Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Billy
Happy birthday to you.
The twenty-four candles blew out in one go.
Everyone smiled. Billy smiled, radiant, the curls of her blond locks sprung with every movement, as she cut the cake in equal parts. And the presents passed down the table.
“So, what have you got?”
Billy’s eyes widened as she feigned surprise to see an Ipad, “mom, you shouldn’t have.”
In a procession, the presents continued to flow to her hands. Every time one reached Billy, the woman’s gaze searched for Keen’s. She waited for his gift.
The last box arrived in a sparkling silver paper; all turned to look at Keen. He, too, was eager to see her reaction. Billy did not unwrap or scrape the paper as she did with the previous gifts. Here, she undid every piece of the sticky tap.
Keen’s heartbeat accelerated, though her eyes shone the man knew he failed, from the glint that swept her gaze and awoke her monster, “a music box?”
“You’ve been looking at it for weeksㅡ.”
“Yeah, I looked at it. It didn’t mean I wanted it,” the deadpan stare that accompanied her lopsided lips threw shade on the party ambiance.
Adrianne, who stood behind Billy, shook her by the shoulders, “Billy, Keen participated in getting all the gifts.”
The woman attempted to save him. If someone in this room knew Billy, it was her mother. Keen still remembered how Adrianne called him once a week to check everything was okay between the couple.
One could say Adrianne was the trigger; it began that day in their kitchen.
“I hope Billy isn’t giving you a hard time; she isn’t an easy girl. Her last relationship took a toll on her.”
Keen could not put the finger for whom Adrianne intended the hint of concern he heard in her voice.
“No, Billy is wonderful. I love her; I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Keen continued to fill in the dishwasher. The couple moved in together after dating for six months. Billy was perfect, funny, witty, and sensitive. The woman was everything Keen wished for and more.
“What are you talking about?” Both Keen and Adrianne were startled to see Billy standing in the doorway.
Adrianne seemed lost, as though her daughter caught red-handed saying something she should not, “Billy, I was just telling Keen how cozy your apartment is.”
Billy switched her gaze to keen, “really?”
Keen stared at Adrianne, she had not said anything profound, yet her expression seemed grave, “yeah, your mom was complimenting the apartment.”
At the time, Keen did not know what would follow, but now as he watched Billy standing at the head of the table, the only question that played on his mind was when it would occur?
Just like on that day in their kitchen, Keen regretted having bought the music box. Now, panic-struck, the man heaved little pants no one noticed, except Adrianne. Keen used his hands under the table, which he placed on his knees to stop his legs tremble.
“Oh, come on, Billy, if you don’t like the present, I’m sure you can exchange it, in it, Keen?” Maggie, one of Billy’s co-workers, turned to face Keen, prompting him to speak.
The man tried to sketch a smile; still, his lips rippled and quivered with stress, “ㅡof course, I have the receipt.”
Adrianne clapped in her hands, “then it’s sorted.”
Like a magic spell, the party resumed. Everyone took a piece of cake and drank to their heart’s content.
At 11 PM, most guests left tipsy and jolly. Adrianne gave Keen two mandatory kisses, “take care, love, don’t worry about the present. I am sure she has forgotten,” she whispered, giving a gentle squeeze to his arm.
Keen nodded, but he doubted.
Adrianne went, Keen was alone, again.
There was no time to waste; Keen began to pick up the bottles. As for the plates, the dishwasher could not take it all. Of course, Billy did not want ecological throwaway plates for her birthday.
The opportunity to let a sigh escape found itself aborted by the sound of an unlocking door. The man felt like a gambler waiting to see if the number would be red or black on the Russian roulette table.
“Oh, what a night,” Billy slumped down on the couch and watched keen carry on cleaning.
Her blasé stare followed him everywhere, from left to right and from right to left. Keen’s movements exhausted her; she got up, walked to the table where the man regrouped her gifts.
Eyebrow kit from Benefit, concert tickets, Ipad, SMART BOX, Very Irresistible perfume, a knitting kit for beginners, the usual birthday mic-mac people got. The woman flipped, shoved, and tossed the gifts, letting some fall to the floor, until she found it.
Billy grabbed the music box, twirled it in her hands. She touched all the ornaments and opened it. A ballerina turned while the nutcracker played. Amazed, Billy listened, eyes transfixed on the twirling dancer.
Then the music stopped and knocked Billy out of her trance.
Keen approached, “yes, Billy.”
Billy held the music box in the palm of her hand, as though she demonstrated a perfume. Her stern stare withheld the promise of severe repercussions, “of all the things you could have got me. All you saw was a fucking music box?”
The question needn’t an answer as all it was a mere trigger, destined to set fire.
The sweat Keen collected over the evening, and the moment Billy opened her gift while he waited for the fateful moment, finally began to ooze out of his pores, ” ㅡyou-you liked it.”
“I liked it, huh?” A crooked smile, which only showed the last three teeth close to her lips rims, appeared, “I fucking did.”
Billy lifted the music box and slapped it across Keen’s face.
The man barely had time to put up his guard; the box hit his arm. Billy continued to beat him, “Iㅡdon’tㅡ fuckingㅡlikeㅡitㅡanymore,” she yelled as she continued.
Keen knew what people would say if they were spectators of the scene. You’re a man; you could have stopped her. She’s small and fragile; it was because of this Keen did not fight back. Billy was weak; if ever he hurt her, all would be his fault because he was a man.
Being a man meant he possessed the strength.
Being a man meant whatever he did, Billy would be a victim.
Being a man meant keeping his mouth shut, for no one would believe him.
Being a man meant Keen could not complain because God made him a male. A dominant according to the mass.
Billy stopped, “say something, shit head.”
Tears dropped to the floor; they weren’t Keen’s.
It seemed the color of the number was black once more on the roulette table.
Billy dropped the music box; disoriented, she scanned the room to pinpoint her destination. She staggered to their bedroom; the slamming door rang at the end of the episode and evening.
Happy Birthday, Billy.