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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: Zoe Greenhough

Title: The birthday party.

The Birthday Party

Three o’clock. The party was dragging on. Matt helped himself to another Dora the Explorer paper cup of cola from the kitchen hatch. He would have liked a beer but he suspected a few of the other mothers would disapprove and he couldn’t face their reproachful stares. He knew they gossiped.

The dreary village hall was decorated with coloured balloons, life-size Dora cut-outs and a large banner bearing the birthday child’s name and Dora’s grinning face. Must have been one of those jobs you can get printed online from a website, he mused.

He glanced around at the other parents. A group of mothers were cooing over two round-faced babies that were sitting on laps, dribbling contentedly. They were eagerly discussing whom the babies most resembled:
‘I think he’s the absolute spit of Andy,’ said one mum.
‘No, he’s definitely got your eyes Sue.’ argued another. ‘I can’t see any of his Dad in him at all.’
‘He just looks like a baby to me,’ interrupted Matt and then, on seeing their indignant frowns, sidled away again. He wondered what genetic predisposition made people so desperate to pass on their DNA from generation to generation, that they obsessively search for that necessary facial-likeness in their offspring. They all looked the same to him, squashed doughy features, doe-eyed. They all squalled and slept and pooed the same too, he thought to himself.

He wasn’t the only dad here but he might as well have been. He didn’t know the party girl’s father very well. A lawyer or something. He was chatting to another dad and two well-dressed Mums, Yummy-Mummy types, over by the bouncy castle. They were laughing and swapping anecdotes about their au pairs. Rebecca’s father, John, was sitting near the buffet table, nibbling sausage rolls. He looked tired, Matt observed, slightly overweight, and older these days. He wondered how old he was looking and ran his hands through his unkempt hair self-consciously. He didn’t feel like socialising today.

He thought about Claire for a moment and pictured her at home, enjoying the peace and quiet. She would probably be writing, sitting up in bed with a cup of peppermint tea. Tapping away on her iBook that he’d bought her for her birthday last year, when she’d taken up writing in earnest. Or she might be sitting at their desk, legs curled under her, scribbling furiously with a pencil. She liked to write in pencil best. Something about the way the graphite caressed the paper with an audible scrawl. She said it felt more creative. These were the things he loved about her. Her funny little ways.

Ryan zoomed past him with a fistful of streamers, balloons trailing in his wake. The surprise knocked Matt off balance slightly. His cola sloshed sideways onto the floor, leaving a frothy puddle on the scruffy wooden boards. It fizzled like acid. He fumbled for a tissue from his pocket and stooped to mop it up.

‘Here, let me do that,’ a kind voice came from behind him, ‘How have you been Matt?’
‘Uh...Hi Amy. Thanks. I...I’m fine,’ he stammered, embarrassed to be caught off-guard in his reverie and struggling to soak up the spill with the tatty tissue he’d found. Amy fetched a roll of kitchen towel and finished wiping the floor. Then, patted his shoulder.
‘You don’t have to stay you know. You can go if you want. I can drop Ryan and Katie off on my way home.’
Matt stared at the pale buff-coloured patch on the floor. ‘No, I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. It’s OK’.

He glanced over at Katie bouncing like a maniac on the inflatable castle. Her hair was stuck to her forehead in wet, straggly curls and her cheeks were flushed with the exertion. She looked happy today. It was at times like these that he wished she looked less like him and more like Claire.

Claire had long, straight hair, a deep auburn brown that shimmered like Autumn in the sunlight. It was as smooth as silk. Katie’s hair was blond and curly, like his. So was Ryan’s. Yes they both definitely looked like him. His hair, his square jaw, his blue eyes. No mistaking it. Some nights, he would spend hours staring at them as they slept, searching for some likeness to her. Just some small reminder of her.

‘Honestly Matt. The kids will be fine. I’ll look after them and bring them home in an hour or so. I haven’t forgotten what day it is you know,’ she smiled sympathetically at him.,‘You look tired. Go home.’

He looked again at Katie, and then at Ryan who was still zooming about like an aeroplane, high on sugar and party-fever. He nodded and slipped away without saying goodbye to the hosts.

Once home, he threw off his jacket and slung it on the back of the settee. He dumped his keys on the coffee table by the phone, and picked up last night’s beer bottles. He put them in the recycling and emptied the bin out the back. He put a little water in the kettle, just enough for one cup, and the kettle hissed and steamed as he finished loading the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes.

He checked the fridge for tonight’s dinner as he got the milk for his cup of tea. Two ready meals sat on the otherwise bare shelves; chicken noodle stir-fry or cumberland sausage casserole. He didn’t fancy either. He would probably get a takeaway or just have a bowl of cereal. He shut the fridge and carried his tea upstairs.

The house was quiet without the kids. Normally, he would have appreciated the silence. Peace was rare once you’d had children. Any parent knew the luxury of a few stolen moments of quiet time.

He walked into his bedroom. Even now it still smelled faintly of her perfume. He touched a lily on the windowsill, picked up their wedding photo, and slumped onto their bed. ‘Happy Birthday. I miss you Claire,’ he simply said.

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