My friend's 40th birthday was last week. Yeah, we're that old. And, such is my life, the stars not only didn't align for me that night, but most of them supernova-d to ensure I wasn't able to attend at all cost. So, as I idled away my time at work on a train in the middle of the woods of Northern Arizona, I penned this hastily edited short about a boy and his birthday. I hope you enjoy it. It's just a fun little piece of filth.
by Guy Medley with artwork by Jim Boring
“Dammit!” Tom pushed END on his cell phone and slammed it down hard on the table. “I can’t believe this shit, man”.
He turned to Jim who was leaning casually against the snack table. “Well, guess who isn’t able to come. I don’t know why I bother with him sometimes. Says he has to work late or some bullshit. Fuck!” Jim hunched his shoulders with cool indifference.
“What are you laughing about, Cory?” Tom eyed Cory sitting on the couch between Sarah and Kate, his arms casually slung around both of their shoulders. Always the lady’s man, that Cory.
Tom sat in his big recliner and fumed. Fucking Gus was always ruining his shit. And this was no ordinary shit. No, this shit was his fortieth frickin birthday party. He had spent days decorating his basement recreation room. Preparing a smorgasbord of snacks and buying all the beer that everyone liked. Goddammit, this was his day. He and Gus had been friends since childhood and he expected him to share in all of his important life events, work be damned.
His friends in attendance gabbed it up under the droning of the music. Not the tunes he would have chosen, but it was the top forty crap that everyone seemed to enjoy, and he wanted his invited guests to have a good time. Nobody was dancing to the music yet, but he suspected they would be soon enough. In fact he was going to ask Jen to dance after he had another beer or two. She sat in a clutch of friends near the big ornate punch bowl he had bought special for the occasion, her golden hair framing a face only an angel should possess.
Tom busied himself refreshing everyone’s emptying beer bottles. When he made his way to Jim he leaned against the table and looked out across the room filled with his closest friends. “Sorry I got a little hot there, Jim. It’s just, well, he knew I was planning this party for months. He knew.” He looked at Jim who was enjoying a plate full of meats and cheese sweating under the warmth of the lights. Jim was quiet on the subject. He knew Tom just needed to rant for a bit to get it out of his system. They all missed having Gus there. He wasn’t the most lively of the group, but he was a part of it and it was noticed when he was absent. “Well, to hell with him then, huh. We’ll have a great time tonight, man”. He clapped Jim on the shoulder and with a broad smile moved on.
Cory was still nestled between the two girls on the couch, making eye contact with every part of his couch mates except their eyes. “Don’t believe a word this guy says, “ he said looking at both of the girls. “He’s full of more shit than Congress.” He laughed as he replaced their beers and then walked away with the roll of his eyes.
Tom finally made his move after the latest round of beers had been served. He walked over to Jen and plopped down in an empty chair right next to her. God she was beautiful. He was surprised she was even here at his party. He swallowed his pride and what felt like a bowling ball and finally asked her. “Jen, would you like to dance with me?”
They danced and danced and danced some more. They danced until Tom was so exhausted he had to stop for a rest. He saw Jen back to her seat where her friends waited with big smiles and curious eyes, no doubt dying to know all.
The needed rest was the perfect time to serve the cake, so serve it he did, dishing out pieces onto paper plates and delivering them to his guests. He sat in his chair eating his own piece, washing it down with a cold Sam Adams. “How’s that cake, Jim?” He looked at his friend who now seemed conflicted between eating his cake or the still sweating pile of meat and cheese that lay in front of him.
He looked over in Cory’s direction, who now had cake covering the entire lower half of his face. Drunk bastard, Tom thought.
Gus made his way up to the front door and knocked. He could hear the music drifting up from the basement, making the soft knock only a polite courtesy before he let himself in. Besides, he wanted to surprise Tom by making a grand entrance. He had talked his way out of working as late as he had told Tom he would be at the office.
He crept through the house, finding his way to the door that lead down into Tom’s basement rec room. Down he went, his smile and growing excitement escalating with each step down. He reached the bottom and rounded the corner into the main room. Balloons emblazoned with big numbered 40’s and OVER THE HILL hung from the ceiling and from strings tied to tables and chairs and lights. Music blared top forty crap. Beer bottles lay everywhere. At first glance it looked like a rocking party.
Then Gus saw all of his friends in their respective places in the basement, and all that was wrong with them. Cory was seated on a couch, his arms around the shoulders of Sarah and Kate. His face smeared with the crumbling remains of what looked like chocolate cake and blood. And his eyes, propped open with yellow and blue toothpicks, the kind used to spear tiny sausages. Sarah and Kate’s eyes were also pried open in the same manner, their once beautiful eyes now glazed over with a hazy white film.
Jim was propped up against a table loaded with food, his skin the color of ash and a small trickle of blood running from his left ear. His collar was stained a dark red and formed a long V neck of crimson down the front of his polo shirt.
A group of girlfriends sat duct taped to chairs set near the largest punch bowl Gus had ever seen, their made-up eyes also propped open with colored hors d’oeuvre toothpicks. The punch bowl glowed red under the lights, illuminating the darker objects floating inside. Gus tried to tell himself they were orange or lemon slices, but the light was too bright in that corner to convince himself that what he was seeing floating ornately within the punch was anything other than tongues.
Then he saw Tom, gracefully drifting across the open floor to the rhythm of the music. In his arms he held Jen, her head rolled back onto her shoulders, bobbing back and forth to the movement of the dance, her eyes propped open like the other’s and a dark bruise line clear around her hemorrhaged neckline. As Tom and Jen turned, the tip of her toes all that dragged across the floor, he came to face in the direction of Gus. His face lit up with his big cheesy grin. He dropped Jen, who sprawled lifeless on the floor and walked toward Gus.
“What the hell is going on here, Tom?” He looked wide eyed at his friend. “Shit man, what the fuck!”
Tom’s smile faltered but never entirely disappeared. “I’m glad you could make it, man. Jim and I were just talking about how much we missed you.” They both looked over at Jim, his food still stationed in front of his ashen body.
Gus looked at his longtime friend. “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Got any cake left?”