What a Surprise
Paul had been stumbling through the woods for an hour now. He’d started with an unbridled conviction to wish his daughter a happy birthday, being as it was May 13th and Shelley was turning 40. He’d called last year to wish her the same, only to be met with the embarrassing reality that she was not yet 40, but merely 39. This year he’d get it right. He’d set his alarm and promised not to drink so that Shelley would show him that non-disapproving look that she wore so well. Unfortunately, the angle of the sun’s rays that had assaulted his blanket that morning was an extreme disappointment and his only choice was to pour just a bit of fire down his throat. After successfully slurring his speech to mid-comprehensible, Paul had donned a light jacket and set out on his quest to bring his daughter a card.
Shelley was a terrific daughter who looked exactly like the mother they’d both agreed to no longer mention. She would slowly, but consistently redisperse his life-long earnings like a soft breeze blowing around dandelion seeds and, in exchange, avoid mentioning the ethyl alcohol wafting from Paul’s every pore. She lived only 5 minutes away on foot, but the flask’s insistence on travelling back and forth between Paul’s pocket and lips required him to take a more discreet route through the forest. The sunlight was better when filtered through branches anyway. This had definitely been the right choice, he thought with assurance as he took another swig.
The forest let him find what he had lost, like lines of Whitman he’d memorized in school and the color of his first car. Some things were better remembered when drunk than sober, he’d discovered. There wasn’t much data to work with on the sober end as the instances were increasingly rare, but the overall impression he had was that the moments fuelled by the burning drink were far superior. Paul continued to remember: what morning was like when he’d had a wife, how he’d left the washing machine full of wet clothes again for over a week. “Must work on that,” he muttered. Then he reminded himself to prepare a compliment for Shelley. She never thought he was paying attention, so he vowed to tell her that her skin looked clear or that her hair was a good length, something that could apply to any state she was in when opening the door.
Five minutes and 2 sticks of strong mint chewing gum later, Paul was ringing the doorbell. Shelley opened the door, bearing a huge grin and a grandson whose name Paul had stored somewhere behind a heavy piece furniture in his brain. “What a surprise,” she said as she motioned him in. Paul held his breath as he kissed her cheek and handed her some dandelions he’d picked along the way to replace the misplaced birthday card. “For my dear daughter, who has very good posture, on her 40th birthday,” he said. He’d nailed it this time.
Shelley flashed him a smile, borrowed directly from her mom. It was a genuine thank you, but tinged with genuine pity. “Dad, my birthday is next month, in May.”
A previous version of this story appears in the Strasbourg Writers' Stammtisch, Vol. 1