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Birthday

By Pat Halsey

The telephone was put in ten years ago–the first he’d ever allowed. A great deal of energy had been spent resisting connection with the outside world when it was not of his choosing!Now, here he was, practically an invalid.His legs hardly worked now.The two elegant brass animal headed canes with which he used to play the Victorian ‘bon vivant’ were now unwieldy sticks he could hardly count on.His bent height and portly but still handsome figure had become to him a Galapagos turtle-like shell serving as protection from close encounters–even as it was an increasingly enormous burden.

His eightieth birthday party, hosted for him by a colleague at her large, dark shingled home, was a great success. People kept arriving–over 50–artists, historians, professors of all sorts–all ages. The elders were provided tables to sit at for dinner–the others had to fend for themselves in luxurious rooms filled with 1940’s retro couches and leather chairs to enjoy a wonderfully prepared catered supper of duck cassoulet ending with a dessert of cream puffs (which the celebrant requested instead of a birthday cake.Wine flowed, as they say, like water.

He though, was drugged with pain killers and sat like a caesar being paid homage by his people. Attending the party were a few old friends from before his journey into academia, the “old shoes” of his long life, those often forgotten, and like family skeletons come out of the closet on special occasions. Sitting there, hampered in movement, guests greeted him, joked and hugged. There were laughs and comments about old photos, shared experiences remembered. He found though, the old familiars gave him a feeling of comfort he didn’t quite get from the ‘new’ crowd, even those with whom he had had long associations, some for at least 40 years!

Since it was a ‘no gift, please’ event, he was presented with a book of reminiscences and letters from near and far put together by his black-tressed hostess.This was the gift he carried home with him.

A week later the doctors informed him that he might loose the use of his legs altogether. He would meet with them in a few days to discuss medical and surgical options. During the gloom of this reality he spent many hours pouring over his Birthday Book. He returned over and over again to an entry from one very old friend, a person he had asked all those years ago to help him with the decision whether or not to enter the world of art and academia. He had received an offer most others would take without a second thought! The two of them had spent hours riding around darkened streets until the moon rose and a decisive envelope put into the mail box. Now he kept searching a few phrases written on that page of his Book “…I was caught in mute grief to think I would be loosing a special friend…” and “Thank you for a decade of renewed friendship via that ‘new fangled machine!...” and finally “…Love always…”

He picked up the phone and dialed.

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