BIRTH DAYS

Trying something a little different today with the publication of a short story I wrote for university last year. The resulting grade of Distinction has given me the confidence to put it on the world wide web. I suspect the high mark was less for my writing and more for how I effectively displayed the power of narrative techniques. I hope though that some of you may enjoy it or see certain things in it, feel free to comment. Despite the first person narration I must point out this is a work of fiction reflecting none of my own or people that I dearly love’s experiences. It is meant to be universal in it’s appeal and themes.

Birthday

My birthday. I hate my life. It’s cold, it’s loud, it’s bright. Soft cloth envelops me tightly and I start to feel warmer. There is a clucking sound nearby that I like. The brightness flickers away and I am in darkness and warmth. That’s better I think and I sleep.

My 1st birthday

The candle glows bright at the centre of the cake. I reach out to touch it but it’s too far and Mum won’t let me lean forward. I look up at the bright fluorescent night and down at my family. Everybody is staring at me and chanting something. I want to touch the flame at the centre of the cake. It looks pretty and even from here I can feel its warmth. With all of my strength I rail against my mother’s hand and smash my fists into the cake’s edge. I never get close to the candle.

My 2nd Birthday

I am sat down in a big leather sofa on the lap of a very old man. He has a walker in the corner of the room. I’ve only been walking for about a year so I can sympathise with him if he can’t quite master it but he doesn’t seem bothered by it. He’s smiling a very big smile and after a few seconds I realise he’s smiling at me. I don’t know this guy. There’s Dad and Mum nearby and also Pa and Nanna but this guy is getting called Dad by Nanna. I point to Dad and tell Nanna that’s Dad. Everybody starts laughing but I’m not making a joke, I’m trying to help. The old guy gives me a kiss and laughs too. I don’t know why but this makes me feel good. I look up and see he has the eyes I see every time I look in the mirror…maybe that’s why. In the years to come I will never remember any of this moment. I will ask Mum all the time did “Great Grandpa like me?” The answer is right here in this moment that I will forget.

My 5th Birthday

My fifth birthday and Trevor Maybury is coming right at me with a box wrapped in cellophane. He looks a bit embarrassed because everybody is watching him. He threw a rock at me last week and now he’s here at my birthday. He hasn’t thrown a rock at me so far today and it’s already dark now. Maybe he likes me, looking at him give me the present does not fill me with confidence. Trevor’s Mum calls out to him to say happy birthday. Trevor dutifully complies and then my mother tells me to say “Thank you.” What a scam I think and Trevor seems to think so too. We share a smile.

My 8th Birthday

The night sky is awfully beautiful as I look up at the moon. I wonder if Nanna is closer to the moon now that she has died. I mean you rise up in the air like Jesus did to go to Heaven so she must be up there somewhere. Mr Thomas tells us in class that beyond the moon and stars are more stars and more stars that stretch on forever. I wonder when do you get to heaven, is it right at the end? Mr Thomas doesn’t think there is an end. Mum has been calling me and Dad comes out to get me. I don’t want to push my luck but I ask him is Nanna on the moon watching us or further away. Dad looks at me puzzled and then looks up at moon. He stares just a little too long at it in silence that I become uncomfortable. He doesn’t move and then suddenly he pats my chest, “She’s watching right here.” He tells me then lifts me over his shoulder and brings me inside.

My 14th Birthday

My head is full of Carolina, sweet Carolina with auburn hair and freckles. I’ve seen her in science class across the room. Sometimes when she turns I catch a glimpse of her bra between two buttons of her shirt. I’m a library monitor and she’s come in to grab her book. She’s looking for something in particular and has taken me to the back stack. I can smell her hair as she leans into me. My heart is beating so fast. BANG! BANG! Her ass brushes up against my groin and I can barely breath. Time stops. All that matters is the smell of that hair, the feel of her body against mine. BANG! BANG!

“If you don’t come out of the bathroom right now we’re cutting the cake without you and you’re not getting a piece.” I hear my mother on the other side of the door. Carolina and the library are gone. It’s just me in my parents’ house getting yelled at. I scream back that I don’t want the cake. Mum spent all day making it, she made the icing using butter just how I like it. She bangs the door again “How dare you speak to me like that?” I know she’s right. I can hear Dad coming. I put my pants back on and flush the toilet. I’m not going to eat the cake tonight. If I’m lucky I might get some tomorrow. I feel sorry for Mum after all the trouble she went to but thoughts drift back to Carolina. I know I’ll never get to touch her breast but I seriously wonder if I’ll ever get to touch any.

