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Sad Fiction Drama

The candles leave softly blooming imprints on the back of June’s eyelids. She had peeked as Mum was lighting them. 

“Don’t look, Junebug” Dad says, and her feet leave the ground as he quickly swings her into her chair. He smiles as he says it though, so she knows it’s really ok. 

It is her birthday and she is old enough now to feel the pure and bright excitement of her special day. A shiny mylar balloon is tied to her chair and she tugs at it, curious about the way it bounces and pulls away from her. Frustration quickly turns to anger as she tugs harder, trying to catch the shiny globe on the downward pull. But, each time she pulls it down, it rises again and her small fingers grasp wildly at the empty air. 

She is pulled from her efforts by a quick inhale from Dad. She looks to him, and he’s looking at the kitchen. Mum is coming around the corner, her smile competing with the candles for brightness. Mum and Dad’s voices fill up her whole world. All thoughts of pesky balloons melt away at the sound. 

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear June

At hearing her own name, happiness bubbles up in her chest and peeling giggles burst forth like cracking a shaken soda can. 

Happy Birthday to you

And with the last refrain, Mum places a fat, pink cake right in front of her. It is frosted with thick, creamy swirls of pink and yellow that circle the entire thing. She knows how to spell her name and she sees it there on top. The candles are sharp, playful points of light and June can feel their heat on her cheeks. The flames flicker and shift as she watches them raptly. 

“Make a wish, baby” Mum says, kneeling beside her so they’re both level with the warm little lights. 

June knows what to do now— they practiced this part. But, with a slump of her shoulders, she realizes she hasn’t prepared a wish. She looks around the room. There is Mum, and there is Dad. What else does she need?

Looking up thoughtfully, her eyes catch on the balloon. In her mind’s eye, it floats down and down until she grabs it with both hands. Make it come down.

She closes her eyes, scrunching up her face with all of the strength of her wish, and blows through furiously pursed lips. The sound is a spluttering whistle, the flames cling stubbornly but eventually go out completely. 

BANG

The mylar balloon bursts, wispy silver shrapnel falling lazily on her face and sticking in the cake’s thick icing. The sound is too loud, the shining debris is spread wide. June looks to Mum and Dad. Their expressions are surprised, then Mum’s face crumples sympathetically. June’s smaller features crumple to match, and tears follow quickly.

June’s grief over the lost balloon is as big as anything she’s ever felt. She cries until her throat rasps and the spot where she lays against Dad’s shoulder is wet with spittle, snot, and tears.

***

June doesn’t like birthdays, she’s just not one of those people. But, Darren insists on making her day a special one. Their marriage is still new and too shabby for its age. So, she tries. 

He is out picking up a cake that he thinks she doesn’t know about. She’s crouched halfway out the window of the bathroom in their shitty apartment to keep the smell of cigarette smoke out of the walls and off her fingers. 

Darren’s slight form comes into view at the end of the block and she ducks back inside. She washes her hands and swallows a gulp of mouthwash before settling back on the futon where he left her. 

“Don’t look, June” he says, frowning at her as he backs into the apartment with the box crisscrossed with twine. She looks out the window instead, but her cheeks burn with embarrassment. She’s already messing this up. 

Outside, she sees a couple walking down the street. Their hands are intertwined, their eyes roving, and smiles free. Her eyes prick and she feels a lovely sort of sadness for what she once had. 

Darren sucks in a sharp breath and she looks over to see him sucking on a fingertip. A small pink cake with yellow rosettes sits on the counter in front of him. One candle is lit, a spent match has fallen into the rosette beside it. 

“I’m sorry, June” he says. 

His eyes are rimmed with silver and he leans on the counter, his head falls into his hands. As his pretense collapses, regret hits her like a shot and the picture of her shabby marriage comes into stark relief. 

What she thought frayed is torn to shreds and lays in pieces around her. 

She goes to him, pulling his hands away from his face. She presses them to her mouth in condolence. He lays his head against her shoulder— his hair is unwashed and his face is unshaven today. His scruffy chin scratches her skin and she feels his tears soak through her thin t-shirt. They’ve been here before.

Behind him, the candle flickers. 

