Day of Birth
She had taken the day off work but forgot to turn off her usual alarm. All hopes of a lie-in were demolished. She was not ready to turn 29. “Let’s call the whole thing off.”
She wondered if the ravens knew that their continuous cawing is the most consistent, reliable thing in her life.
A murder of crows. An ostentation of peacocks. A parliament of owls. She had no collective. She just was.
She buried her phone under her mattress so she didn’t have to face life just yet. She began to read The Glass Bead Game for the fourth time. And for the fourth time she didn’t make it past page 28. Having said that, she hadn’t expected to make it past year 28, but she’s only bloody gone and done it.
She never opens it in front of her, but she receives a card from her mother every year. If she shakes it hard enough, the hollow words fall out of the envelope like dirty feathers so that by the time she’s gathered the strength to read it, the inside is blank. It’s easier that way, for everyone.
She crossed herself as the bus rumbled past the church, just in case. In case of what, she wasn’t sure. In case hell doesn’t turn out to be as hot as everyone says it is.
She found herself at a park that she used to go to. As a child she spent hours in the playground, being pushed on the rusty swing by someone else’s parent, playing quietly with snails and stones and empty fag packets.
And as a teenager she used to hang out down by the brook with her fellow delinquents, getting trashed on ketamine and K cider. She couldn’t decide which of these periods was more of a waste of her finite hours.
She went to the playground but was fearful of doing so without a child in tow. It had rained last night and the smell was familiar. The playground floor was still comprised of wood chips and loose pieces of tree bark, like it had been over 20 years ago.
She remembered lifting the larger pieces of wood after rainfall and finding woodlice to play with; giving them names, loving them, and then being devastated when she wasn’t allowed to take them home. She did the same now. She named him Stanley and put him in her blazer pocket. There was nobody around to tell her not to.
She stood beneath the statue to read the card from her mother.
She used to climb the statue as a kid. She thought it was the closest she’d get to seeing the Statue of Liberty. Now there’s a gate around it: health and safety gone mad. The blue woman looked so severe, so powerful, so strong, holding her book and sceptre, a wreath around her head.
She is called The Bringer of Peace. Some kids climbed up her and blowtorched her breasts. She now has a large charred black circle on each tit. It makes her look silly. The Bringer of Empty Birthday Cards.
She realised that she’d spent the last decade fighting the urge to lie down in the street, at the bus stop, in the frozen aisle of the supermarket. She was so, so tired.
She forgot where she’d hidden her phone. She received an email from an old lover, wishing her many happy returns. She will never return to him. Tears pricked her eyes as she recalled his parting words to her:
You are impossible. You are as impossible as trying to roll a cigarette in a tornado, without any rizla. You’re the fucking storm and I’m in desperate need of a smoke.
She checked her pocket to see how Stanley was doing. He was gone. She hit her head against the wall 29 times, hard. One for every year of being a terrible person.
She suddenly remembered someone telling her about how their mother’s pregnancy craving was piccalilli. She couldn’t, for the life of her, remember who said this. Or work out why it was in her mind. Did anyone ever say that? On tv, in a book, in a film? She cried because she’ll never know. She had 10% of a memory but will never regain the rest. She wasn’t even sure what piccalilli actually was so she cried some more. She was so tired.
She always cried on her birthday. Every year without fail.
Why the elevator has carpeted walls, she will never know.
She felt the burn of a thousand champagne bubbles rioting down her throat, each capsule of carbonated misery filled with the vicious irony of celebrating being one day closer to her death. And a day closer to yours, too.
She locked herself in a cubicle and shovelled snow up her snout. She hoped Stanley was safe somewhere. Just thinking about him made her well up. She decided she would never have children. She couldn’t even look after a woodlouse.
She sat on her friend’s lap, smoking a suspicious-looking rollup. The garden was lit up like fairyland. She was grateful for her friends, and as the sky was turning purple she saw his face illuminated in the gaps between the fragmented chunks of cloud. Even nature is broken, she thought aloud.
She made a wish when she blew out the candles on her extravagant multi-layer cheesecake. “Please kill me.”
(But it won’t come true because she told me what she wished for).
She didn’t want to go home because it didn’t feel like home at all. The empty streets felt more like home than her little studio room so off she went.
He knew she’d had enough when he noticed that it took her eight seconds to decide if it was a star or an aeroplane.
He knew she’d had enough but he did it anyway.
He knew she’d had enough and said No No No No I don’t want to Please No Please Please Stop Get off me Please No Get off Please but he did it anyway.
He did it anyway even when her screaming stopped.
He did it anyway even when her breathing stopped
He dumped her all those years ago with a nasty line about her being a storm and him wanting an easy life, saying she was impossible to live with.
He dumped her down by the brook and hid her body under some pieces of wood. They were damp and covered in woodlice. There were hundreds and hundreds of them.
They crawled over his hands, around his wrists and up his shirt sleeves. They got into his shoes and ran up his trouser legs. He shrieked and yelped as they climbed his back, over his neck and into his ears. He jumped around like a madman, trying to shake the bugs off him, but every time he’d cleared some of the woodlice off him, another army had arrived.
The commotion happened to alert two police officers that were doing the rounds of their patch. Since the statue had been vandalised, night crawlers had been drafted in to keep an eye on the park after dark.
He was sentenced to 29 years.