The Birthday Party
Illustrated by Lakshmy Mathur
Sometimes Garnet wondered if he would wake up one morning and find life a tragedy. Lately his life had been somewhat a comedy of errors. But a real tragedy, he thought, was bound to come up soon. When, was a good question—hopefully not to meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates? His life had reservations he didn’t like discussing.
That morning he got up from bed and staggered to the toilet to do his morning thing. That day was a special day—his daughter-in-law was throwing a birthday party for her man, his son, Clint. He showered and got ready for the long journey to their son’s house—some fifty miles away.
Garnet has a problem. At his age, he has a swallowing glitch. He has to chew his food to miniscule particles; otherwise, he’ll gag and throw up. He’s been to the doctor, and the Doc’s response: “It’s normal at your age. Learn to live with it…or take medicine to lessen the congestion.” He hated taking medicine, so he learned to chew until the food was puréed — blended to a saliva-slime — it was the only way to get the stuff down. That morning he went through the numbers with oatmeal and yogurt. But still, he had trouble getting the mush down.
His wife, Gwynne, often patted him on the back to get the food dislodged from his esophagus. That morning wasn’t any different. He hacked and heaved, and thought he was going to choke to death. Gwynne did her number on his back—bang-patty-pat-bam.
At noon, they parted with birthday gifts. Their son was a fan of “Godzilla,” so they bought him a complete set of DVDs — cartoons and movies.
Finally at two, they stepped from their car, and stood before the house door. Grunge, as they called the birthday boy, was standing outside drinking a brew. A large man looking like a Neanderthal, Clint had the biggest smile on his face. On his t-shirt was a picture of Godzilla puckering with the words: “SMILE — HOW ABOUT A KISS?” on it.
In a deep, guttural tone: “Hi Pa…Ma, like a brew?” Clint gulped.
“Maybe later son,” said Garnet. “I’ve got to get these things in the house.” He extracted the presents from the back seat, and carried them in.
Clint asked, “Ma…wha’da ya bring?”
“Your birthday presents Clint.” She hated calling him Grunge.
Nodding his head: “Something special like last year?”
“Something real special.” She threw him a long wink as if to say: more Godzilla.
“Like wha?” slurped Clint from his beer can.
“Dad’ll give it to ya.”
“Ah Ma, don’t be a spoilsport.”
“Dad would get mad if I told.”
The two walked into the house, and sat on the sofa. Doris, Clint’s wife, came into the living room carrying a tray of munchies. Clint grabbed a handful, and shoved them into his mouth as if his hand was a backhoe.
Garnet said, “Like always…my boy knows how to be a cordial.” Garnet took a carrot stick and nibbled on it until it was puréed. Swallowing was difficult. He turned to Clint. “Oh Grunge, I’ll have that beer now.”
All the while, everyone was admiring Clints’s new Godzilla t-shirt. “Yeah, got it dhis mornin’,” he said. “Lumpshin surprised me wid it when I woke.”
The afternoon was spent in idle chatter, mostly about Clint’s new t-shirt. Doris brought new nibbles out to be consumed. Clint, as always, took the first handful, and scarfed them down like they were hippo fodder. “Like another brew,” he asked his father.
“Sure why not,” said Garnet. It was the only thing he could get down without trouble. He also didn’t refuse a third, forth and fifth brew.
The big moment came. The presents were brought out, and placed in front of Clint and his birthday cake. Clint’s eyes were larger than saucers. The whites of his eyes made his purple’s look like lonely dots in a bath of brew-foam. His smile grew larger with every present placed on the table.
“Well Grunge,” asked Doris. “You gonna open up yo presents?”
“Yeah…natch,” answered Clint. Eagerly, he dove into the packages as if he was being timed. Paper went flying everywhere. A Godzilla figurine came bounding out and landing on his cake—plop. He didn’t even notice the splat, and continued to the next. Another Godzilla t-shirt was carefully put to the side. He uttered, “Groovy.” And went onto the next box—a giant monkey. In all, he got five Godzilla presents, plus a Godzilla-teddy — his favorite in the bunch — which he cuddled as if he had just given birth to it.
Then came the secrete box from Garnet and Gwynne. He opened it slowly, cautiously, and laid each strand of ribbon to one side. Slowly he opened the flaps and looked in. His eyes popped. “Geeze…it’s the whole set.” He looked over to Garnet, smiled, and then to his mother. Tears filled his eyes. “Ah really don’t know wha to say Ma…Pa.”
“Don’t say anything Grunge…just be happy,” said Garnet. “It’s another year to your total.”
Then Doris lit the candles, and Clint blew them out—a gush of wind blew across the lighted flames, and sprayed melted wax over the topping. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and clapped. The cake was cut and Doris served up the birthday dessert. Everybody dove in. In one piece, Clint shoved the cake into his mouth, and mumbled, “Love da cake…Dor.”
Garnet mused: and to think he came from us.
Then all of a sudden, Garnet was having a swallowing problem—he took too big of a bite. He gagged, hacked and whinnied. Everybody looked at him as he was trying to swallow the large cake clod. Clint got up, walked slowly over behind his father, and gave him a heavy slam on the back—vawam. At that moment, Garnet pulled back, took a deep breath, and heaved a stream of brew-puke across the table, and hitting Doris right in the face. She smiled and said, “Bulls Eye.”
All Clint could say as everyone was going home: “That was the best birthday party I ever had Pa…Ma.”