The Birthday Surprise

Updated: Oct 5

This is Story Thirteen in my 38 Stories Project

Submitted By: Rebecca Lane

Word Count: 800

Setting: A shower

Character: Girl in her thirties

Your choice rule: Story starts with girl standing in the shower trying to wash away what happened last night

Norah commences her thirty-third year washing lemon curd and vanilla sponge from her hair. It swirls like watery vomit and descends into the drain. Loretta appears with airport balloons.

“God! You scared me. I need to confiscate your key.”

“Happy birthday! You’re home early. Oh god, did you puke?”

“No. It’s cake, but not from my stomach. Thank you. How was your flight?”

“Reasonable. How was your party? Cake? Wow, it’s everywhere.”


Loretta hovers like she wants to help but collapses to sit on the toilet instead.

“Do you think it’s too soon to shampoo? There’s still icing I can’t get out.”

“Can’t hurt. Lather up. How did it happen? Looks like you fell in it.”

“I did.” Macadamia and argan oil pools in Norah’s palm. Loretta cackles.

“How drunk were you?”

“Not hugely. Alex pushed me.”


Loretta’s head snaps up.

“Alex was there? He pushed you?”

“Not on purpose. He was trying to leave. He panicked.”

“Norah, that’s not okay. He’s in London? How did he--”

“Saba invited him. She didn’t know about… him. They crossed paths the other day, she thought it would be okay.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“He wrote another play. Remember? It’s on at the moment, they’re doing press.”

“He didn’t think to tell you oh hey I’m in London this week? Just bowls up to your birthday dinner and pushes you in cake?”


“I think Saba thought it would be nice. She only met him once in Sydney for five minutes at the theatre. Must have convinced him to surprise me. They all think he’s wonderful and famous and enchanting. Well, they did.”

“Until they witnessed the mess he becomes in a social situation, you mean? And what about him?! He knows he can’t go to parties. Thirty years of cocking up at dinners and award nights and Christmas and every other thing that matters, and he thought maybe this time would be different?”


The sweet stink of sugar is subsiding, replaced by the earthy aroma of expensive shampoo. Tears rush into Norah’s eyes and she rinses them in the stream of water. The way he blinked at her, still and afraid. A small box wrapped in white ribbon clutched so tightly it seemed likely to break. The look on her face must have been pure dread. He knew he’d made a mistake.


On Norah’s seventh birthday Alex played the music for pass the parcel. He pressed PLAY and PAUSE and called out who got to unwrap. He chose a cassette he’d recorded himself from songs on the radio. Norah’s friends were jealous of her older neighbour with his boom box and his quiet adoration of her. Like a big brother, but better.


“So what happened?” Loretta hands her a towel. “How did it get to pushing?”

“I was shocked when he arrived, I couldn’t speak. But there was a place for him, it was all organised. At first it was okay, we were ordering and chatting. Paul’s good at getting the conversation going, you know? He told us about the play, and he was fine, for a while he was absolutely fine.”


“Like always. What set him off?”

“We started talking about--”

“Myanmar? Afghanistan? Better be something good.”

“Shoes.”

“Fucking what?!”

“Custom boots. Because Darsh ordered some.”

And?! How could he possibly cause a scene about footwear?”


They’re locked in a stand-off, eye to eye. Norah’s hair drips down her back. She clutches her towel.

“Lottie, you’re being unfair.”

“He ruined your birthday!”

“He often does,” Norah whispers.

“Exactly!”

“He doesn’t mean it,” Norah begins to cry. “He never means it.”


__


Alex sat politely as Darsh described the back-alley bootmaker he’d engaged to craft his bespoke shoes. His eyes flicked to Norah, a smile floating on her lips as Darsh spoke, lit by three candles in searing points. Light fragments bounced from the glass candle holders, making patterns on the tablecloth. Norah finally glanced at Alex, but something left her eyes. It returned when she resumed listening to Darsh.


Alex looked up.

“You sound like a wanker,” he said. At first, Darsh didn’t register Alex’s voice, but Paul flinched and looked between them, and then to Norah. “Norah doesn’t give a fuck about wankers with personal bootmakers.”

“Alex, stop. Darsh, I’m so sorry.”

“Norah doesn’t give a fuck about you, Darsh. You. Fucking. Wanker.”


“I’m sorry what?” said Darsh. Something snapped inside Alex’s chest. Did he say that aloud? Norah was coming toward him. Darsh began rising too. He must have. Surely not. Heart hammering. Paul’s hand clamped down on his forearm. The candles burned bright, dancing like a gust of wind had come inside. Darsh was shouting. Norah was in front of him. The candles grew big and white hot, consuming the dining room with light.


And then, nothing.


Thanks for reading.


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Taya. x.

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