'So if you think it's scary,
If it's more than you can take,
Then blow out the candles, and have a piece of cake!'
This had to be the worst birthday she'd had since she was seven.
Before she'd had parties, she knew, where she got to wear the best dresses; pink and frilly, something she would sneer at now, but at the time, she'd felt like a princess. Her Father would hold her up above the candles on her cake and whisper in her ear that what ever she wanted, he'd always get her, no matter where he was, and all the candles were merely decoration. She'd blow them out, and when her Mother asked what her wish was, she'd say openly and honestly that she had none. She was never believed.
But her Seventh she spent in the hospital, staring at white washed walls, surrounded by the unmistakable smell of disinfectant and death. They'd sent a Doctor out to see her, whilst her Mother clung to her Father's bedside. The promises of his recover still rung in her ears hours later, after her beloved father's death.
She'd not really celebrated the day much since then. When you get an equal number of birthday and sympathy cards, it puts a damper on the whole thing. Sure her Mother had made the day known to anyone they encountered, but that was more for the donations of money it brought, than any real wish to make her daughter happy. When she'd got older, and the money turned into gifts of books, or wine, Lois had simply stopped mentioning it. What was she going to do with books anyway? Karen had slowly forgotten her birthday.
As the years slipped past and one day merged with another, she started counting the passing time by the number of prescriptions she had renewed. Stan had never really cared when her birthday was, as much as he wanted something special for his own, he hadn't ever made a big thing out of hers. She hadn't cared; she couldn't remember it herself anyway.
There had been one year when the day hadn't been filled with tears, or blanked from her memory. When she'd kept her consumption down to only a few glasses of wine, and the necessary pills to get her through the day. Stan had taken the week to go away on business, she hadn't questioned at the time, but now she couldn't help but wonder if that had been the start of it all. The Manse had been pretty quite, and she'd spent the morning in bed, swirling an olive through her martini; Rosie always dyed the drink red on her Birthday, and she watched as the liquid dripped from the olive, coming to land in the still full glass, drop, after drop, after drop. Her life blood. She used to hate how much she relied on the drugs and alcohol, but even that feeling had eventually faded away.
She didn't know why she'd chosen that day, of all days to limit her intake, perhaps it was the thought that she no longer cared that her body held more alcohol than blood, or that no one around her noticed or worried long enough to tell her to stop, she still wasn't sure, though deep down, she was glad that she had. The sight of the red liquid rolling down the walls would be forever imprinted in her mind, the image so surreal and evocative that she'd had to turn away in disgust. To be greeted with the sight of her Step children, their eyes drawn to the spilt drink, like moths to a flame, their brains working almost visibly as they attempted to wrap their child minds around the sight. She'd understood their fascination, hadn't she herself compared the drink to blood only moments before? She'd begun to ask them for the reason behind their appearance in her room, her voice drawing their attention sharply away from the wall, and onto her own face. She'd not gotten far, when their eyes dropped and she found them studying the carpet with an intensity usually reserved for their video games. She' never forgotten the look on their faces when she'd finally got the answer from them, and she didn't like to imagine what her own had looked like in that moment.
'Happy birthday Karen.' Three little words, mumbled to the carpet. They shouldn't have had such an affect on her, but they did. No one had said that to her in years, not her Mother, not her Husband, not her friends, not even her Rosie, and yet the two people she had barely treated as humans, who shouldn't even have known about the day, they were the ones to say it. Having been struck speechless for the first time in a long time, she had accepted the home-made card they handed her, and nodded in gratitude. The kids had left the room with twin smiles on their faces, and she'd made sure to get them each something more personal for their birthdays that year.
Looking now at that card, kept because she couldn't bring herself to get rid of it, she wanted that day back. She wanted that time in her life back, where she'd had a husband, two Step-children who against all odds had cared for her in some way, and the ability to actually go a few hours without shaking from withdrawal. This year she had none of that, and even the thought of throwing her drink, made her instinctively reach for more. She supposed she should make some declaration; some promise to herself to ensure that next year was different. But she knew she wouldn't keep to it even if she did. She was too far gone to change now, and she did have a pretty good life. So what if one day of the year she was miserable, if the rest of the 364 days she got to shop as much as she wanted, and buy whatever she didn't already have. I would be nice for the day to be acknowledged, although, the last time the 'gang' had celebrated her birthday, it had ended with the unwelcome return of her Mother, so maybe she was better off ignoring the day after all.
The card placed once more in the secret draw in her dressing table, she dressed for the day, holding her head high; at least without a birthday she couldn't age. The slamming open of her bedroom door, made her turn sharply in her place, angry at the disturbance even as she took in Rosario's shocked expression. Before she was able to shout out, two more people entered the room, silencing her instantly.
'Miss Karen, Miss Olivia and Master Mason have just arrived. They wish to invite you to a birthday lunch.'
Like she'd said; this had to be the best birthday she'd had since she was seven.