CHAPTER 1: BIRTHDAY
Inside us all is a carnal hunger. A desire that springs from the deepest fountain within our souls. Reason… Logic… Understanding… all earthly commitments become obstacles to overcome in pursuit of the grand appetite.
Cold air poured from the open mouth of the refrigerator. Bottles clanked within the buzzing glow of a man sized white box as hungry hands groped their way through the wall of items placed meticulously as a barrier. David knew that something was hidden and he knew exactly what that something was. Now all that was left was to dig it out. "Please forgive me."
With a violent push, the kitchen door slammed open in expectation; the man jolted with guilt to the horrified gasp. It was Gwen. His baby girl, all grown up. "Dad! What are you doing?" Gwen pleaded.
"I'm sorry, Gwen. I have to..." David’s voice shook with a vacancy to self-control. "No! You can't! Put down the knife and get out." She begged, tears forming at the corner of her eyes.
"Just one slice..." David turned his back towards the aggravated young woman, smacking his lips to hold back the well of saliva that was pooling behind his teeth.
"You'll ruin everything!" Gwen’s cries shrilled in the weight of her emotions. “It’s not supposed to be like this!” She should have been angry, but all she could think of was the evening.
“Honey, no one will care. It's my birthday. It's my cake."
“Are you serious? I care!” Gwen strengthened her composure, pulling at her clothes as though she were fixing the last wrinkles in her plan for the evening. “I swear, sometimes it’s like you’re turning five instead of fifty.
David always looked young for his age, being carded for alcohol well into his thirties. This was a probably in part because he dressed young, keeping up with the general style of the youth and not falling victim to the trap of being set in his ways. There was a kindness in his face. A softness to his eyes, twinged with just the right amount of mischief. For all his dad-isms of terrible puns and attachment to the music he grew up with, David was managed to grow into a modern man with the tastes born of twenty first century. However, his black pepper hair began to salt in the recent months as stress took hold. It was becoming apparent that age was finally catching up with him.
“C’mon. It’s only one piece.”
"No!" She demanded. "Get out of the fridge, go back in the living room, and wait. Uncle Eddie will be here with the food in 15 minutes."
“You sound like your mother.” Dave bemoaned as he was being physically separated from the beautiful confection waiting for him on the blind side of the long handled box.
“Well one of us has to be the adult. And this is all the cake you’re getting. I don’t want to be worrying about you and your diabetes when I’m back at college in a few weeks.”
Balloons and streamers hung in every corner of the modest living space with colors the walls haven’t seen before. Gwen hoped it would cheer her dad up. It was his first birthday in the apartment. His first birthday away from home. His first birthday without Amanda. A birthday incomplete. An unwanted new beginning.
CHAPTER 2: DINNER
“Who’s hungry?” a lanky gentleman stormed in through the door with boisterous greeting. He set his bags down to remove his long coat and formal hat which he always wore, even out of its proper season. You always knew when Eddie arrived.
“Finally! I’m starved.” David groaned with exaggeration to match Eddie’s excitement.
“Dad tried eating the cake again, Uncle Eddie. I swear he has no self-control.” Gwen folded her arms to reassert her displeasure, pretending to be angrier than she really was.
Eddie and David looked at one another for a moment, trying to forcibly hold back a roaring laugh. They both knew the depths of that statement and how unbearably true it was that David had no self-control. The moment he saw something he wanted there wasn’t a force on heaven or earth that could pry him from it.
“He always had a hard time holding back for anything. Especially cake. I remember at your parents wedding he tried sneaking a slice before the ceremonial cake cutting. Isn’t that right, David?”
“Mhmm.” David grinned with smugness. He took pride in knowing he did something he wasn’t supposed to do. “Oh my gosh, Dad!” “Yup. He left this huge hole carved out of one of the tiers. I don’t know how you thought you were gonna get away with it.” Eddied continued while pulling the boxes of Chinese food from the plastic bags to set on the table, as they each claimed their seats.
“I didn’t plan to get away with it.” David boasted. “It was my wedding and my cake. I shouldn’t have to wait for someone to tell me I can have my cake.” “Amanda had a fit. I thought she was gonna kill you.”
“She nearly did. I distinctly remember her coming at me with a knife. Your sister was always took everything too serious for her own good.”
The trio laughed hard, each picturing the beautiful bride charging red faced with one hand gripped tightly around a decorative cake cutting knife, while the other hand clutched a fist full of white fabric to keep the bottom of her massive wedding gown from getting in her way. A cartoonish version of what really happened that day, but that’s how everyone remembered it.
“Yeah. But somehow you got her to loosen up more than anyone else.” Eddie continued. “You were always good for her. Even until the end. I don’t know if I ever thanked you for that.”
The laughs funneled into silence as the three adults’ eyes fell upon the fourth chair. An empty chair at a small table. And suddenly the air became thick with quiet sadness. David’s gaze glazed with a far off pain.
“Can we not do this? Not now. Please.”
Eddie rubbed his face, as though he were trying to wipe the discomfort away, then cleared his throat to regain his composure. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Um… Change of subject… I brought you a gift.” Eddie shot up to grab a thick black bag he left near the front door.
“No. You didn’t have to do that…” David protested weakly.
“Of course I did. I figured you two are cooped up in this apartment all day and I thought it’d be nice to have something bright.” The base of the large item clanked with a heavy weight against the table as Eddie set the bag in front of David.