My 19th Birthday

“Stand fast.” I yell and we all jump to our feet at attention. The Corporal seems pleased as he walks into our room. Nobody was gobbing off, our gear is squared away, Tommy was ironing, Mick was polishing brass and Carl was reading the pam going over his IA Drills. The Corporal looks straight at me with that mean grin of his. I realise I’m the weak chain. I was writing a letter home to Pa. Nothing wrong with that but just not as productive to learning as the others. “What are you doing?” he asks walking over to the desk. “I was writing Corporal.”

“Writing what?”

“A letter.”

“A letter to a girlfriend? Can I read? I might be able to help you; I’m quite the Casanova you know.”

“Yes I do Corporal but I don’t have a girlfriend. It’s a letter to my Pa.”

“Your Parr. Is he back on de ranch waitin for you to help with dis ere’s crop?”

“No Corporal.”

“Are u going to tell him how your birthday here went?”

Carl inhales in surprise giving it away. I hadn’t told anybody. I wanted to be a gray man and given we’d made it to 7:02pm I figured I was safe.

The Corporal smiles even wider.

“You look nervous? Are you afraid of something?”

“No Corporal.”

He stares at me letting the silence hang.

I tilt my head towards him to meet his eyes. “Should I be Corporal?” and I muster the slightest of grins. He smiles back and walks to the doorframe.

“Make sure you tell your Pa in your letter how you did on the high ropes course. You never gave up. He’ll be proud to hear that and you better be writing to your mother too!”

“I am Corporal.”

“Happy birthday kid.”

My 20th Birthday

I see the muzzle flash in the dark and the tracer round go off. I can’t tell where the bullet lands but I’m still unhurt and I fire my rifle in response. Out of the corner of my eye Stewart has dropped to the ground and is firing. I leap up and charge forward and muzzle flashes appear all over the jungle. I fire a few rounds from the hip and land in line with Stewy. He goes to get up and I send rounds downrange straight at where I see a shadow moving. It seems to shake and go down. Did I get one?

My 23rd Birthday

I’m sitting in the test looking at the questions wondering if I have the right answer. The question seems to be asked in a way that can be interpreted both ways. I know what our readings said but the question confuses me. I studied so hard for this test. Dad says his department hires guys with this qualification all the time. I look up at the front row where Kimberley sits. I think about that time we smoked after class before my Dad picked me up. I wonder if that is why she didn’t talk to me again since I don’t have my own car. I’m going to be 23 today and I still don’t have my own license. Still live at home with my parents. I’m looking forward to the cake though with the butter icing Mum still makes for me. “Time’s up.” The tutor calls at the front. I tick the box.

My 26th Birthday

Dad and I are looking up at the moon in the backyard. I’m smoking a cigarette since Mum doesn’t like me to smoke them inside their house. Kimberley of course doesn’t mind at our place. She’s helping Mum apply the butter icing.

“You’re really selling?” I ask him as we stand outside in the backyard.

“What do you care? Aren’t you and Kimbo looking to buy your first house? Can’t raise a baby in an apartment?” he smacks me on the back. I haven’t told him what the Doctor said. It’s still uncertain anyway and he’s right, we are looking for a house.

“We are looking but sometimes… I tell Kim about Saigon sometimes and we think about. I mean she’s always wanted to go to Antarctica.”

“Antarctica.” He repeats but there’s no hint of emotion.

“It’s like when I went to Nam I saw a bit of this big interesting world out there and now I’m filling out forms in a basement and uh I think about how I could have died and… Did you ever want to go anywhere?”

“Your mother wanted to go Paris. We talked about it when your Pa died but we’re too old son. Your mum with the arthritis, it would be too tough. But you go, you go to Antarctica.” He tells me and there is a bit of wistfulness in the expression on his face.

My 28th Birthday

Kimberley is riding me, her hips slightly rocking mine as my hands reach up and squeeze her breasts. Her skin glistens with sweat in the moonlight seeping in from the balcony. I reach one thumb down to her clit and rub. Her body starts to tense and her breathing become erratic. She’s holding my wrist guiding me while I rub with my thumb blindly. The tension builds and then releases. She collapses on top of me and smiles. “I thought it was your birthday not mine.”

My 32nd Birthday

Mum falls back into the car seat with a huff. I place her walking stick down on the ground next to the seat and lean in to do up her seatbelt. I’ve got it she protests but she loses her grip. I tell her its okay and buckle her up. I kiss Kimberley and she waves as we drive out.

“She’s really good for you.” She says staring out the window. “Like your father was for me? I hope I don’t make it too difficult.”

“You don’t make it difficult Mum.” I tell her. It’s a beautiful clear night as the wind runs through the windows and cools us down.

