Andrea fingered the coins in her pocket. She would buy Caroline a birthday present, maybe stationery with pretty pictures. This year Caroline’s birthday fell on Easter Sunday, and she was planning to celebrate it on the Saturday before. The kitchen door was open and Andrea could smell the spring and the warmth outside. All the sixth-grade kids of St. Vincent were invited. Of course, they would not all come. Some would be visiting family or be out of town.
Yesterday at Woolworth’s, Andrea bought a birthday card with a pastel sketch of the Eiffel Tower that said, “You’re the top of the Eiffel Tower.” She liked Woolworth’s because it was so big.
Caroline had said she wanted to study art in Paris, like the masters. Andrea and Caroline both wanted to travel to exotic cities: Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Toronto. Andrea had only driven to Cleveland with her parents to visit her cousins. But someday she planned to go around the world. And she did not want to visit just relatives! Their friend Paula had been to the Grand Canyon, but Andrea thought of herself as an urban person and would have preferred seeing Minneapolis. When Andrea grew up maybe she would work in a newsroom like Mary Tyler Moore on TV. She intended to study hard and get good grades.
The phone rang. Caroline was calling off the birthday party. “My Granpa died. We’re driving to Cincinnati for the funeral.”
“I’m sure everyone will miss him very much,” Andrea remembered to say.
“I didn’t know him that well. We didn’t see him that much. It’s still sad, of course.”
“Of course.” Andrea expressed a sympathy she didn’t quite feel.
“And it’s strange happening so close to my birthday.”
“Easter and all,” Andrea agreed. The telephone felt heavy in her hand.
“He and Gramma were divorced. He was a drunk.”
Andrea remembered another line: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Are you going to have a birthday party later? When you come back? From the funeral?”
“I’d like to. Would you help me? Would you call the other kids and tell them the party is canceled?”
“Yes. I’ll tell them it’s postponed.” Dickens strolled in the open kitchen door and meowed. “I got you a card. I know you want to study art in Paris.”
“That was a long time ago. I’d prefer to study in Firenze.”
“Oh.” Andrea prided herself on her knowledge of geography, but she had never heard of Firenze. She supposed there were a lot of things she didn’t know.
“I gotta go now.”
The light was watery. “I’m sure you have a lot to do, packing and all.”
“I’ll call our friends.” Andrea was pleased she could help.
“And happy birthday, Caroline.”
“It’s not my birthday until the weekend.”
Dickens came up to Andrea to be petted. She stretched her hand out and he scooted away. “I know. I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday.”
published 9 May 2012