26 parts of a Speculative Fiction story by J Lenni Dorner
I let the upbeat song finish before I shut off my truck. One more deep, stalling breath. I get out, walk to the back, and open the liftgate. Cooler and blanket in hand, I trudge through the frosted, brown leaves. Thirty-seven rows down, two and three stones in, both engraved with “Connolly.”
“Happy birthday, Danny boy.” I lay the blanket out between my son and wife. Reaching into the cooler, I set a small cake by his stone and pull out two bottles of Irish stout.
“I hope you’ve been behaving for your mother.” Leaning over, I kiss my wife’s stone, then set her drink down.
“Fifteen. Big year ahead for you.” That’s as far as I make it before the lie, the facade, fades. Once again, I’m the weeping guy in the graveyard.
Ringing and buzzing in my jean’s pocket wakes me. “Yeah?”
“Is this Attie Connolly?”
“Yes. Who’s this?” I pull my phone away to glance. Just a number, no name attached. I put the phone back to my ear.
“Dad? Why didn’t you pick me up yet?” Mercedes, my youngest, asks. “I had to use the school office phone to call you. See? Told you I need my own. Are you coming or what?”
“I, uhh,” I rub my eyes as I sit up. Six empty bottles surround me, as well as a half-eaten cake. I glance at my phone again, this time to check the clock. I realize my hand is covered in icing. That same blue icing is on my phone, covering the time. It is also in my ear and stuck to my hair. “Call Mystic. Remind her it’s the twentieth of November. Then tell her to come get you.”
“Fine. Whatever. Thanks for nothing.”
Nothing. I rest my head on my knees.
“This wasn’t the sort of birthday celebration you’d have approved of, is it?” My wife’s stone doesn’t answer me. Just as well. If I had passed out at one of our children’s actual birthday parties, she wouldn’t have spoken to me. Not that it ever happened when she was alive. This is the fourth time I’ve had to celebrate my only son’s birthday in a graveyard.
I stumble to my truck while shaking the layer of frost and leaves from the blanket. I drop the empty bottles into a box with other cans and bottles I’ve meant to haul to the recycling plant. There’s no need for my children to know how much I drink. My wife would say I’m setting a bad example.
Were she here to say that, I probably wouldn’t be drinking near as much. Is that irony? I’m too hungover to tell.
I pull a sandwich and a bottle of water out of the cooler. Baby wipes… baby wipes… Ah ha, I knew I had a box in here. I clean my hands and phone, then grab another for my face and ear.
I look in the direction of the heavily accented voice. A man in a heavy winter coat and ushanka smiles at me.
“Hi.” The graveyard seems like a place people wouldn’t make small talk. Guess he doesn’t know that.
“Are you freeze to death, hmm? Join others in this place?” He motions between my black leather jacket and the gravestones beyond the parking area.
“I’m fine.” I crack open the water and chug.
“Yes, yes, of course. You Americans know nothing of cold, eh? Warm bones.”
“Uh huh,” I take a bite of the sandwich.
Has anyone ever made small talk with you in an unusual setting?
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