My 33rd Birthday

Jack sits on my lap as Kimberley lights the candles on my cake. Mum is reaching out and tickling his cheek. He laughs and my heart melts. I have a son, a wife, a family, a house, a home. The wall behind Kimberley is still not painted. Too many nights working late and too many weekends drinking beers and sleeping in. Kimberley is not impressed but she smiles now. It’s my birthday and it’s a good one.

My 37th Birthday

The phone is ringing yet again and I know I can’t afford to ignore it again. I pick it up and my wife is on the other end.

“When are you coming home now?”

“I told you I got to get this done tonight. It’s just bad timing it fell on my desk this morning.”

“It’s a quarter to seven…it’s 7:02pm. They can’t make you work that late unpaid. C’mon I think I got your mother’s recipe for the icing perfect this time.” I can hear Jack in the background.

“They can make me work back. If we want to get the loan for the extension I need this promotion and that means I got to stay back!”

“We both know you’re the only one who cares about the extension. I want you home with your family. You’ve been spending too much time at work.”

“Please don’t nag me now. I will be home soon but I got to get this done.”

Kimberley hangs up and I look around the office and wonder why it is that I was happier when I was in a jungle getting shot at on my birthday?

My 40th Birthday

As soon as I open the door Jack comes racing up to me with a piece of paper. I pick him up and lift him in the air. He’s made me a birthday card in class which he is very proud of. Kimberley smiles as I enter the kitchen. “Thought you weren’t going to make it?” and I give her a kiss. She asks me if I’ve been smoking again and I shrug and say a couple.

“We can’t all be quitters like you.” I mock tease her but I know she’s right. Lately I’ve been feeling out of breath way too much when painting the gazebo.

My 46th Birthday

I rock up to the school hall and Jack is there in his Karate outfit with the head instructor talking to him and a few of the other kids. I must be a little late but not too much. I walk up the steps confused whether it’s easier since I’ve stopped smoking or harder since I put on 5kgs after I quit smoking.

“Sensei Dan my Dad was in Vietnam too.” Jack tells him and Sensei Dan sizes me up with his eyes.

“Oh yeah which battalion?”

“3RAR.” I answer.

“I was with 6RAR. Much harder tour.”

“You were with 6 huh?”

“Yeah.”

“God you must be so old.”

One of the kids can’t help himself and snorts but my son, my loyal loving son looks mortified.

Sensei Dan just smiles and shakes my hand.

“Anytime you want to join us in class let me know Mr Cordwell. Lose some of that Christmas pudding.” He tells me and the same kids snorts again. I turn around to leave and Jack is already half way to the car.

 My 50th Birthday

“Do you think Jack is having any girls around to the house while we’re away?” Kim asks me and I shrug my shoulders reaching for my glass of wine.

“I don’t care if my son is getting lucky tonight; all I care about is whether I’m going to get lucky tonight.” I tease.

“Well put another log on the fire and let’s see where this night takes us.” She replies so I get up and go over to the fireplace. I hear her coughing behind me. It’s getting worse.

“Why don’t we go to Antarctica?”

“It’s off season now. I’ll be right in the thick of treatments when it starts up again. Besides c’mon along with the medical bills, the mortgage still has a couple of years to go and Jack is in uni.”

“You always wanted to go?”

“And I will.”

My 51st Birthday

“How’s Europe son?” I ask him and his voice comes all the way down the telephone from Europe.

“Paris is awesome Dad. I’m going to celebrate your birthday when I get back next week.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“Nah c’mon Dad. Did you go out with the boys?”

“No but they had cake for me at work. Fuckin cream icing shit. How about you? What did you and the guys get up to?”

“Actually I’ve met this girl on the tour and she comes from Brisbane too.”

“What’s her name?”

My 52nd Birthday

Minnie is a beautiful young girl and is practically glowing with her pregnancy. Jack comes barging through the door after her with a cake in one hand, loosening the tie from his work shirt in the other. He’s made the cake with butter icing just like he said he would. We walk into the kitchen past the photographs of my family. My grandparents, my parents, my wife. I miss them and I have no doubt I will see them soon. But I love my life. My life is good.

© Copyright Lloyd Marken.

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28 comments on “BIRTH DAYS

  1. Don Ostertag says:

    Nice work. It hit it!

  2. GP Cox says:

    Whoa! Lloyd you did an outstanding job here!!

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      Thanks GP, you’ve got such a large following and I appreciate you, Cindy and a few others for consistently taking an interest in my posts. It’s a real treat that you guys enjoy my work. This was something a bit different so I’m very grateful for the response.

      • GP Cox says:

        I appreciate your vote of confidence, especially by putting me in Cindy’s league! But it takes work and time. I treat each reader as an individual and try to show every one the courtesy they deserve. (i.E. responding to each ‘Like’; answering each comment as best as possible; going on the Reader page to read those sites I follow and adding Tags that interest me to look for others I can follow and learn from. )

  3. Paul S says:

    Thought provoking and poignant!
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. beetleypete says:

    Well done with this, Lloyd. Something for everyone to identify with, even though 52 is something of a distant memory for me now. The 14th birthday was exactly right, and made me chuckle!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. Great job, Lloyd. I read about a call for writers of short fiction and thought of you.
    https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/44523464/posts/1006791216

  6. Jay says:

    Wow, this is incredible!

  7. Jordan Dodd says:

    This was really moving mate. And g’day from a fellow Aussie! 🙂 Cindy steered towards your site

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      Isn’t she great? Thanks Cindy and thanks Jordan. I’m glad you were moved by the story.

      • Jordan Dodd says:

        It has given me a bit of motivation to write creatively, I don’t do it anywhere near as often as I’d like. And yeah, Cindy is great! 🙂

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        I know that feeling.

      • Jordan Dodd says:

        Hehe, I’m sure all creative writers know that feeling 😛

        Hey, I am writing a book (well, trying to) about my time in rehab. If you can be arsed I’d love to hear your honest feedback on my story. It is based on my time spent in a rehab centre that was actually some sort of cult.

        Cheers mate!

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Well I’m hardly a writer but happy to read something and offer how I responded to it.

      • Jordan Dodd says:

        I’d say you are a writer mate! 🙂 That birthday post was great on so many different levels, and the fact it is total fiction is to me even more impressive, as my project is from my own experiences, with a little exaggeration here and there 😉

        If you can be arsed, I’d love to hear your honest feedback. I crave constructive criticism, so if you reckon a part is a bit crappy, let me know! Just let me know why you think that 😉

        cheers mate

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Okay Jordan, I’m up for it. I will say the desire to travel is something I took from real life for Birth Days.

      • Jordan Dodd says:

        Hmmm, that makes it even more interesting!

        If you can be bothered reading it, this is how much I have written so far: http://wp.me/p4P9IW-zQ

        Would love to hear some feedback from ya 🙂

  8. vinnieh says:

    This work is incredible Lloyd.

  9. This was a strong narrative, Lloyd. I see why you did so well.

    I really enjoyed the way you set everything up. You focus on some small moments and make them ‘big’. I felt a few of those ‘chapters’. The concept driving this story is impressive.

    As an editor / writer / professional reader (and per our previous chats), I hope you don’t mind me giving some opinion here. Whenever I give feedback, I make sure it’s constructive. I mention good along bad, but also offer up new ideas (or try to hehehe). Let’s dig in a bit…

    While the adult years may be lacking the same oomph, it has that same tinge of melancholy. I was expecting this story to be told at death (that old adage that your whole flashes before your eyes). The nice touch I thought was coming was remembering that moment from childhood. The moment the narrator said he forgot.

    Should you return to this project, consider the revision to embellish the themes even more. Imagine it ended with remembering his great grandfather looking at him with his own eyes. I think it could add a certain poetic vibe.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the story. Structure is one of the hardest storytelling techniques to nail. I think you created a really compelling narrative here with emotional universal appeal. Great stuff.

    Thanks for recommending this. We talked about the craft before. I encourage you to pursue it more, especially when inspiration strikes. It seems like you have good instincts on how to tell the story you imagine. This is an excellent skill (more than any kind of flowery prose). Structure and character are king, with theme its queen. You emphasized these elements rather well. Good luck with your next creative pursuit whatever format it is.

    For me, I imagine a movie with the birthdays leading up to war as the intro, and the birthday in Nam as the main story. You could epilogue the end with a jump forward birthday montage (like the opening) and include the reflective great grandpa moment.

    If you write the screenplay, keep me posted. I’d love to give you some feedback on that. Take care. Onwards and upwards, buddy.

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      Thank you for the feedback Dan, most kind and appreciated. I couldn’t help but think of the narrative structure of The Tree of Life when you spoke of you imagining it as a film. It’s funny original it was to end with death but I cut it short because I was well over my word count for the assignment. 🙂 I really appreciate this feedback Dan.

      • Hmm. I didn’t think of that parallel, but yes it feels like the natural progression. Plus, kinda poetic to focus on ‘birth’ days and end on the last one (or death). Either way, the writing shows much promise. If every story makes each writer a little better, you’re well on your way 🙂

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