“What is this? You brought me trash?” David joked, pulling at the black plastic bag.
“Open it!” Gwen said with more excitement than David.
David pulls the thick black bag apart revealing a potted plant with decorative etchings carved into the side. Thick waxy leaves rested over a perfectly black dirt with two long thin stems standing tall. At the top where silky pink petals.
“You got me flowers? I think I liked it better when I thought it was garbage. Was the store out of motorcycles or something?”
“Dad, don’t be rude. They’re beautiful orchids. Thank you, Uncle Eddie.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. But they are mostly for your dad. I ordered them online. Lucky for you they delivered this morning.” “Lucky? Right... You say you got these online? Is that why there’s all this… Mumbo Jumbo on the pot?” Within the decorative carvings of various script, in various languages, David could see a poem.
“By midnight bloom
An orchid’s dream
To bend the world of what;
To joy or pain
Within your reign
Lest paradise be cut “
“Oh, so this is one of your Hocus Pocus spiritual healing things.” David mocked, unamused and slightly annoyed.
“C’mon, Eddie. I don’t want to sound like a jerk but how is a plastic plant supposed to so anything? ” “It’s not plastic. It’s very much real.”
“Really?” David spoke disarmed, examining the plant more closely, even sinking his finger into the dirt. “Well I’ll be. I’ll say this… Wherever you ordered them from did a great job taking care of them. They looked to perfect to be real. I thought they were fake.”
“I’ll be sure to mention that in the review.” David chuckled with a gained confidence at David’s shift in tone. “Gwen told me you were having a hard time sleeping lately and then I found these. The listing said that these were ancient Chinese orchids and that if you keep them near your bed you’ll feel calm and might even have sweet dreams. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.”
“Well Gwen shouldn’t have told you that…” David said glaring at his daughter from the corner of his eye. “But thank you for the fortune cookie flower plant.”
The evening continued on as the threesome enjoyed their meal. Casually nursing the good memories and neglecting the painful ones. There was no doubt that a piece of the family was missing but together they made the best of it.
CHAPTER 3: SLEEPLESS
The mind and heart are often disjointed, seeking out separate paths for satisfaction. However, there are rare situations where mind and heart are aligned with purpose to fulfil a single desire. For a man of loss, where the goal is absent from desire, there is no rest. And so, David finds himself basking in the blue glow of a computer screen occupying his dreamless nights with the momentary distraction of busy work.
He was consumed with numbers. Numbers for hospital bills, insurance, and the house he had to sell. He didn’t notice how hard he was tapping the keys until a soft knock fell upon his bedroom door. He stopped typing long enough to hear the soft knock again.
“Yeah. Come in.”
The door to his bedroom creaked open on stale hinges as Gwen pushed her way in, squinting through the dark without her glasses. “What are you doing awake? It’s 2:30 in the morning.”
“Oh. Hey. Yeah. I’m just finishing up some paperwork I haven’t gotten to yet.” “Is that Mom stuff? You really shouldn’t be doing that now.” “I’m almost done. I just wanted to get to it while it was on my mind.”
“I’ve been thinking about her too. But you need to get sleep.” “I will. Goodnight, Gwen.”
“Goodnight, Dad. Happy birthday. And don’t forget your flowers.” Gwen set the orchids on the nightstand softly to soften the weight of the pot.
“Yeah… Yeah…” David sighed.
Gwen softly pulled the door behind her, leaving a small crack the way her dad would do for her when she was little. It was years since she was afraid of the dark, but she felt like her dad could use the reassurance, even if it was just an open door. And so the typing resumed. This time with a much gentler touch.
“David…” a caring voice called out, bringing a cold shock to David’s spine.
“It’s me, darling.” The tone sparked. It had been months since he heard it. A voice he never expected to hear again. It was her. His dearly beloved. Renewed in his mind in the image he always thought of her as. As beautiful as the day he first met her all those years ago. Before the cancer. Before Gwen.
“Amanda? You’re… Here. And you’re young. No. No, no, no. This can’t be.”
“It is.” She affirmed. “I am here. And WE are young. Look.”
The soft glow on the computer screen flickered, calling David’s attention to the live video pulling from the webcam top and center, showing him as he always thought of himself; A young man that matched the beautiful woman before him.
“We have the world ahead of us again.” “But you’re dead, Amanda. Am I dead? Did Gwen finally have enough of my nonsense and poison the cake?” “No.” Amanda laughed sweetly. “You’ve done a wonderful job taking care of our girl. Just like you did a wonderful job of taking care of me. And now, I’m here to take care of you.”
Amanda took the laptop and folded it, setting it aside the orchid plant on the nightstand. Then she reached out an inviting hand to her husband, who lay astonished by the vision before him. “Come with me.” David reached out, expecting to only touch the ghostly unoccupied air of his imagination, and yet found something solid to grab on to. It was her hand. Amanda’s. Holding his, and lifting him up from his bed as light brightened before them. And suddenly realizing he was someplace else. The sky was ablaze with the candle light of a million stars over a field of pink flowers.
“Where are we? How did we get outside? The night is so bright here. And those flowers. Those are like the ones Eddie gave me.”
“You are in the joy of paradise among the midnight orchid."
“I’m so confused right now. This isn’t right. None of this makes any sense.”
“The charms of the flower’s dreams have brought you here. Stay with me David and I’ll give you rest.” She pressed her lips gently against his as their bodies wound tightly into one another. “Tonight, we can dream together.”