A Happy Birthday
You wipe away the saliva forming at the corner of your little brother’s mouth. Then, despite the fact that he can’t answer, you ask him, ‘Excited about tomorrow? Excited for your birthday?’ In response he continues to absentmindedly watch the TV.
Now that he’s free from drooling on himself for the next couple of minutes or so, you sit back and watch with TV with him. It’s an old episode of The Simpsons; one that looks like it probably came out in the nineties, so probably an episode that’s good.
Your mother walks past the TV and heads into the kitchen. You recognise your mother as your mother; you wonder if your little brother recognises his mother as his mother. You cast a glance at him and wipe the saliva forming at his mouth again, him seeming not to notice as he watches the animated yellow characters on the screen.
You hear some rustling in the kitchen, wonder if your mother is preparing for tomorrow: setting out the paper plates on the table and so on. You’ve seen some of the various food items that will be served out tomorrow: the large plates of cocktail sausages and various little cheeses wrapped in clingfilm and stored in the fridge; the big bag assortments of chips and chocolates.
What you haven’t seen, what you haven’t asked about, and what, quite frankly, you don’t want to bring up is whether or not there’s going to be a birthday cake. The notion of there being a birthday cake present at tomorrow’s party fills you with a unique type of dread. You feel a weight in your stomach that seems to grow in volume whenever you think about it.
This time last year, you were thinking absentmindedly about your little brother’s birthday cake but for a different reason. You had it in your mind that, like you seen in all of those clips sent off and aired on TV programs, like all of those clips uploaded to YouTube, you had it in your mind that you would prank your little brother. You had it in your mind that you would slam his face into his birthday cake.
It seemed like it would be a laugh. Something your family might find distasteful in the moment but which later would be an anecdote for them to tell. Remember when you drove your poor brother’s face into his birthday cake? Him all covered in cream and frosting? Lord! Remember that?
One year ago plus one day and you’ve strategically placed yourself behind your little brother as family and friends sing him happy birthday.
What you’re about to do you are going to do because you think it will be funny.
What you’re about to do is give your family an anecdote they won’t forget.
Your little brother leans in and blows out the candles on his three-layer stacked cake. Three layers: two of them vanilla, one chocolate. You thought the layers of cake was perfect; you thought they would minimize the risk of harm to your little brother.
Your little brother. Your little brother content to watch cartoons all day and drool on himself. Here and now, instead of wiping away at the corners of his mouth, you begin to wipe at the corners of your eyes.
There and then, standing behind your little brother on that day, his birthday, him leaning back after blowing out the candles, everyone clapping, you lean into his ear and you whisper, “Happy birthday, asshole,” then, in one fast motion, you push your hand into the back of his head and slam his face down into the cake.
There’s the wet sound of the impact, the sound of gasps and few surprised laughs as your brothers face burrows into the cake. Louder than all of that though is your mother. She let out a loud and urgent ‘NO!’. You look at her and you see her with her eyes wide like the paper plates on which the food is served. Her hands raised and held out in the air towards you and your brother, her arms then coming back towards her so that they both cover her mouth. Your dad standing next to her, he looks like he’s seen a ghost. You think that even by you parent’s standards, this seem like an overreaction.
“What?” You ask them. “It’s just cake.” you say as you look down.
Your little brother hasn’t moved, his face is still submerged in the cake. You think he’s playing it up. You think he’s probably not all that happy about what you did. He probably didn’t find it all that funny. But it’s only his ninth birthday, you think; it’s not like you’ve ruined any of the big ones – the ones celebrating the fact you’re now legally able to drink or drive or screw.
Grabbing him by his shoulder’s, you say, “Come on, dude,” and pull, but he’s not budging easily. You grab his head and shirt collar; this time he starts to come up. “Hope you saved some for us while you were down there, you greedy lil asshole,” you say as you unpeel him from the birthday cake.
Instantly, you know something’s wrong. Your brother’s expression is slack, void. His whole-body hangs limp. But more than that, it’s the excessive amount of goop on his face. Goop which you thought for a few moments was jam but wasn’t jam. This substance was seemed to ooze out of your little brother’s forehead. You watch as some of it falls onto the cake and that’s when you see it. You see it sticking out in the centre of the exposed cake innards like a NASA rocket ready for blast off. You see the six-inch metal spike that was holding the layers of cake together and which you have just driven your little brother’s face into. You see the implement with which you have just lobotomized you little brother with.
You look back at his cream, frost and blood covered face. Both his eyes have rolled up into his head, almost like he’s searching for the entry wound, the place where the goop, where his brain is leaking out. You want to do so much but you don’t do anything. Your grip begins to loosen and you little brother’s limp body begins to fall to the ground like a skyscraper that’s had the foundations blown out. You grab and hold onto him, easing his body down to the ground like God lending a hand and assisting a plane down gently onto a landing strip. There’s pandemonium going on around you. Someone shoves you away from your brother and soon your mum and dad are learning over him. You stand off to the side, your eyes never leaving you little brother the whole time. When the ambulance arrived and took your brother away, one of the first responders took you aside and asked you some questions. You don’t remember the questions or what you said to him. All you remember was a feeling like your head being under water, making every noise sound like it was coming from a distance. You think that you’d perhaps describe yourself best as having paradoxically felt nothing and everything during this time. To the outside world, you seemed to be doing your best expression of one of those expressionless marble statues. Your blank expression of a face probably didn’t convey what was going on inside you. But you wonder: if someone had looked into your eyes – really looked – would they have seen what was going on behind them? You wonder.
You wonder about tomorrow. You don’t know if there will be a birthday cake and you’re too afraid to ask.
Your little brother, he turns ten tomorrow. Double digits. Your brother, because of you he’ll always be little. Because of you, he’ll never get to grow up – not really. He’ll never know the intimacy of a lover, never know what’s it’s like to lie next to someone and feel at one with them. He’ll never find a career, never find himself a purpose in life. And he’ll never have kids – never be a parent, a grandparent. He’ll never have or enjoy any of these things because you took the possibility of them away from him.
Him. Your little brother, he sits there looking happy enough though. Content to watch cartoons all day. You try to make sure that your little brother is as happy as he can be. You wipe away the saliva building up at the corner of his mouth. You do this and you don’t wipe away the tears rolling down your cheeks. You look at your little brother and you hope against hope that he’s happy. You hope that what’s left of your little brother is enjoying life and that nothing will trouble him. You try your best to make sure this is the case, and even though he can’t understand you, you tell him, for maybe the millionth time, you tell him ‘I’m sorry.’
You wipe the tears away, and you say, so quiet but sill audible, you say ‘I’m so sorry.’
He can’t understand you, but actions speak louder than words, and you are damned if you won’t show him that you’re sorry, that you love him. Tomorrow, regardless of whether there’s cake or not, you’re determined to make sure your little brother has a happy birthday.
Thank you for reading! An updated version of this story exists, and if your not yet full of cake, here’s another slice: