frosting.  A candle for each decade of her life.
The clock showed two-fifteen in the afternoon.   She went down to the lobby and retrieved her mail.  There were a couple of bills and a couple of what looked like birthday cards.  Back in her apartment, Susan sat in the wingback chair with these.  She slit open each envelope.
The sweet aroma of the cake claimed her attention.  Oh, why not?  she thought.  She’d read her cards while she had a piece of cake.
She got up and went into the kitchen and put on a kettle of water for tea.  Before cutting the cake, she had to light the candles and make a wish.  There was a book of matches in the towel drawer.  Carefully, she lit each candle.  She sang softly,   “Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday, dear Susan, happy birthday to me.”
One good gust and the candles went out.  She wondered about her wish as she cut the cake.  Would this be the year her wish came true?  She doubted that.  She had a pretty good idea one of the cards was from Karen, her daughter.  It would have the usual note of apology.
She looked at the cake and remembered the theme cakes she and Karen made together for birthdays and other holidays.  Karen was really pretty good at cake decorating.  Though she never mastered the roses.  Those days seemed so long ago. 
With a cup of tea in one hand and a plate with a piece of cake in the other, she went and sat down in the chair.  After taking a bite of cake, which was delicious, she pulled out one of the cards.  It was from her church.  They always remembered her birthday.
She took a sip of tea and another forkful of cake.  Then she opened the other card.  A slip of paper fell out onto her lap.  She looked at it.  A check for one thousand dollars.  She laid it on the table and read the card.  The verse was sweet.  The enclosed note was the usual.
Dear Mom,
I hope you have a wonderful day.  Sorry I can’t come and see you.  Just too busy with the store.  Hope you can use the money.
Love, Karen
Karen had her own business, a little bookstore.  It tied her down so much.  Before the children moved away, they worked for their mother so she could come home for Susan’s birthday.  She missed them all.  Maybe she should use the money to fly to see Karen and surprise her.
Susan tucked the check into the card and the card into its envelope.  Sure, she could use the money.  But, there was nothing she really needed.  She knew her wish wouldn’t come true.  It was the same wish she made for so many years.
Susan finished her birthday treat.  If only her daughter would come to visit for just a few days.  Well, at least Susan had her health. She wasn’t going to sit around, feeling sorry for herself.
She cleaned up her mess in the kitchen.  It was still daylight out. She went for a walk around the block  The late afternoon air felt good and revived her spirits.
When she got home, she fixed herself some supper and sat down to watch the evening news.  The phone rang.
“Grams?’  It was her grandson.  “Dad asked me to call you.”  There was a pause.  “I don’t know how to tell you this, but Mom died this afternoon.”
Susan sat down on the desk chair.  “How?  What happened?”  she managed to whisper.
“She and Dad were sitting and reading when she just collapsed.”  His voice broke.  Then he went on.  “It was a massive heart attack.  The doctor said even if she was at the hospital when it happened, she would never have survived.”  His voice broke again.
She waited for him to regain some composure.  This can’t be happening.  A child was supposed to outlive her parents.
Finally, he spoke again.  “Dad has a reservation to leave in a couple of days to come to you.  Actually, Mom made it.  A friend was going to take care of the store for her. Mom was going to surprise you with a visit.”
Susan’s heart ached.  A big lump threatened to choke off her airway.
“Her wish was to be cremated.  Dad will be bringing her ashes back with him.  She’ll be coming home.  She wanted to be in the family crypt next Gramps.”
Susan cleared her throat..“Just have your dad call me when gets in.  He can stay in the guest room.  What about you and Sissy?”
“We can’t get away right now.  We’ll come back in the summer for a memorial service.”
“That will be fine.”
“Thank you, Grams.  You are always there for us.”  He hung up.
Susan sat for a full five minutes, staring at the phone.  She was dazed.  This had to be a bad dream.  Then she remembered her wish.  Karen planned on coming home for a visit.  Now she would be home to stay. 
Susan hung up the phone.  Tears trickled down her cheeks.  The remains of her birthday cake were on the counter.  The candles were still in place with their blackened wicks.  Words rang in her ears, words she’d heard all her life, but never meant much until now.  Be careful of what you wish for.  She sat down at the table, Susan buried her head in her arms and wept.
Diane Valentine has a degree from Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Her work can be found in, among others, New Author Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Shine Journal.  For several years, she has been part of an ongoing critique group at AllWriters’ Workplace and Workshop with internationally known author and teacher, Kathie Giorgio.

Contact Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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