Marjorie sat at the round table in front of the window in the kitchen of her small, quiet house at the end of Greenfield Street. She sat with her hands in her lap and back straight despite the hunch she developed with age. Her kitchen counters were cluttered with newspaper ads and credit card offer letters. The off-white fridge whirred in the silence of the stillness while the handle to the icebox hung slightly off kilter. Lightning flashed over a hill in the distance, though Marjorie paid it no mind.
Marjorie pulled her cardigan tighter to her chest despite the warmth of the June night. She shifted her ankles, moving one behind the other, and tucked them under the wooden chair. Her frail hands touched her hair, making sure the grey strands were in place, before returning her gaze to the grandfather clock in the foyer. The pendulum swung methodically back and forth, back and forth, counting the seconds.
She cleared her throat and reached for the chilled glass of milk on the table. She wasn’t usually awake at this hour. The spare room down the hall from her kitchen, which had once been Harold’s study, had been converted into her bedroom when she could no longer make it up the stairs alone. She kept his desk and bookcase next to the bed, often waking up after dreams of long forgotten memories. Her in her cotton day-dress bringing a cup of coffee, black, to him as he hunched over his work. Sitting on the edge of the desk asking of his day, laughing at his annoyance when it wasn’t working out the way he intended. His smile was infectious, and that had been the reason she married him.
He had been somewhat reluctant to allow his study to share a space with the crib, worrying it would interfere with his work. But when Marjorie suggested moving the dresser in their bedroom to make room for the crib after their first child was born, he refused. He often abandoned his work to lull their daughter to sleep, singing her a soft tune from his childhood. When Marjorie became pregnant a second time they hired a carpenter to convert the attic into a bedroom. They had asked it to be large enough for three children, and it was later shared by three girls.
Some of Marjorie’s dreams are of foot stomps and shouting from the attic. Arguments over whose skirt that was, or which shade of lipstick looks better with what blouse. Then of giggles and phone conversations when young suitors started calling. Now the attic was dingy again. Dust layered thick on top of boxes of old possessions. Academic awards, art projects, posters of actors. All forgotten in the attic.
The clock chimed out a simple tune to mark nine thirty. Marjorie shifted in her chair, the reverie broken, and massaged her hands together. The clouds outside the window had moved to shroud the moon. A low rumble reverberated the house, adding to the whirr of the fridge.
At nine thirty five, Marjorie picked up the set of matches in the table and struck one. The flame danced on top of the wooden stick, like an exoitc women around a bonfire. The movement sparked a memory of Harold and herself watching girls dance around a fire at a celebration in Africa.
She slowly brought the match down to meet with a singular candle pushed into the icing of a cupcake on a plate of china on the kitchen table. The china was etched with a dove carrying a branch with plump red fruit in its mouth. Marjorie set the match on the side of the plate.
The only light in the house, besides the flicker of flame in front of her, was a nightlight in the bathroom off the kitchen. She returned her blue gaze to the grandfather clock. In the pale light she watched the smaller of the hands move past the thirty five notch. A smile crept across her face.
Marjorie cradled the cupcake in two shaking hands and lifted it from the plate. She softly began to sing.
Happy birthday to you. happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to my dear Marjorie. Happy birthday to you.
She took a short breath in and expelled it with a heaving sound. The little blue birthday candle extinguished, like a dancer falling to the ground.
Well, Marjorie. She said to herself in a voice that sounded like sandpaper getting dragged across a granite countertop. It had elegance, knowledge, and age.
You made to to one hundred.
She pushed back in her chair and stood, keeping one hand resting on the table until she was steady on her feet. The hallway to her bedroom was lined with a tan wallpaper with intricate little patterns on them. Marjorie had picked them out when they bought the house. The patterns had no real shape to them. They swirled and meshed together, almost resembling flowers. She had found Harold caressing a desk when she announced she found the perfect design for their first home.
She sat at the edge of the bed in the room. This wasn’t their marital bed. That had been left in the master bedroom; it would not fit with Harold’s desk. This was a raised twin that fit snug in the corner. Marjorie pulled on her nightgown, leaving her beige dress on a heap on the floor. It is no matter, she said aloud. For today is my birthday and I can do what I want.
She slid under the heavy white duvet and turned to face Harold’s desk. She could picture him sitting in his chair, leaning back and rocking while one of the wheels squeaked. She could hear his laugh still reverberating off the walls of his study. And in the darkness she could picture his face. Not as he was when they were first married, but as he was when he left her. Creases around his eyes. His black hair nearly gone, and the strands that were left completely white. Teeth crooked and yellow. Eyes still full of shine.
What will you get me for my birthday this year? Marjorie asked the darkness as she closed her eyes.
The cupcake sat on top of the dove that night and watched the storm carry on outside. Lightning made cracks through the sky, illuminating the trees that crept up the hill in view from Marjorie’s kitchen window. The June heat made the storm lovely and terrible at the same time. One hundred years, yet storms never changed for Marjorie.