HAPPY BIRTHDAY • by Benjamin Finateri

A gray morning, a deserted cornfield. The scarecrow cried. No one had come to his birthday party, not even the sun, not even the crows. He dried his eyes, climbed down off his pole and whispered to the corn. It ignored him. He heard chanting, a song about smashing ants. He recognized the voice, the farmer’s young son. As the scarecrow’s maker, the boy had no excuse for missing the birthday party. The scarecrow followed the sound, sneaking through the corn, silent until he was very close to the chanting. He lunged toward the voice.

The boy jumped, realized it was the scarecrow, glared, and said, “You have to stop doing that.”

The scarecrow shrugged. “Sorry, it’s kind of in my nature.”

“Really? How about some of that behavior when the crows come around then?”

“I like the cr– I’m doing my best.”

“Exactly,” said the boy. “That’s the problem.”

The scarecrow frowned. “You know, you forgot my birthday.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, you did, and I would’ve thought of all my friends you’d remember on account it’s kind of an important day for you too.”

“You don’t have any friends.”

“That’s plain mean.”

“It is simply a statement of fact.”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“Don’t think of it as rejection. It’s just I’m a boy and you’re a scarecrow. A boy and a scarecrow friends? That’s unnatural.”

“But you made me,” pleaded the scarecrow. “If you won’t be my friend, who will?”

“Yes, I made you,” said the boy. “So, think of me as your father, or better still, a god. Your one true god. Now kneel and worship me.”

The bullying was too much to take for the scarecrow, but he would not let the boy witness his anxiety, so he ran off.

He went to the edge of his cornfield and lingered next to the barbed-wire fence. If everyone refused to celebrate his birthday with him, fine, the scarecrow would give himself a present. The girl, the neighbor’s daughter, was out there, somewhere, on the other side of the fence — he hoped. No, she must be. He’d seen her three times: picking corn, gently, with kindness, helping a family of beetles get home, playing hide-and-go-seek with the wind. Only three times in his whole life, but three was something. Three could become four.

The scarecrow knew many weak spots in the fence, places you might pull it back and squeeze through. He dreamt of crossing over to the neighbor’s cornfield, calling out for the girl, finding her. Making a friend. But fear rooted him to the ground. The other cornfield was off-limits. The Forbidden Zone. Joey lived there. Joey, with his black doll’s eyes, snaggle-toothed mouth, and claws for hands. The nastiest scarecrow ever. Joey the terrifying. No wonder the corn was the best selling in the county. It luxuriated as it grew, a stress-free life.

The scarecrow waited, watching through the fence for any sign of the girl. He stayed patient. Morning turned to afternoon, the day grew late, and out of the gloaming, the scarecrow heard a giggling. Then he saw her. With her spiky hair, dirty t-shirt, and torn jeans, she might be mistaken for a boy, except she was as beautiful as the stars.

What a glorious day. No better birthday gift had ever been bestowed. To glance her. Oh wonder of wonders.

They say you shouldn’t wish your life away, but for the scarecrow, the only days that mattered were the days he saw the girl. The rest did not exist.

Wait, thought the scarecrow. What’s this? She sees me. An actual encounter was only a dream. Now a reality, what should I do? I know, run. Don’t trip, stupid. Run.

The scarecrow was splayed on the ground. The girl’s giggling changed to laughing and now she stood close to the scarecrow, looking down at him from her side of the fence.

“Please don’t laugh at me,” said the scarecrow.

“But you’re silly,” said the girl.

The scarecrow wanted to slink back into the corn, but before he could make his escape, the girl said, “Do you want to play?”

No way, thought the scarecrow. Hold on. Yes. Way. This must be what joy feels like, I think.

The girl was impatient for an answer. She said, “Get up. Get up. I know where there’s a hole in the fence. Get up. Get up. I’ll show you.”

The scarecrow’s joy turned to terror. He would not, could not enter the Forbidden Zone. Joey would catch him, drag him in his clawed hands to the farmer. He’d end up in the barn, tossed with a pitchfork, getting slept on, covered in poop, and worse, eaten.

The girl rose up and down on her toes, and said, “What are you waiting for? Don’t you want to play?”

The scarecrow got to his feet. “Yes, but . . .”

“But nothing. Let’s play.”

The scarecrow did not want to show the girl his fear, so he said, “You see, it’s my birthday today and I’m having a party. Come, and we’ll play over here.”

The girl looked over her shoulder and back at the scarecrow. She shook her head. “Well, I hope you have a happy birthday, but it’s getting dark. I have to be home soon.” She smiled. “We have cake at my house, though, and ice cream. We can celebrate there. C’mon, let’s go.”

The girl ran off alongside the fence. The scarecrow wanted to stop her, explain that as a scarecrow, he didn’t need to eat. Then he remembered the only days that mattered. The girl looked back to see whether he was following and he called to her, “Hold on. I’m coming. Wait for me, my friend.”

As the scarecrow scrambled after the girl, he knew he was probably making a mistake, but if playing with her led to his transformation into barn hay, he would at least be changed knowing he’d gone happily.

Benjamin Finateri lives in San Francisco, CA with his wife, Gretchen, and their two cats. He has previously published two e-books: a novel, Find a Hero, and a collection of stories, Who’s Watching Who?

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