BIRTHDAY GIRL • by Rosalie Kempthorne

It’s close to ten years since I last saw him. And now, here he is, standing where I need to be standing. And there’s a part of me that wants to hide behind a tree, to wait until he’s gone. I crush that part down. Ten years, it’s been.

They’ve been hard on him, those years: carving too many lines in the face I remember, weaving grey through shaggy gold hair. His back no longer quite straight; shoulders hunched as if he’s learned to feel the cold. The long coat I met him in hanging differently on his new frame.

I see him take a moment; a thin, pained breath. Trying to calm that turmoil that’s roiling around in his head. I know it’s there because it’s in my head too.

Ten years. But they melt away. Back to this same place, to these stones, these rows of trees. To a day with a few more clouds, and a dog barking somewhere in the distance. A strange smell of doughnuts carried on the wind. Every sight and sound igniting memories that hurt to touch.

He’d been good with her. Perfect with her.

I walk the short-long distance between us, my fingers clenched around the small treasure in my pocket.

He turns towards me: “Katie?”

“Yeah. Me.” I shrug. I don’t want to make anything of it.

There’s so little to say mostly because there could be so much to say. Two of us — two heads — turn back to the stone, back to the neat summary of her life carved in marble: Alana Miriam Crossley, 2003-2007, beloved daughter, beloved granddaughter, missed by all who knew her.

By us. Most of all. I want to say something, but all possible words just evaporate when I try. It’s been too long, too cold. Well, we blamed each other, didn’t we?

But he’s looking right at me.

I turn, not quite willingly. “What?”

“Just… just the way you look when you remember her.”

“Don’t.” I will cry. And then I will say stupid things; weak things; pathetic things. And then hateful things when I regret the first outpouring. Where were you back then, Nathan?

But then, where was I?

I don’t know whose fault it is we couldn’t hold each other up.

“You look… like you,” he says. “The way you were.”

And I manage not to laugh. Because if I laugh then the rest of it will have to come spewing out too, and he’ll wish he’d never dared that first move. That first brave kindness. I feel almost dizzy. I can hardly hear myself say, “You look like you’re doing okay as well.”

I know what he’s going to do. He kneels down and puts a tiny clay dog beside the headstone. It’s a spaniel, I think, mud-brown and white, its head tossed up into an imagined gust of wind. These little figurines like she used to adore. I kneel when he’s done and I place a tiny rabbit beside where he’s placed the dog. I kiss my two fingers and press them to the gravestone, filling my heart with her. Behind me, I hear him — overhear him, he doesn’t mean it for me — as he says in a whisper: “Happy birthday, Lani.”

Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Author Bio, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has somewhat better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, Flash Frontier, or on her website:

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Every Day Fiction