He goes to the bathroom, his face is turned away and he is mumbling vaguely about blowing his nose. She lets him go. 

Her mind can’t pinpoint the one, single thing that would fix what they have become. Amongst all the small hurts and the big, their story was like the drawer filled with odds and ends and take-out menus— the problems spilling out as more were crammed in.

Let it be like before.

She blows and the light of the candle flicks out instantly. 

She hears a shuffling noise in the bathroom, and she worries he might have found the cigarettes after all. 

A young man comes out. He's sturdy with warmly tanned skin. He runs a towel through clean hair and she sees a neatly trimmed jawline peeking out. 

Darren looks at her from under the towel and her forehead creases. 

“Hi there” he says. He sounds apprehensive, but the corner of his mouth cocks up in that charming way it used to.

She takes a step towards him, awe and delight breaking through her confusion. He takes a step back. 

“Hah, sorry. Are you a new tenant or something? Are you lost?” 

She bites her cheek to stop the tears. The shrapnel of her marriage is gone. But, it isn’t relief that she feels now.

She picks up the cake, and hears him chuckle as she closes the door behind her. The old familiar sound is a balm and a blade in her breast. 

“Yea, lost.” 

She drops the cake in a trashcan on her way out and she doesn’t turn around. 

***

 When she looks out the window, she’s surprised to see a small, old woman behind it. She waves and the woman waves back, smiling politely. 

“Come on now, Junebug. It’s dinner time, honey.”

The soft voice comes from a round, smiling woman in scrubs. She is standing behind the old woman’s shoulder. She reaches out and pats the old woman with a gentle hand. June feels a touch on her own shoulder and looks up to see the reassuring smile of the nurse there beside her. 

Her chair shifts beneath her and she’s being wheeled away from the window. She is brought to a large, unfamiliar room full of tables and grey, sleepy faces eating trays of grey, soft food. 

“Look, June!” the nurse says. She is too loud. 

Another woman in scrubs walks towards her. She is holding a yellow paper plate with a pink cupcake. A candle flickers and the nurse cups her hand around it. 

“Make a wish, honey” 

June’s face crumples. She is confused. She is scared. She is lost.

I wish I wasn’t here.

She barks out a sob and the candle goes out. 

There is a pressure in her chest that blooms suddenly and painfully. The nurses are moving quickly now. One is on the phone, the other is saying something. But, June can’t hear her. 

The lights dim and go out.

November 05, 2022 03:57

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10 comments

Rama Shaar
17:50 Nov 06, 2022

This is beautiful and terrifying... I wish we could see what it was that broke her and made her only focus on the bad... also a great reminder to really be careful what we wish for but more important, work on ourselves and grow.

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Bonnie Jay
00:38 Nov 07, 2022

What an interesting thought to consider (what broke her)! I'll definitely have to explore that further. Thanks so much for reading!

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MJ Simons
18:58 Nov 16, 2022

I enjoyed the parallel structure throughout the story. The colors yellow and pink were perfectly assigned in each part of the story. It was bittersweet. Great job!

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MB Campbell
22:52 Nov 13, 2022

Love the ending.

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Delbert Griffith
11:49 Nov 08, 2022

Great story with lots of layers (no pun intended). I especially liked how the size of the birthday cake shrank with the passing years. My favorite line: Their marriage is still new and too shabby for its age. The foreshadowing is terrific as well. Great job! When I grow up, I want to write as well as you, Bonnie Jean. :)

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Jack Bell
11:46 Nov 08, 2022

The wishes-turning-sour jag is often played for laughs – but your more serious turn worked well, I reckon. I particularly liked wishes one and three—it suited the story and mood that the effects could well have been coincidences or synchronicity. What we put out in the world will come back, and if we don’t understand our deeper desires and motivations we may be in for surprise.

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Stevie Burges
10:02 Nov 07, 2022

Great story - thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Bonnie Jay
21:45 Nov 07, 2022

Thanks so much, Stevie! It truly means a lot to me to hear that.

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Unknown User
13:35 Nov 05, 2022

<removed by user>

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Bonnie Jay
00:39 Nov 07, 2022

Bittersweet like a cake that might be a bit too sweet and brightly coloured. Fitting imagery for me! Thanks for reading, Mae :)

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