Colin's Birthday Wish
“….Haaapppy birrrthday, to youuu! Yayyy, Collie!” and everybody claps. He’s with his dad, Uncle Greg, and his big sister Jessica. It’s Sunday.
Colin is nine years old today. He is hoping the little box Uncle Greg brought over for him is a new Game Boy. He’s been getting more attention and better presents and stuff ever since his mother went to the hospital a few months ago. He’s supposed to be sad that she’s gone, kind of, but it’s actually a good thing that she’s not here, because his mom is crazy. Nobody says that though, they just say she’s sick.
“Collie, mommy is going to be away for a while,” his dad told him last night at lights-out. “She’s sick, and she needed to go to the hospital to get well. She’ll be back soon,” he said.
“Really, dad?” Colin asked. He wasn’t sure.
Because this one time? About a year ago? He was going to his room to see if he could find Figaro, their cat, and he saw his mom in her room. She was bare naked, lying on her bed, not even doing anything, just looking at the ceiling. She looked pale and fat on there, and Colin had never told anyone he had seen her like that. He even had nightmares sometimes about her, that he’s outside her room again, and she jerks up and sees him staring at her, and then she suddenly jumps off the bed like ninety and he can’t move, his legs won’t move, and she’s so fast, all he can do is watch her coming for him with her arms flapping and mouth gaping, and she grabs him with her thick, white fingers, and presses his face to her chest, so hard that he can’t breathe, and it doesn’t matter if he bites her or even kicks her Where it Counts, she never lets go of him. It’s the worst dream he’s ever had. He even wet the bed one time, dreaming about it.
“I promise, son. She won’t be gone much longer. She’s going to come back, and she’ll be all better again,” his dad said. He kissed him on the top of his cowlick. “Now, tomorrow’s a big day. It’s time to sleep. Nine is the most important age you’ll ever be!” He looked down at him in his bed for a second, smiling too wide, his hands in his pockets and playing with his keys.
“Okay, dad,” Colin said. He suddenly felt like crying a bit, for no reason. He closed his eyes so Dad wouldn’t see.
“Goodnight, son.” His father closed the door.
Colin thought about his mother in the dark, about how strange and scary she was sometimes, and he knew that he never wanted her to come back. He felt rotten thinking about that, didn’t want to believe it, and never even allowed himself to think about this stuff unless it was bedtime. But it was true. He whispered the words to his bear, the ones he couldn’t tell anyone else:
“I hate her.”
But that was last night, he doesn’t have to think about that right now. It’s his birthday! With presents…and now, there is the cake. It’s tall! And has brown icing. He makes sure there are enough candles on the top. One, two…yep, nine. He leans forward, opening his mouth to blow them out, and then someone clamps onto his arm, and it’s his sister, and she is pressing against him, cupping a damp hand to his ear:
“Colin, you have to blow all the candles out with one breath, or else you’ll go straight to hell,” Jessica whispers. Nobody hears her but him. Her breath is the dead, leafy cold of the iced tea she’s been drinking.
Colin jerks, looking at his sister. She grins at him, and Colin is reminded of the snapping turtle that was crawling across the lawn in the summertime. Jessica, who cried for days when their mother left, and who is so much like her. She likes to play games where Colin ends up crying in the end. And that's what she likes most, because she'll sing her favourite song to him when he does, and laughs, laughs like it's the best joke in the world:
"Cry a little cry for me...Collllie! C'mon, cry a little cry for me...COLLLLIE!!!"
And for the first time, he notices Jessica’s eyes, her staring, wide-set eyes, are the exact same flat brown as his mother’s. She’s smiling at him now in the way his mother always did, just like the last time he ever saw her, when he woke up and she was in the hallway outside his bedroom with her sewing scissors.
“Come on, Colin! Make a wish!” Jessica says.
He turns to the cake, and forgets all about the Game Boy.
Colin closes his eyes, squeezing his fists into hard balls on his thighs, imagining his wish,
breathing all the way to his shoes, and blows as hard as he can, a long, gasping breath on the candles that makes him cough.
“Yeahhh, Collie!” his dad cries, tousling his hair. “Now, don’t tell anybody your wish, or else it won’t come true!”
Colin watches his sister drinking her iced tea, her pudgy hands tipping the blue, beaded glass.
“I won’t, Dad.”