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Happy Birthday, Ana
“I said she’s leaving. Do you hear me? Your mother is leaving.”
Even her father’s grieved expression could not conceal his anger. Ana, her eyes focused downward, dared not utter a word; nor did she cry. She was never one to produce tears over the present situation, and she did not plan on starting now. Instead, she sat still as an object on the bed, refusing to gaze at her father’s face.
“Where is she now?” she asked quietly.
“Where do you think she is?”
“Oh.” Ana steadied her gaze at the blanket underneath her and tugged at a once stitched-thread, unraveling its loose ends between her fingertips.
“Don’t bother going there,” he said warningly. “It’s not worth the trip.”
“I said don’t go. Rusty’s isn’t a place for children. Wait until she comes back.”
I am not a child anymore. The conversation finished and her father left the room. Somehow, the true vengeance of the storm had been suppressed. Someday, the clouds would burst and drench them both, but not yet. Right now, Anna had to go find her mother.
Going against her father’s wishes was something familiar. How many times had she pushed open the chip-painted door of the bar, slid past the dark row of hunched bodies, and spotted her mother at the end of the line, her head drooped dazedly on the counter? How many times had she lifted her mother’s slumping shoulders up, pushed back her stool, and guided her inebriated body upward? How many times had Ana struggled to keep her balance as her mother flung her arms like a rag doll and mumbled incomprehensible garble into her ear with alcohol-stench breath? How many times had Ana, despite all this, smiled politely at the bartender, slid him a crinkled bill, and hobbled with her mother, out the door, supporting her swaying shoulders with a firm hand? The answer was too many times. Now, this was one too many.
Today she was on a stool in the back of the room, just sitting idle. A cell phone lay closed on the counter in front of her. Next to it, a half-empty glass of beer sat in a heap of crumpled tissues.
There was never any outright acknowledgement of Ana’s presence- just a blank stare into nothingness, an absent look into insignificant space. Ana despised this awful stare, more than she despised anything else.
“Mom, is there something interesting behind me? Huh? Is there? Answer me!”
The mother ignored the hysterical rise of her daughter’s voice. Instead, she spoke in a flat, faraway tone, not once breaking her glazed stare.
“So you got my message. Ana, I need to leave. There’s nothing in this town for me anymore. Jonathan said he could get me a job at his office over in Bellville, so I’m probably going to move down there once I get my own place. I’m thinking about getting an apartment. Nice little one- maybe one room, two room. Two room max. I don’t need all that empty space. It’s not like I have anything to put in it…”
Ana, no longer able to ignore her emotions, exuded a hoarse, angry shout. For once, she didn’t care whether people turned to look at her with paused, quizzical stares. Quite suddenly, as if the hot vapors inside her had finally defied compression and gone up into snapping, crackling flames, she just didn’t care.
“How can you talk like that? Buying your own place when I can’t even buy new clothes? How can you do that? I’ll tell you how: you always think of yourself- no one else. No one! Has it even occurred to you that you might actually need an extra room? What’ll happen if we visit you, huh? Where would we stay if you didn’t have another room?”
Ana’s face was fuming, red as coals but cold as ice. She clenched her fists and hit the air in tense, jerking movements, with teeth clenched so hard that her jaw turned white.
“You know what?” She was screaming now. “Never mind….Never mind! Why on earth would I even want to see you again? Bye, Mom.”
Ana turned and stomped across the cluttered floor of tables and chairs. Her mother’s shrill voice cut right behind her.
She stopped, sucked in a breath, and turned around stiffly.
“What do you want?”
Her mother’s eye was swollen and still staring. Trembling, Ana repeated her question.
“What do you want? I need to go. Dad doesn’t want me here.”
“I don’t care what your father says. I want to know why you came here in the first place.”
Ana refused to speak for a moment and then, blinking back tears, threw up her hands.
“Because I wanted to give you this.” She scooped a crumpled piece of paper out of her jacket pocket and shoved it onto a table.
“What is it?”
“You know what it is. Don’t play dumb.”
“I need it back. Photocopy it and give it back.”
“Ana, I told you- I don’t need it anymore. I already have a copy in my files.”
“Well, keep it anyway, because it’s all you get.”
Then, without looking back to see her mother’s reaction to the four coldest words ever to escape her lips, Ana turned her back and rushed, trembling, out of the bar.
Two weeks later, the packed boxes of scant possessions were loaded into a rented truck headed for Bellville. Ana didn’t bother coming to the door when the truck pulled up, nor did she cast a second glance at the expensive “Thanksgiving-only” china set, take one last whiff of the perfume that reminded her of their old farm in Virginia, or rub the “kitty-cat” sweater that she had loved to see her mother wear when she was three. Their presence was no more. As the roar of the truck died down the road, Ana stood in the doorway of the now-cleaned space and stared absently at the naked walls. All that was left now was an empty room of dust and memories.
A little while later, a knock sounded firmly at her bedroom door. Ana’s father slowly peered at her from the doorway and cleared his throat. Before he could even voice his reason for intruding, she looked up from her desk and asked, “Can I use that room as a walk-in closet? I always wanted one. Or maybe a ballet studio or something, since no one’s using it anymore…”
He shook his head and answered tiredly, “Ana, we’ll talk about it later. This was in the mail for you.”
Depositing a small envelope on her desk, he exited, leaving the sound of his footsteps down the stairs.
There was no return address. Perhaps the sender was hoping that the envelope would get lost and never returned. Or perhaps the sender just didn’t care. Whatever the case, inside the envelope was something that she never would have wanted to lose. She pulled out the contents, a crumpled piece of paper, and stared at it. Printed in ink on top were the words “Birth Certificate,” followed by several names in fancy lettering and miscellaneous numbers. Had it been sixteen years ago, those numbers would have meant something- happiness, excitement, newness. But, those feelings were gone now, as they had realized that their place was nowhere in Ana’s world and hopped the train to Bellville without looking back. And though the numbers aligned with this very day, the twenty-seventh of July, no one seemed to remember this except for her. If anyone had even gone so far as to utter, “Happy Birthday, Ana,” she surely would have cried.