Kenny hated birthdays. All a birthday did was let the city know you needed to renew your tags. Each one for the past several years, since Ginny died, emphasized to him that nobody cared about him, that nobody could be bothered to remember his birthday, that nobody probably even thought of his name anymore. He looked deep into the water, his toes gripping the wharf edge, then to the horizon. ‘No probably to it. Everybody loved Ginny. I ain’t worth shootin’.’ The flip-flops he’d thrown had floated pretty far out, bobbing in the swells.
The water enticed him, a siren’s call. He relaxed his worn muscles. His innate will to live that had served him so well through war and disasters drifted away like the wispy smoke from a burnt out fire. With the tide going out, all he needed to do was fall.
A shadow intruded on the water. He frowned and turned to see a pair of hideously large purple sunglasses at eye level, topped by an equally hideous floppy straw sunhat with some sort of garland on it.
“Hi there! Do you think you could help me find an earring? They’re heirlooms and I shouldn’t have been wearing them so of course I did. They have real amethysts in them, for you see I adore violet and…oh, I’m so sorry, are you meditating? I’m disturbing your meditation. I tried that and it always put me right to sleep.”
He waited. The sunglasses didn’t budge. “I have not seen your earrings. Yes, I was meditating.” He turned back to the water, now tensed up all over again.
“I love a southern accent, the way you say you’re A’s and I’s is so sweet! Texas?”
He took a deep breath and blew it out hard as he turned back to the intruder. “Kentucky. I’m from the boonies of Kentucky.”
“I am so sorry, I can tell I’m annoying you.” Her brilliant smile disappeared. “I didn’t actually lose an earring. I was getting depressed and thought it better to drum up a conversation to get my mind off of it.” She turned away, head bowed.
Without thought, he called out, “To get you mind off of what?”
Her sunhat swayed in negation.
Vexed, he walked briskly past her and stopped in front of her. “To get your mind off of what?”
She removed her sunglasses and smeared tears away with her thumb. Looking up, her face expressed such eloquent sadness he nearly choked up.
“It is my birthday. It’s been so long since I had a real conversation with anyone, I tried to take a gift. You can’t take gifts, they must be freely given to be worth a thin dime.”
“Is that credit or debit?”
A faint smile appeared. “Oh yes, and there’s ‘do you want that in twenties or smaller denominations?’.”
“I have direct deposit and do all my bills online. I get ‘sign for this’ a lot because I get my medicine by mail.” He thought for a moment. “My computer used to tell me I got mail, but it quit doing that a long time ago. I kind of miss it.”
“Heck, I miss the old ‘Paper or plastic?’; do you remember that one?”
He moved by her side and thrust out his rusty elbow. “It’s my birthday, too. Would you like to get a lemonade?”
“Only if you tell me your name. I’m Shirley Jean.”