After ten months without attending a birthday party, the narrator has developed a new appreciation for their rituals
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!” The group of ten or so middle school girls sings the traditional birthday song with considerably less enthusiasm than the ten-year-old boys clustered around another table.
The birthday girl’s mom, who has already photographed us all at least twice, starts a countdown: “Are you one? Are you two?”
Everyone joins in. When we get to twelve, there’s a pause and then some half-hearted cheering. I’ve never really known what to do at the end of the chant. Do you cheer? Say yes? Clap? I wonder if anyone really knows the answer.
Everyone finds a seat around the picnic tables as the mom begins to slice up the birthday cake. I get a huge slice, although I’m not sure that I’ll eat it all.
The cake isn’t good, but there’s something special about store-bought birthday cakes, even though they taste like sugar and artificial flavoring. For me, they hold the memories of all the other birthday parties that I’ve been to. It’s still strange, though, that I’ve missed these bad birthday cakes in the last ten months.
I smile to myself as I walk over to the garbage can to throw out what’s left of the slice of cake.