Happy Birthday

“…happy birthday to you.”

The flame on the scuffed-up lighter danced in front of Molly. Behind it was a paper towel that housed a tiny sweet roll. Behind that was the concrete wall that used to be white. Now it was stained yellow and had the claw marks of those who had made attempts at cleaning it. Molly recalled the cement floor being cold.

“Aren’t you going to blow out your candle?” Patricia, her mother asked. She waited a minute for Molly to respond. When she didn’t, her mother nodded sorrowfully. She blew out the flame and put the lighter down on the dirty tray next to them.

Her mother looked expectantly at her. “Do you want some of your cake?” she asked in a hopeful tone.

Molly didn’t say anything, but her eyes shifted down to the sweet roll. Patricia smiled faintly and broke off a piece. She held it up to Molly’s mouth, which opened just wide enough for the small piece. The roll was stale, but there was still sweetness to be found. Molly savored every second of it.

Her mother smiled at Molly again, her eyes welling with tears. “Look at you,” she reached out and touched some of Molly’s hair. It was greasy and hadn’t been cut or cleaned in a long time. Clean water was hard to come by, and what they had was rationed by the spongeful.

“You’re growing up so fast.” A tear dropped down her mother’s cheek. “Sixteen years old now.” Her mother noticed the tear and wiped it away immediately. She smiled bashfully. “Sorry. I know you hate how I always cry.”

Molly said nothing. She went back to focusing on the sweet roll in front of her. Preoccupied with herself, her mother put it aside and leaned forward. “I’m sorry we never got you a present. You know how things have been since we got to this camp. But your father worked very hard to get you that sweet roll. I’m sure you’re grateful for that. Make sure to thank him.”

Molly didn’t say anything. She didn’t even take her eyes off the sweet roll. Patricia sighed and smoothed out her pants. “Well, happy birthday Molly.” She stood and kissed Molly sweetly on the forehead.

Before she moved away, a strong arm swung around them both. “How are you doing?” Molly’s father, Richard asked. He was dressed in his Falconeers uniform and smelled of gunpowder and dirt. A pistol hung on his hip.

Patricia slid out from under his arm. “We’re fine,” she replied curtly. She took a few steps away from him and watched from a distance.

Richard sighed. “Are we really going to do this now?”

Patricia turned around, scowling. “What do you want from me?”

He ignored her and bent down in front of Molly. Her eyes shifted over him briefly before returning to the sweet roll. “Hey sweetie. Did you enjoy the cake I got you?”

Molly didn’t say anything.

Her father sighed and looked to Patricia, who shrugged. He turned back to Molly. “Come on, baby. Can’t you say something?”

Molly didn’t take her eyes off the sweet roll. Her dad huffed angrily and stood up. He put his hands on his hips and paced around.

“She hasn’t said anything today, so don’t bother trying.” Patricia said to him, her arms still crossed as she stood away from them.

Richard shook his head. “Why do I even bother?”

Patricia turned to him, her arms now hanging at her sides. “You know she’s been this way ever since we escaped from the last camp we were in.”

Richard scoffed and waved her off. “How long can someone go without speaking?”

Patricia stepped closer to her father and tried lowering her voice down to a whisper. “With the things she’s seen. Can you blame her?”

Richard sighed and lowered his head. “I just want my daughter back.”

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.” Patricia said, turning away from her father.

He moved towards her putting a hand on her shoulder and twisted her around. “You never want to talk about it!” he yelled.

Her mother looked over at Molly, who had done little else than shift her eyes over to her parents. “We shouldn’t be yelling like this in front of her.”

Her father let go. His arms dropped to his sides. “Whatever.” He walked off without saying goodbye.

Patricia sighed and walked back over to Molly. “I’m sorry about that honey.” She knelt down. “Your father is just stressed. He has been for too long. It’s fried his nerves.”

Molly shifted her eyes over to her mother. They stared at each other for a moment. Patricia’s face searched for some sort of expression on Molly’s.

She stood back up and gave a sigh that sounded a lot like her father’s. “Rory will be over soon. Try to be nice to him.” She huffed and stormed off.

That left Molly with only the wall and her sweet roll to stare at. The sweet roll still looked as appetizing as ever, but Molly was sure it was getting staler the longer it sat over there.

She watched the people walk by, each of them a portrait of oncoming death. They all wore tattered clothes and small leather platforms for shoes on their feet. She couldn’t imagine they kept them very clean. She a looked down on her own feet. They were spotless.

“Hey Molly. How are you?” Rory approached from side of her view. He carried with him a small board. “I hope your birthday is going well.”

Molly’s eyes followed him as he brought the chair around. With the edge of the bed between them, he set down his board. Set on top was a set of knick-knacks and other various pieces that Molly could only assume was used for checkers.

Rory began setting up the pieces. His face was covered in a thin layer of dirt. His eyes moved to the sweet roll. “Have you enjoyed the cake so far?”

Molly looked back up at Rory and noticed that there was a bright yellow flower in his ear. Flowers were rare nowadays, especially ones so brightly colored. It was entrancing.

Rory noticed and smiled. He picked the flower off his ear and handed to her. “Here. You have it. Happy birthday.”

Molly smiled.


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