Image of a birthday cake with the words happy birthday spelt out in candles.

Party of One

Jack woke to the birds singing outside his window. He stretched, arching his back, enjoying the sensation of muscles moving and pulling under his skin. He rolled his shoulders, opening his eyes and smacking his lips. Today was a day to linger and indulge in all things which brought pleasure.

“Good morning, little birds. Beautiful day to be alive, eh?”

A faint breeze moved the lacey curtains, bringing in the scent of sun and lilac. Clouds floated like white pieces of cotton candy on a stately parade across the ocean blue sky.

He folded his hands behind his head and enjoyed the private show put on by the wonder of nature. His eyes darted to the empty bed beside him. The comforter was pulled up and pillows already fluffed. Marcy was always such a stickler about making the bed, even when half of it was still occupied.

“Guess it’s time to rise and shine, eh?” With a chuckle, Jack pushed himself up and out of bed. He reached down and touched his toes, did a few waist twists, and stretched his arms. If it was good enough for the cats and dogs, it was more than good enough for him. Besides, he needed to do something to remain limber in his golden age.

The thought brought another chuckle. Sixty-six years old to the day. By goodness, there had been a time when he thought forty was one step in the grave. Twenty-six years past that and still on the move. He nodded to himself, feet padding to the bathroom. He paused before the full length mirror, “Why hello you, sexy thing, you.” He winked at his image and strolled on, whistle dancing off his lips.

He paused at the head of the stair, ears straining for sounds from the kitchen, radio, or TV.

All was silent and still.

The song paused for a perplexed, “Hmmmm.” Marcy must be at the store then. The ole gal was always chittering on about how it was easier to shop during the morning. Jack never found it problem no matter what time of day it was. As long as one knew what one wanted and went for just that then there was little occasion for frustration. Of course, asking Marcy to take a list and to stick to said list was like trying to herd cats. As long as the stores were able to invent new sales, his Marcy would have to hunt them all out before she could leave.

The kitchen was still silent twenty minutes later when a dressed Jack descended the stairs. Maybe she had decided to tackle all the day’s errands early then? He flipped on his grandfather’s radio. Static burst through the speaker, protesting and angry. He fiddled with the old knob, turning it across the stations, seeking some sort of music. Even that new soft rock was acceptable if the oldies station wasn’t on.

Everything was static.

“Finally gave up the ghost, eh?” Jack patted the well worn wooden curve of the radio as he clicked it off. “I’ll give you a look over later. See what we can’t do about that, eh? Remember, age is just a number and a mindset after all.”

He rustled through the kitchen, seeking nourishment and a strong cup of coffee; the type to put hair on your chest. Truth be told, he was a little put out that Marcy hadn’t at least put on the coffee before she left. While he never expected her to or demanded that she would, she normally did from habit. And he would have thought that today of all days, she would have made sure to have a pot ready and waiting for him.

“Must be a busy morning indeed,” he assured himself, measuring out the grounds. Just as well. He would rather have her out all morning and back home to rest and perhaps watch a movie or to two before dinner than to have her out in the traffic of the day. The city was getting far too crowded and dangerous for his liking. While he did enjoy being closer to the kids and grandkids, perhaps it was time to consider moving to the outskirts. Find a little plot on a few acres of land. Make a cozy little retreat. Get a few chickens. Oh, Marcy would love that idea.

Maybe there was something on the way up to the lake that would do for them. He’d have to ask Charles when we saw him next Monday at the golf club. Charles would know what was available up that way and what was worth having. If anything sounded good, he’d bring it to Marcy’s attention.

Jack opened a cabinet and frowned. The cereal was just about out. Hardly enough left for even a bowl. That was unlike Marcy to let it get that low. A stocked larder was the sign of a healthy family, as she was always saying.

Well, he reasoned, pouring the last remains into a bowl painted with child-drawn stick figures, it’d be filled up by tomorrow. That might be why she was running so late. Somehow the poor girl had let the larder run a little low and she was bound and determined to set things to right. Never one to let things sit or one to settle, his girl. Heaven knew, she was reason why his head was still on straight after all these years.

She hadn’t been feeling too well these last few days, now that he thought about it. Complained about her joints hurting and feeling a bit faint. He remembered her going off to Dr Yang’s to see about some pills or such. He didn’t seem to recall what she had said about her visit afterwards. He’d have to ask her about it.

Breakfast ended.

Jack checked the clock. It was closing in on almost ten and still no Marcy. He sucked on his bottom lip. Visiting the kids perhaps? Coordinating for a surprise for him later tonight? Trusting that he could keep himself entertained and amused until her return home?

