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Birthday Cake


I.

My name is Eric Kortmansky and I am eleven years old.  My family is
one-of-a-kind in our neighborhood because my parents have eight children.  I
am the fifth, the third boy.   Because of my situation, things that are
normally taken for granted by kids in smaller sized families, like having
one's own room, getting new shoes or a coat before the school year starts,
and being able to go to the bathroom whenever you need to, are out of the
question for us Kortmanskys.  My biggest beef is that my mother has
never-not even once-baked a birthday cake just for me.  We celebrate only
four times a year.  The two kids with winter birthdays get a cake on
December 21.  Those with spring birthdays get one whenever spring arrives-a
date that's different every year for a reason I've never been able to
understand.  There's only one summer birth and also a single autumn birth,
so each of those kids gets a cake on his birthday.  But that might change
soon since my mother is pregnant again and we are headed into the later
months of the year.   My two older sisters, Connie and Ann, and my little
brother Georgie have birthdays in the spring, like me, so we all have to,
according to my mother, "Share and be fair."   It's the motto hanging on our
icebox door and the guiding principle of our family life.  But Connie is
allergic to chocolate and Georgie gets diarrhea whenever he eats anything
with milk in it.  Would you even want a cake you'd have to share with them?

II.


My name is Eric Kortmansky and today, April 4, is my birthday.  I am
eighteen years old.  I've registered for the draft, but because I am still
in high school and plan to go to the State College in the fall I don't think
I will be called up any time soon.  I'm lucky that I was born when I was
because the Korean Conflict is over.  In school, when I called it a war my
teacher corrected me.  That seems silly because people fought and got killed
and isn't that what a war is?  The thought of killing anyone gives me the
willies.  My best buddy Ray says that's chicken talk, but I don't care.  I
have my whole life in front of me and I can't figure shooting anyone or
getting shot because someone in the government tells you you have to.   When
I get to college, I want to study foreign languages so that I can understand
people in other countries.  But right now I am looking forward to
celebrating my turning legal.  Ray got his father's Buick, rounded up a
bunch of the guys, and we're heading downtown tonight to Theo's Tavern to
get me drunk.  I have to admit, I don't have much experience with booze, but
I'm game.  My girlfriend Jill is kind of ticked off.  She thinks we should
be spending my birthday together.  She even went out and bought a box of
Betty Crocker devil's food mix and got permission to use her mom's Mixmaster
to make me a cake.   I don't want to hurt Jill's feelings, but, man, how can
you turn down a night drinking with your buddies for an evening in Jill's
kitchen with her mother popping in every minute or two?

III.

My name is Eric Kortmansky and in a few days I will be thirty years old.  I
am in Nags Head, North Carolina with my brand-new bride, Lauren, on our
honeymoon.  My family, especially my youngest sister Donna-Lauren's best
friend-had been bugging me for months to pop the question.  It's not that I
haven't dreamed about Lauren as my wife from the minute we met two years
ago, it's just that somehow I was never quite sure I deserved someone as
brilliant and as drop-dead gorgeous as she is.   She's a graduate student in
political science at the University of Maryland and, according to her
professors, a shining star in the department.  I can understand why she wows
everyone.  I teach French and Spanish to freshmen and sophomores at Calvin
Coolidge High School.  I went into education to avoid going to Vietnam, but
I found it's something I really enjoy.  I finally got up the courage on
Valentine's Day to ask Lauren to marry me, and she said if I hadn't asked
her, she would have asked me.  I am the luckiest man alive.  Now, my wife
and I are both on spring break.  Yesterday evening, after a stroll along the
beach, I asked if we could find a bakery to order a birthday cake.  She
laughed and said, "How can you even think of cake? There's so much in our
freezer left over from the wedding."


IV.

My name is Eric Kortmansky and I am 58 years old today.   My wife, Lauren,
can't be home to celebrate.  She works in the Clinton administration and is
often called in to the White House for some policy meeting.  She had planned
a dinner for the two of us and even ordered a special chocolate mousse cake
from Sutton Place Gourmet.  I ended up having to pick it up when she was
called in to work.  I noticed that the baker got the wording wrong.  It said
Happy Birthday Erin.  It's not a big deal, but it seems to be symptomatic of
the way the world is going these days.  Nobody gets things right anymore, at
least not on the first try.  Our daughter, Julie, and son, Steve, have both
ended up in bad marriages.   Lauren and I could see at the outset that the
people our children picked were wrong for them, but we both understood that
we had to let the kids make their own mistakes.   Julie lives in Seattle,
but Steve lives in Wilmington, Delaware, only two hours away.  I knew it was
asking a lot, but I called and suggested he drive down tonight and help me
eat all this cake.  "That's just not do-able, Dad," he said, and then added,
"Didn't you get my card?"  It was standing on the kitchen counter, splayed
open so that you could read the whole thing in one glance.  It was a funny
card about a father and his remote control habits.  I appreciated the
sentiment, but I almost never watch television.

V.

My name is Eric Kortmansky.  I am wearing a name tag.  My aide tells me
that today is my birthday.  I thought my birthday was last week, but maybe I
got that wrong.  It seems that each time I turn around another year has gone
by.  I am seventy and I know that's not old, especially today, when they can
do just about anything to keep you alive and well.  But I'm not one of the
lucky ones.  I had a stroke a year ago, or maybe it was before that.  I can't
talk, but I understand everything that anyone says to me-well, if they're
speaking in English, that is.  I used to know other languages, but like the
saying goes, "Use it or lose it" so now I don't.  In a few hours, they are
going to wheel me into the rec room to watch a movie. What I wouldn't give
to see a film with some good sex scenes, but they don't allow that at the
Home.  Afterward, we are going to have Hawaiian Punch and chocolate cake, in
honor of my birthday.  I think twelve or thirteen people are coming.  I like
having lots of people around.  It reminds me of my boyhood days with all my
brothers and sisters.  These people are patients, like me, but they are as
close as family.  We are all in this together.  It's hard to be alone,
especially on your birthday.




Toby Tucker Hecht lives and writes in Bethesda, Maryland.  She is a 2008 Maryland State Arts Council awardee for fiction and has published
short stories in The Baltimore Review, The Macguffin, Spindrift, THEMA, The Powhatan Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and other print
and on-line magazines. When not writing, she can be found at the National Cancer Institute, where she works in the Division of Cancer
Treatment and Diagnosis.

  

Copyright 2009