Now You’re Even Older
November 21, 2011
The morning of my birthday party, I cried into an array of brochures. They were for group trips, group homes, a members only club I wasn’t eligible to join. I wiped my wet nose with their jet inked pages, then slid them into a bathroom bin.
I cleaned my apartment with spray on a dirty sock, though the party would not be there. The last person to see my welcome mat was a slim fireman with the wrong address. The talk show I liked on the radio played loud, my angelfish vibrating, tanked and alone. I had friends, as they say, with business cards for names.
I got dressed, got out, wore a brass elephant pin on my blouse for the shine.
The saxophone player had come to play. The rest of his band had trouble with dates. My friend the hostess set him up in her living room behind two matching couches that were arranged in an L. This little parcel of carpet, these two walls for you to jive with. There was a card table with a bowl of pretzels, no tablecloth, too many napkins. Not very many places to check my teeth. I stood by and dipped my hand into the crumbs, brought up tiny grains of salt to my lips.
He tuned up his sax and did finger exercises toward the wall. My friend the hostess was placing a plastic cup into my hand, some sweet burning punch. It had ice cubes with holes in the middle. She sat me down on the couch, ankles kinked.
She said, You can really tell the difference from a second coat of paint.
She said, It’s not that I’m expecting, but I am planning, to be sure.
His notes started low and sleazy. I tilted my head back on the cushion so he might catch a glimpse of my forehead, unblemished. I hadn’t felt the scruff of a man in some time. I am not always in the mood. I could live on forever in my home, vacuuming up coins. I could fool myself toward love with the slip of a tear.
More of my old friends came into the party, all older than me. The hostess was older by some years, in the tune of a decade. I had had boyfriends in the fifties, the dreaded forties. They all knew better, their smirks caked in wrinkles.
Let’s toast to the birthday girl, the hostess said to my nose. She clasped my hand and we lifted our arms, all our bracelets trickling down to the elbows. The room stayed standing, punched cups raised to me, to the saxophonist over my shoulders. I would have liked to give my own toast to myself, to weed out the weaker aspects of my life and highlight all the good I do. Through all these years, my friend, you’ve made everyone feel a lot better about themselves.
I could not listen to the hostess’s words. The saxophonist started to play the birthday song in a pitch too high and I wanted to take off his clothing. I wanted to open my mouth and shine a tongue-pink light on that golden sax, hug it up against my lonely chest. You see the beauty in everything, my friend, that sometimes we suspect you have the wrong prescription.
I raided the hostess’s office and passed out the paper doilies I found in a drawer. I told each of my guests to write down one word to describe me, and some of them even listened, even pinned their answers onto shirts. I dropped a doily into the saxophone’s trunk and he blew it out with a long high C. I said, Why don’t you have a cup of punch? Here we are, all with cups of punch, and I can’t even remember your name.
I led him to the kitchen, his saxophone shoved gently into a box.
There is Darla, I whispered, and Chris and Armand. You don’t need to know them, except for the rumors about their weird sex. An old friend from Ann Arbor passed through with “Organism” written on his doily-pinned tie. I mixed the saxophonist his own pint glass with liquors from the hostess’s top shelf.
Because it’s my birthday, I said, though midnight had already passed.
Dandelions have always been my favorite weed. A culinary friend of mine fried up the greens and let me keep the Tupperware. His doily said “Early.” An ex cornered me into a kitchen chair, spoke red wine-lipped about the growing need to save. His fiancée rifled through the refrigerator for snacks. She wore blue jeans with a butterfly embroidered on the ass, a wing for each cheek in a disturbing shade of purple.
The saxophonist had escaped, was playing music in the living room like a good employee. I listened from the kitchen, to his love letters unawares.
My favorite game to play is Prussian Roulette, I said to the ex.
I was getting gone, I will admit.
How much longer did these people care to stay? I had the greatest fear that they were sticking around for an announcement of which I wasn’t yet filled in. I had a greater fear that I wouldn’t remember anybody’s name, that I would call my ex-boyfriend a cat, my co-worker a Slavic czar. For all the living you do, my friend, you’ve never made us certain of the life that you have.
The saxophonist said, Summer months are worst for the gigs.
A realtor said, An ad in the paper, every other day in June.
I think your pin is very pretty, yes, the saxophonist said to me.
I don’t know how much longer you need to play, I told him. I pressed my fingers against each button of his shirt, pushing for luck. He would not look into my crosshatched eyes, stumbling in seven directions.
That’s Maura and Wayne, I pointed out to him, leading us to the master bedroom. Divorced.
Tell me what you want, he said. He put his pint glass on the floor. I had lost my shoes, an earring. The room had a regal theme, purples and golds. No trinkets on top of the dresser. The saxophonist asked if he should return to the party, do his job.
It’s my birthday, I said, and I’d like you to call my parents.
You’re drunk, he said. Lie down, take a nap. We will all be waiting for you with our doilies, for your birthday.
You have a hot heart, I said, and I don’t feel right about it. My parents are in love with each other.
I picked up the hostess’s cordless phone and handed it to the slow talking sax.
Listen, he said, I ain’t calling your parents. You’re a sweet girl, now lie down on this bed.
I hooked my arm around his neck and dropped us both onto our backs. We lay on top of other people’s coats. He smelled like rust. I dialed the phone.
Held up to his face, the contraption looked ugly and long. I wondered if he would do it, wondered what they would say. You are cruel in your jokes, my friend. You are as serious as a cake.
Say you’re a friend of the birthday girl, I told him. Deliver my parents that lie for me.
He pawed at the phone, trying to hang up. I dropped it on his ear, my breathing warm, the ringing loud. That hurt, he said. There were voices, a beep, a dial tone. There was a triangle freckle on his nose I wanted to touch. I could feel my shirt slipping up, up, my skin beginning to show. These are times that I want to lie down and cry for something new.
Molly Tolsky is a fiction writer living in New York. Her work has previously appeared in The Fiddleback, MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, Pindeldyboz, and others.