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Fiction Sad Speculative

His birthday is no less special this year. I see the clock pointing six when I return form the store. I hang my waist coat by the door and quickly place the fragrant flowers that I had just bought, in a transparent vase, half filled with water. I sweep and mob the floor until I feel the jasmine flavoured disinfectant lingering in the air. I had chosen jasmine scent as it is easily distinguishable from other scents, faintly aware that in a few hours I would smell roses. As I check for any unfinished work, I see the windows sneakily let in the setting sunlight when the screen ruffled in the mild breeze. Preoccupied by the prospect of darkness, I hold the locket around my neck until my knuckles turn white with my grip. Shivers run through my nerves at the sight of the well accomplished work. There was only one more thing left to do – the candle. And the ritual would then begin.

         Five years ago, I lit the candle and waited for the doorbell to ring. When he returned at 7, I knew it was going to be the best day of our lives. It was his first birthday dinner after our marriage. I watched my shadow flicker in the candle light and waited for him to return from his shower. I heard the water splash on the floor and the fragrant steam that escaped through the gaps saturated the air.

         Today, having lit the candle, I sit in my customary place staring at the empty chair in front of me. I wait until the steam from the bathroom clears. When the sudden warmth hit my back, I open the largest lid to reveal a specially baked cake. I am not sure whether it is the candle light that conjures images or the red flowers on the cake actually look like blood.

         I remember the anxiety I had felt when the splashing of water had stopped. There had been absolute silence for a moment followed by the sound of the door screeching behind me. That fragrance of rose grew stronger and I felt his warm hand on my cold shoulder. The unexpected warmth awakened my senses. I felt a wave of current travelling from head to toe as he pulled me closer. The erect hairs on his body tickled my bare arms and my senses burned to be pleased.

         It is a different story today. I feel a tickle right beside my earlobe. The knife trembles between my palm and the edges of the cake blur as tears peep out of my eyes. I ignore it as usual and place a slice of cake on my plate and another slice on the chair in front of me. I sit looking at the cake while the tickle moves downwards to my neck and then my fingers.

         He had held my hand in his and patted my head. I smiled like a kid seeing his father return from work. His warm lips touched my forehead and I closed my eyes absorbing all the warmth. I needed all of it. The candle was becoming shorter and we sat for dinner. There were lot of things left to do after dinner.  

         I remember seeing his face lit by the candle light. Its flicker had added charm to his handsome features. Had I known five years ago that it would be only his face that I would see for the rest of my life, things could have different. When I see his erect photo on the chair in front of me, it’s almost as if he is sitting there in reality. I remember watching him enjoy every bite of the cake. I wonder if he felt the same when he was staring into my eyes while I served him ice cream. I will never know what he felt and I still find it difficult to come to terms with it. And this ritual does nothing but worsen my already hurt mind. But I will have to do it. Two years ago, I tried to skip it; my cat Purry went into a frenzy and wouldn’t stop rolling until I baked the cake and arranged the table.   

         I had placed a hot caramel brownie on his ice cream and watched it melt around the perimeter like the candle that lit his face; like my heart when he smiled appreciatively. It happened right before he brought his spoon to his lips. His hands drew back forcefully and his legs writhed as if in great pain. I didn’t know what had happened. Before I could reach the phone, his grip loosened and the spoon fell off his hand. The dinner was unfinished. They took him away in an ambulance. I thought he would never return. But the very next year, on the same day, he returned, though not in the way I would have preferred.

         He returns home every year on his birthday to finish his unfinished dinner. And I serve him with all my heart, trying to put aside the remorse for one day. But his replay of our first and final dinner only keeps it fresh and alive. I hear the chair screech and watch it move slightly to the left from where he had sat. With a jolt, I raise from the chair anticipating the worst part of the play. The candles turn off as if in answer to my anticipation. Not wanting to stay in the dark any longer, I rush to the safety of my bed and turn on the lights and shut the screen. It’s been five years since I turned off the lights during sleep. I lie flat and warily dream of a normal life. My eyes fall on our elegantly framed wedding photo. Dressed in red and black, we look like happy kids on the last day of school. I close my eyes and rest, ignoring the thought that I would feel him beside me during the night.

February 19, 2021 16:10

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