The Birthday

She brushed the snow from her coat, setting the cake box on the bench by the front door.  She was shivering, which made putting the key in the lock extra difficult, especially with mittens on.  After removing her boots, putting her coat on the rack and the mittens and hat on the radiator to dry, she brought the cake to the kitchen.  The presents she had wrapped earlier in the day were next to the rocker.  She looked over to the rocker wistfully.  She had nursed Danny in that very rocker.

Within the hour, she had finished up preparation of Danny’s favorite dinner and set the table.  Jack would be home momentarily, and all would be ready for their son’s birthday dinner.  15 years old.  Oh, that reminded her to put the candles, the one and the five, next to the cake with the birthday lighter.  No balloons or decorations this year.  When Danny was 13 he’d had a fit over the balloons.  He was on the outer edge of childhood, when a boy tries taking those first clumsy leaps to manhood.  This made her smile, thinking of how embarrassed he was by the hoopla his parents forced upon him every year on his birthday.

She heard Jack’s key in the door and looked towards the door.

“You are late.” She could smell alcohol on his breath.

“Sorry.”

“You’re shitfaced, Jack.  Of all nights.”

“Mannie, you’ve got to stop this.”

She turned her back to him.

“Mannie.  Wait.  You are ripping the heart out of me every fucking time you put me through this.”

She slammed the pot on the stove, spilling the scalding sauce onto her wrists, wrists covered with scars.  He was pushing again…always pushing her.

“Let’s not fight; okay?  Danny would not..”

“Danny is gone, Man.  He’s gone.  It’s been two fucking years of this goddamn pretending.”

She wasn’t pretending.  She knew her son was not dead.  She gave birth to him.  Shared every moment of his life that was meaningful with him.  She did not share his death and therefore he was not dead.

“He’s not dead.”  She uttered with the lump building in her throat and sounding less convincing than she wanted to.

Jack went up to her and put his arms around her.  She turned to stone.  She hated being touched.  She couldn’t tolerate anything that brought pleasure or sensation.  Staying numb was her only comfort since Danny was taken from her.

“I can’t do this anymore.  You need help, and I can’t reach you.  He was my son too, you know.  I lost him too.  Why is it that my grief is any less than yours?  Do you realize how much I fucking resent you for wrapping yourself in this ice-filled grief and leaving me outside looking in, with no one.  When will it be my turn, Mannie?  When will I get a chance to grieve.”

“I’m not grieving.  I’ve just lost him.  No, you lost him.  You were supposed to pick him up after his game.  You..”

“Shut up.  Just shut up.  It was not my fault.  I called the coach.  I told him I was on my way.  Christ.  We’ve been over this a million times.”

“Let’s just sit down to eat.  It’s his birthday.  We can enjoy this one day together; can’t we?  No more fighting.”

“No, Mannie.  I won’t sit here and pretend like he’s coming back.  You’ve got presents, birthday, Christmas, Easter…every fucking holiday for two years.  Closets packed with clothes, presents, shoes, sneakers.  You couldn’t even know what size he’d be.  You need to go back to Dr. Simons.  He can help, make you see how useless all this is.”

“Dinner is served, Jack.  Come on sit down.”

Just as Jack put his coat back on and just as she was going to beg him to stay, just as she was beginning to think he was right, there was a knock at the door.  On the other side was an officer.  Jack hesitated before opening, he saw  it the shock and devastation on Mannie’s face.  They both knew that this moment could come, most likely would come.  Mannie could not stop the tears.  Jack opened the door and greeted the officer.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hartsford?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Officer Smyth.  I was wondering if you could come to the station with me.  We need you to identify a male child that was found this afternoon in the Heberon Park neighborhood.

Mannie fell onto the couch.   Her sobbing becoming uncontrollable.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry.  No.  Geez, I guess that didn’t come out right.  We found a boy who says his name is Daniel Hartsford.  He says he lives at this address.  He told us he was abducted about two years ago by his baseball coach.  The coach had a heart attack last week and has been in the hospital.  The coach’s wife found the boy locked in the cellar of their home.  She heard screaming and pounding and found the boy in a room her husband had hidden in their basement.  The kid had no water or food for almost a week.  He’s in tough shape, but he’s alive.  Come on get your coats on, folks.  Let’s see if this Danny is your Danny, which I’m thinking he is.

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