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On My Birthday
written by: Elke Margaretta
For a while there, I didn’t think she’d come. But when the sun kissed the snow on the crown of the mountain, she arrived. And this time, she brought the children. I guess, to them, I must seem like a stranger, a feeble old man with trembling hands. I was relieved they knew to ignore the birthday cake, oozing chocolate with cherries, fluffy cream.
I only hope there’s cake they can eat, wherever they are.
The children ran outside to play hide and seek, and it wasn’t long before we heard squeals as they fought over the rules, with a tearful Emma insisting naughty, naughty Daniel must have peeked.
We looked at each other and laughed: how some things never change. Then her face grew serious, and I understood why: they may still be children but in many ways they’re not: they now know terrible things happen because it happened to them. How life can stop so suddenly for some, yet continue on for others…
I recalled the last day we spent as a family, that sparkling, sunlit afternoon by the sea, the drive home with the children asleep in the back, all sticky with salt, sunblock and ice cream… the musk of her perfume… the truck veering towards us… her screams… my twist of the steering wheel, a moment too late.
Even though over seventy years have passed, I began to cry while she gazed upon me with such love and sympathy that, finally, the 100-year-old me was able to forgive my 26-year-old self.
She smiled and evaporated, and the squeals and laughter of my children became merged with those of others, running along the footpath on their way home from school.