The Birthday Gift

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt


Fantasy Suspense Sad

I never thought it would end up this way. I went for a walk to cool my head after he blew up at me. I made a wish and walked out the door. It was stupid. So stupid. And now I’m stuck.

I hadn’t loaded the dishwasher, and I’d told him I would. It wasn’t like he was controlling me, though. He’d been asking me to do it for a week. But I kept forgetting.

Somehow, my brain stopped functioning. It was like I was living in a fog. I tried to get out of the funk that was sucking me deeper and deeper into this depression, but everything I tried just felt hokey and fake. There were books to read, movies to watch, snacks to devour, but nothing made me feel any better.

I hadn’t felt right since my birthday.

It started with the chorus around my birthday cake, flames lit, and fire department on standby. Three of my closest friends had joined us for the celebration.

“Lucy, you’re so lucky to get a cake from Shelly’s Bakery!” Tanya exclaimed as she set my gift on the marble counter.

“She got her cake from where?” Jolene chimed in, sneaking in through the back door.

I laughed. “Tommy ordered my cake last year, after that grocery store disaster.”

“Oh, lord, girl.” Jolene rolled her eyes. “That cake was a full-blown bring in FEMA disaster!”

Not only had the flavor been wrong, but the cake that was supposed to say “Happy Birthday Lucy” surrounded by pink and blue flowers was, instead, a giant phallus that said, “Get you some, Gertie!”

“We never did figure out who was supposed to get that cake, did we?” Melissa’s arms were filled to the brim with packages. She always went overboard, but this year was even more extravagant than she’d done before. Her husband had died in the pandemic, and she was over-compensating like I’d never seen anyone do. She carefully placed the packages on the counter next to Tanya’s and came in for a hug. She squeezed me more tightly than she’d ever done before, too.

“You gals talking about my x-rated cake faux pas from last year?” Tommy kissed the top of my head as he walked into the kitchen carrying a tray of freshly grilled steaks. He knew my friends well enough to know that they’d arrive hungry and start drinking early, so if he had any hope of sober party guests at gift and cake time, the food better be ready when the girls arrived.

I squeezed his arm gently. “Yeah, that was a heck of an adventure last year. Too bad the dang thing didn’t even taste good!”

We gathered around the table, and Tommy moved the beautiful, flowered cake to the center so we could enjoy the view before devouring it. He filled our plates with Mexican corn, steaks, and fresh mashed potatoes. He had always known the way to my heart.

As everyone ate our meal, the conversation slowed. Tommy always said that was a sign of a great meal when the conversation stopped. I glanced around at the girls who had been my best friends for over twenty years now and the man who’d been my partner for three-quarters of that time. I was grateful, to be sure, but felt a twinge of sadness. Melissa’s husband, Alan, had died last year, so the table was a bit emptier than usual. Some years, Tanya and Jolene brought a date, but since we’d all been so isolated this past year, they were single. It was nice to have a quieter party this year.

Bellies filled quickly, and the bottles of wine drained, replaced instead by bottles of liquor and louder voices.

“Hold on, hold on, ladies!” Tommy exclaimed. “Before you get too wild, let’s have Lucy open her presents.”

“But what about cake?” Jolene asked, her words beginning to slur some.

“I can’t eat cake yet,” I said, patting my stomach. “Let’s do gifts first, and then cake. Let this dinner settle a bit.”

“That just means a bigger piece of cake, right?” Tanya winked at Jolene.

“Sure does,” Tommy answered.

He handed me the first gift. It was from Jolene - an antique copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. It was my favorite story. When I flipped open the cover, I saw that each of the previous owners of this edition had signed her name in the front flap and quickly waved at Jolene for a pen to add mine to the list.

“Thank you, Jo. This is wonderful!” I exclaimed.

“Great,” Tommy kidded. “It can go on the shelf with the other 485 copies she has!”

I smacked his arm. “Give me the next one.”

Tanya’s gift was a beautiful stationery set with blue butterflies and a glass pen and ink set.

“This is beautiful, Tanya.” I smiled at her. During the pandemic, when we couldn’t get out to see each other, we all wrote letters back and forth. Sure, text messages and phone calls were easy enough, but there was something more intimate about writing to each other. We’d kept notes from high school anyway and thought it would be fun to add to those.

“I thought we could keep up the tradition, even though we can gather now.” She smiled, and I could tell she was more excited about the letters than I was. The twang of sadness I’d felt earlier crept back in.

Having these friends with me that night was incredible, and I should have been happy, but I wasn’t.

Melissa’s pile of gifts had been hand-me-downs of all her favorite quarantine reads, which meant I now had more than a dozen new books to read. She always passed her old books around, whereas I collected books like I’d die without them. Sometimes, I thought I might.

A story could suck me in like a vacuum, and I’d be lucky to come back out. It was probably part of why I felt so terrible that night. After 13 months of avoiding other people, I finally had the okay from my doctor to get back out there, albeit cautiously.

My health had been terrible the past few years, and when the pandemic hit, I was terrified. Until my vaccine dose kicked in, I was certain this dang virus was going to kill me. As I sat here looking at the people around me and feeling guilty for wishing that everything would change, I wished I could escape into one of these novels piled before me. My skin started to crawl, and I wished…

Finally, Tommy handed me a small box. “Saved the best for last.”

The box was heavy as I passed it back and forth between my hands. Tommy smiled.

“What is it?” I asked.

He just shook his head at me. “Open it.”

I carefully unwrapped the package and opened the box. Inside was a snow globe. No. Not a snow globe. A beach globe.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I whispered, fascinated by the colors inside. Grains of sand were glued to the bottom, and a woman sat in a beach chair reading a book, covered by the shade of a large umbrella. When I tilted the globe sideways, the water turned glittery and blue.

The world around me felt like echoes as Tanya stood to light the candles, they sang Happy Birthday off-key, and I made a wish.

I wish…

I wish…

I wish I could escape to this beach. I wish I could get away from this crazy world.

The rest of the night was a blur. I chalked it up to drunkenness and the hellish hangover the next morning, but the fog never lifted. Instead of sadness, I just felt numb. I forgot nearly everything. Tommy asked me if I was okay, but. I didn’t know the answer. Yes? Maybe?

Then, tonight, it happened.

After a week of asking me to do the dishes, he snapped at me. For a moment, the fog cleared, and I knew. I had to get out of the house.

I wish I could escape to the beach. I wish I could get away.

I slammed the door behind me and felt my body tingle all over.

When the tingling stopped, I realized I wasn’t outside my front door anymore. I stood on a beach, the ocean waves crashing before me. A beach chair and umbrella sat waiting for me. On the towel beside the chair stood a stack of books – each of the books Melissa had given me for my birthday.

“What the?” I said aloud, and my voice felt muffled.

Looking up, I realized what had happened.

My wish had come true.

I was inside the globe and could not get home.

June 13, 2021 03:26

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Cheriel Ann Pael
03:26 Jun 24, 2021

I like how you describe the surroundings in the story, I didn't expect the ending, partly because I did not read what genre the story is, I also love how you did not use deep English words, that makes the story easy to understand and easy to imagine. Overall beautiful story.


Sarah Reilley
17:12 Jun 24, 2021

Thank you!


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Linda Payeur
05:16 Jun 13, 2021

Wonderful to be so immediately drawn in by such a quick story. I loved it.


Sarah Reilley
06:56 Jun 13, 2021

Thank you!


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Marie Stewart
03:45 Jun 13, 2021

That was a great surprise ending! Love it!


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