BIRTHDAY by Geoffrey Latham

……’But it’s my birthday!’ Claire exclaimed, saying the first thing that came into her head. The full enormity of Jake’s news suddenly hitting her, she added ‘We were planning to get married, buy a house together, start a family. I don’t understand…’

Not able to meet Claire’s eyes Jake said ‘I’m sorry Claire, I know it’s terrible timing, but I couldn’t go through with the meal out we had planned tonight knowing that I wanted to end our relationship. I’m sorry but I’m not ready to commit to all of those plans of yours…’.

‘Not able to commit to all those plans of mine!’ Claire interjected. ‘We planned them together! We’ve been saving, looking to get ahead workwise, setting a timeframe together. Plans of mine! How can you say that!’

The penny then dropped for Claire ‘There’s someone else isn’t there?’ she demanded.

‘Not really, I just think…....’

‘Not really!’ Claire interrupted furiously, ‘what sort of answer is that? I can’t believe this.’ Claire paused, totally numb. ‘F… you Jake. I’m off to work, be gone from here by the time I get back tonight,’ and with that she stormed down the passage, slamming the front door as she left.

Outside she leant against the railings, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry,’ she said to herself. Taking her mobile phone out of her pocket, she rang her office number and waited for the out of hours answerphone message to kick in. She left a message saying she wouldn’t be in.

Claire walked and walked, furiously mulling over her situation and wondering how she hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong. She’d always thought she would know, Jake was not a secretive person. Of course, the extra hours Jake had been working ‘for our future’ as he put, it had actually been for some other kind of future - one that didn’t include her.
In her mid thirties and with her body clock ticking, how on earth was she going to find a good man to start a life with, and raise a family? It all took time. Jake was not the first she’d lived with; there had been two before him: one disastrous, the other Claire had drawn to a close , Adam had been determined not to grow up. Of course he was now married with a little girl.

Where there seemed to be a never ending supply of available men in her twenties, most of the good ones had now been taken. Pretty much all of her former single friends were settling down or married and pregnant.

She really didn’t want to get out there again. Playing the field, kissing the frogs. She wasn’t going to be one of those slightly desperate, not so young anymore women in bars, glancing around, appraising the men. It was too awful to contemplate. At some point she must have sat down in this coffee bar because the staff kept looking at her rather pointedly. ‘How long have I been here?’ she said to herself.

Next, she was walking around a lake in the middle of a park. Around and around she walked until she eventually sat down on the end of a bench overlooking the water. On the other end of the bench was a man throwing bread to the ducks congregating around him; pulling the bread from a bag which obviously had carried his lunch as well. Reasonably good looking man in a suite and open shirt, a bit older than her, Claire thought. Wedding ring.

‘I swear there are more of them every time I’m here,’ he said aloud.

‘Are you here every day then?’ Claire responded.

‘Weather permitting. I choose a different bench every time so I have a different view, but they always seem to find me. Word’s got around I think’

‘Have you named any of them yet?’ Claire asked.

He chuckled and smiled at Claire, looking at her properly and holding her gaze. ’Not owning up to that,’ he said, ‘but the one in the middle is the leader.’

‘Do you have children? Claire asked. ’Do you bring them here?’

‘Yes I do have children.’ He sounded surprised by the question. ‘Emma 9 and Rhys 6, totally exhausting, and no they haven’t been here. We live in the suburbs, I work in an office over there. You’ve given me an idea though because they would love to join me. I could introduce them to my aquatic friends. I’ll ask my wife to bring them in one day and we could all have lunch together. That would be lovely.’ He paused. ’Well I’d better be getting back, nice to meet you’ he said as he got up and started to move away.

‘And you,’ Claire said, ‘but aren’t you forgetting something?’ she asked.

Turning around he looked at Claire. ‘Sorry?’ he said.

‘You haven’t said goodbye to your friends.’

Laughing, he walked away. Claire watched him for a moment and out of the corner of her eye she noticed the ducks following his retreating back.

Claire sat there, the conversation having briefly cheered her up. There are men out there who want to settle down, she thought, and I’ll find one. I’ll brush myself down and move on. She thought about returning to the flat; either Jake would be gone, or there would be another conversation to be had, however that might unfold. Either way she would move on with her life.

Aloud to the retreating ducks she said, ‘I want a cave, with a couple of kids running in and out playing, the fire ready, and my man returning with the catch of the day over his shoulder. He would look at the scene around him, puff his chest out and think ‘I’m a very lucky man’.

Not too much to ask for on your birthday.