Flash Fiction 2
OK one more and then I promise to go back to the happy and exciting world of health care and health care policy. Warning: adult language.
The Birthday Party
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to throw the party. It’s just that I had thought it was next year. Now it’s a bit of a scramble. My mother had reminded me. No, actually, she had flat out asked. So now I’m on the phone cross-country with the caterer. Really? $80 per person for dinner? Uh, what about lunch? Breakfast?
My grandmother is turning 100. Yes, it’s true. Almost blind, but so sharp, much to the discomfort of my mother, who has to deal with her. A slower mind might have eased the passage into old age. My grandmother is fighting every step. She has outlived most of her contemporaries, but oh! What friends she still has! The guest list includes 250 of her closest pals, some of them no older than me.
Jenny will do the flowers. My sister is arty that way. Me? I’m the money. Which is fine. We wanted to make the birthday party a surprise, but grandma got wind.
“When’s the party?”
“What party, grandmamma?”
“Girlie. I got to 100. I deserve a goddamn party.”
“And not just a lame one with balloons and a cake I can’t eat in someone’s backyard.”
“Your mother used to throw those lame kind of parties. Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, pink lemonade and white cake sort of parties.”
“Grandmamma. That’s when we were kids.”
“No it weren’t. Just last week she dragged me to one of those parties. She thinks I don’t remember.”
We considered using Grandma’s church basement. That’s where those 250 friends come from. The white-stucco-steepled Methodist church where Grandpa preached for all those years, until he had a stroke almost 30 years ago now. He was beloved. Not beloved enough to get paid shit, though. We, my sister Jenny and I, nixed the church idea, fearing that grandma would consider the church basement a back yard sort of place. Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and so on.
My mother sends me a picture of my grandmother on her wedding day. For the invitations. She was 18, he was 25, a newly-minted Reverend. They were both so thin. The look on my grandmother’s face is not so much one of happiness as of grim satisfaction. It’s the same look she has when she’s holding my newborn mother, in the picture pinned with black triangles in the yellowing album of my mother’s life. That album ends abruptly when my mother married my mother. My other mother.
Religion is a funny thing. It can sweep you up and fulfill your wildest dreams of comfort and meaning. It can be a quiet comfort. It can be a raging cataract. It can heal and destroy. We didn’t use the church basement for grandmamma’s 100th birthday party. Grandma likes music and flowers, probably more than people and definitely more than God. So we went with those.