Well, he would not bother or disappoint her. “I live to please, eh,” he informed the empty room. He even washed out his bowl and put it away. Marcy no doubt had a lot on her plate today and she would enjoy that he had been so thoughtful as to keep her from having to do another load of dishes. He had offered, more than once, to give her a dishwasher. But she always had some such reason why not. So he had finally let the topic drop. She’d let him know when she was ready for one.

In the meantime, he would take a look at the radio. See what parts it needed this time. Maybe go down to Henry’s and chat up the boys there for a bit while he bought the wires and other pieces needed to get the radio singing again. He could tinker all day if it came to that.

Hours passed and frustration began to grow. As much as he tinkered away, Jack couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong this time. Everything seemed to be working. But every time he tested the stations, all he ever got was static. He almost went down to Henry’s a few times, but every time he pushed himself up to go, he thought, surely Marcy might be getting home soon. And if she came home with plans for him and he wasn’t here, he’d be in for it, his birthday or no.

“Well, girl, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said, leaning against the silent radio, “You’re bound and determined to embarrass me by making me call in a professional now, eh?” Jack shook his head. He’d see what Roger had to say about it. His son-in-law was a competent tinker in his own right. Surely he’d come over with Heather and the grandkids later tonight for a birthday supper. Between the two of them they’d get the radio going again. Or at least they’d have the problem figured out enough that he could get the needed parts the following day.

But there comes a time when a strategic break was called for. And this was it.

Still no Marcy.

Jack meandered over to the DVDs and tapes collected over the years. He’d watch a movie while he waited. Best to make it one he could stand to pause and walk away from. Just in case.

He made his selection, popped the tape in, and settled himself in his armchair.

The chiming of the grandfather clock in the hall woke him hours later. The movie had long since ended. The TV displayed nothing more than black, white, and gray lines chasing and dancing with each other over the screen.

“Marcy!” he called out, wetting his mouth with his tongue. Surely that woman was home by now. The sun which had started by peeking through the window to the left was now well beyond the right. Evening was on its way.

No answer.

Had she come and gone? It wasn’t like her to not wake him. Maybe she had tried and he had slept through it. That had happened once or twice lately. As much as age was just a mindset, there were some physical manifestations such as the afternoon nap that could not be avoided. He yawned and stretched, sitting up.

Maybe she had left a note.

Jack ambled back into the kitchen. The counter was as blank as he had left it this morning. His glass of water untouched by the sink. Marcy wouldn’t have left it there had she been home.

The first stirrings of doubt began to gnaw at his heart.

Well, if she wasn’t back yet, then that meant the mail was still outside. Maybe she’d be pulling up in the drive as he was out there. If not, he’d call her. See exactly what was keeping his bride out and away from the house today.

There was no mail in the box.

He knew he shouldn’t grouse or feel sorry for himself. But it was his birthday, after all. He’d expected to get a card from a few people like Pastor Mills and his wife, and his best friend Alex.

Speaking of which, he couldn’t remember the phone ringing even once. Heather always called. Why had his own daughter not called?

Jack sighed heavily, feeling the weight of sixty-six years settle on his shoulders. To be forgotten by all on one’s birthday was a most grievous affair indeed.

A flap of wing to his left drew his attention. So much that he did not notice the red piece of paper with a health warning from the CDC to stay inside and avoid all contact with others due to a deadly and highly virulent strain of the flu. “Why, hello there, little fella. Come to wish me a happy birthday have you, eh?” Jack crouched down.

The sparrow hopped a few times and let out a trill before flying away.

Jack watched it until it became lost to the thick leaves of the tree. He looked down the street for signs of Marcy, but there was none to be found. He sighed and went back inside.
His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he had slept through lunch and breakfast had been a small affair. Well, he’d set to fixing that right away, he would.

He returned to the kitchen, opened the freezer, and began the hunt for the ice cream. Once again, he was thankful for the decision to put solar panels on a few years ago. He’d never felt okay keeping up the search this long otherwise.

Jack found the carton and pulled out his prize. Marcy could grouse at him for ruining his supper all she wanted tonight. Today was his birthday and he wanted ice cream before dinner, he could and would indulge. It wasn’t like it’d be the end of the world or anything.

He piled himself a large bowl, covered it with enough chocolate syrup to drown a small army, and added a cherry. As he took it to the table, he hummed happy birthday to himself. He could start his celebration well enough on his own and the rest of his family could join him as soon as they arrived.

“Happy birthday to me, eh?” said Jack, the last man on the earth, as he raised the first spoonful and took a bite.

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