The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

A Birthday Song

I wake up with that excited, awesome birthday feeling. Yeah yeah YEAH: it’s my birthday.

I wake up already dressed, actually, in my best and favorite clothes, lying on top of a made-up bed — I was so excited last night, I just wanted to be READY.

slice of birthday cake with candle


Everyone’s playing it pretty cool at breakfast. I grab a bowl of cereal and sit down next to Luke, and he doesn’t even look up from his Minecraft game. Thanks, bro!

Mom’s on the phone talking like mad. I try to catch her eye, get some happy birthday, honey! going, but she walks out the door still talking, holding her other ear closed, even though we aren’t EVEN talking. Dad’s already left for work. Luke’s still on Minecraft. Oooookay.

Then from the front door, Mom’s yelling, “Into the car, let’s GO, leave the dishes. Game turned OFF and left on the table, please!” I jump in the car behind Luke and we’re off.

And I’m feeling a little weird, because, hello, did everyone forget it’s my birthday? But just then, like she’s reading my mind from the front seat, Mom says “Hey, kiddo. Big day today. I haven’t forgotten. Don’t you worry about that, buddy. Me forgetting why today is special, that will never, ever happen. We’ll celebrate tonight, OK?”

“OK!” I say, feeling Yes, yes, yes. “I knew you remembered, anyway. I knew you wouldn’t forget.” I smile hugely at her eyes in the rearview mirror. But she’s all eyes on the road, as usual.

Luke just kind of slides down in his seat, staring out the window. Doesn’t look too happy. Um, jealous much? Your birthday’s next month, today is mine-all-mine.

School! Which I slightly hate but it has its good points, and one of them is home room, which is also music class, which I love. I sit at the table in my place by Brandon. As usual he doesn’t even look up from his thing he’s drawing, maybe it’s a dinosaur this time, or I can’t even tell.

Ms. Revis is my favorite teacher. She has short black hair and giant brown eyes like a manga drawing, and she’s super cheerful. “We’re singing today,” she says. “We’re going to apply some of those principles of harmony we’ve been learning.”

I do not remember a single thing about harmonies—guess I need to pay more attention in this class. We’re singing some extremely ancient folk song called “Sweet William’s Ghost,” about a dead guy who comes back to bother some lady he was supposed to marry or something. This was supposed to be their wedding, or their anniversary, or some big-deal date like that. Anyway, so he shows up, a ghost, and then she wants to get into the coffin with him or something. It’s pretty weird.

Is there room at your head, Willie,
Or room here at your feet?
Or room here at your side, Willie,
Wherein that I may sleep?

The class is singing it with these pretty harmonies, that sort of weave together in and out. I stand right behind Dylan and sing along with what he’s doing, because he’s pretty good. Twice he looks back though and gives me the weirdest look, like I am making him nervous. Everyone is in a VERY weird mood today.

There’s no room at my head, Margaret
There’s no room at my feet
There’s no room at my side Margaret
My coffin is so neat.

Kaylee, I’ve known her since kindergarten and she cannot sing AT all, is playing the recorder. It actually sounds really pretty, this sort of sad whistling sound, like wind in bare trees, under the singing.

The whole thing is really pretty beautiful.

And it makes me sad, for some reason.

But no good being sad on your BIRTHDAY. I shake it off. I’m fine in math. I try to make Jessica crack up in biology, but she keeps a straight face.

Before lunch I think: maybe this is it—maybe Mom and Dad sent a surprise cake. Or maybe one of them will come themselves, holding a gigantic cake with a zillion candles, and the whole cafeteria will sing for me.

But: nope. Most exciting thing that happens is the cafeteria lady lets me slide through without paying, which if that’s the best birthday present I get, I’m going to be pretty depressed. I sit by myself, making lots of room for someone to come talk, but, whatever. No one does.

At home after school, it’s also weirdly quiet. No big hanging HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign or even a balloon. I guess maybe they figure I’m getting too old for that? Which kind of sucks, actually.

And I don’t get why everyone is so sad and quiet at dinner. Dad makes one of his dopey jokes, and it’s pretty funny, so I laugh. No one else does, not even Dad.

But then finally — finally—it happens. We clear our plates, and Dad turns down the lights, and Mom brings out a cake, a German chocolate cake, my favorite kind. And the candles are lit, and she sets it down in front of me, and I feel so happy. I feel so happy that I don’t even care about presents any more, I’m just so glad someone remembered. I’m just so glad my birthday finally came.

Happy birthday to you, my mom sings, really soft. Dad and Luke don’t sing, which is weird. Happy birthday to you. Her voice is soft and shaking, and tears are coming out of her eyes, why? Happy birthday my darling, happy birthday to you. 

“We miss you, baby,” she says, in the quiet after. She blows her nose in a napkin. “We miss you so much, we miss you every day, and we love you forever and ever and ever.”

She sits down, crying really hard now. Luke is crying, Dad is crying, everyone is crying.  I stand up so suddenly I knock my chair over, and they all shout and jump up.

“What the hell,” says my dad.

“But I’m right here,” I say. I guess I’m crying too. “I’m right here, look at me, you don’t have to miss me, I’m right here.” They are staring at the stupid chair on the floor, holding each other, like they don’t see me, like I’m not even here.

And then, all of a sudden, I know. All of a sudden, I see.

I run into my bedroom and throw myself on the bed.

I remember my Mom in the car. Hey, kiddo. Big day today. I haven’t forgotten, don’t you worry about that, buddy. She wasn’t talking to me, oh now I see.

She was talking to Luke.

And now I know why Luke looked so sad in the car.

Now I know why Dylan kept looking over his shoulder when I sang.

Now I know why I woke up wearing my best clothes, my favorite clothes today.

It’s because they buried me in these clothes. Of course they did, I remember now, somehow I forgot, how could I forget?

I died. I died six months ago.

I forgot, the way you forget a bad dream. And then suddenly, it all comes back to you.

I lay back down on my made-up bed, in my favorite clothes. But it isn’t my bed anymore, in my own nice house, with my pale blue walls.

It’s my coffin I’m lying in, now.

It’s my coffin I’ll always lie in, now.

In my coffin, in the dark, on my birthday, all alone, I start to sing. I sing really softly, the saddest birthday song.

There’s no room at my head, Margaret
There’s no room at my feet
There’s no more birthdays for me any more
My coffin is so neat.

I hope I can fall asleep.

I hope when I wake up, it’s my birthday.

No responses yet | Follow: RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Protected with IP Blacklist CloudIP Blacklist Cloud