I wrote this for my first writing club prompt ever almost a year ago. It’s probably one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.
“Well, today is the day,” I told myself as I lay under the protection of my blankets, as still as a corpse with my dread.
Today was the day I’ve been pretending to look forward to while secretly having anxiety attacks over for months. The day that every single person I encountered loved to remind me would only come once, accompanied with a smug grin that I read as thankful to not be me. The day of my daughter’s fourth birthday party was finally here and after months of careful preparation, I felt like someone threw all my organized plans into the wind and laughed as they blew away.
I prepared myself mentally for the mess and made to-do lists in my mind that I checked and re-checked. I thought of everything and knew it, but there was still the one part I could not come to terms with. And for a well-accomplished single mother of thirty, I felt incredibly childish and in need of a savior.
My alarm started chiming and interrupted my thoughts, but let’s be realistic – how could I have slept in today? As if on cue, I heard the pitter-patter of little feet coming down the hallway towards my bedroom. A knock that wasn’t about to wait for any response came, and the face of my birthday girl peeked around the open brown door.
“Mommy?” A hesitant pause and then, “Mommy, are you awake?”
I put a smile on my face before rolling over and answered, “Yes, baby. Good morning!”
A ball of energetic color flew at me and was now bouncing up and down on my bed. Curly brown hair shadowed me on each jump.
“It’s. My. BIRTHDAY!” she said each word as her feet hit the comforter, with a grin that wouldn’t stop growing. She crashed down into a cross-legged sitting position and I grabbed her up and kissed her forehead.
“I know, sweetie, I remember!” I said as I moved her into my arms and started rocking her in my lap. “So, what do you want for breakfast this morning?” Her eyes lit up at the prospect of being able to make the first big decision of the day. I made a check on my mental to-do list.
“Pancakes! No, waffles! With syrup! And french fries!” Her eyes were glossed over as she thought about the myriad of options she had. If only such a simple decision could be the hardest part of my day, too. The doorbell rang and I heard it echo through the still sleeping house.
“Wanna answer the door while Mommy gets dressed real quick?” Another present, another check, and her eyes grew to take up half her face. She blurred out of the room again towards the front door.
I began changing out of my pajamas and heard, “It’s Aunt Meg and TYLER!” screamed at me from the front of the house. My sister Meg and her six-year-old son here to reinforce that this was going to be a day to remember. A soft knock at the door came, and Meg was walking in as I was buttoned up my blouse.
“Oh my god, are you so excited?” She came over to me and hugged me. “This day is going to be over before you know it! They only turn four once.”
I turned my back to her to pick up my shoes. Was I going to have to hear these statements for the rest of my life? I knew my daughter was going to grow up faster than I wanted and that each day would literally only happen once. It was on the border of comical and annoying how often people opted to tell me that.
“Come on, I’m making Sammy some waffles and french fries for breakfast. Birthday girl’s choice,” I responded to her arched eyebrow.
We went into the kitchen and saw two eager, angelic faces peeking over the table. I rummaged around in the freezer for food. Unfortunately I wasn’t a very inventive cook, which was another stressor for this whole party.
I ordered enough food to feed the thirty-five people coming at least three times. Sandwiches, salads, pastas, and finger foods. My mother was bringing the giant ice cream cake meant for fifty and the sandwiches since she was the only person I knew that had enough room for that much food.
I took a deep breath to suppress the nerves that were beginning to flutter around again as I set the waffles and fries on the table. Tyler looked shocked, but it didn’t stop him from covering his plate in syrup as soon as it was put in front of him.
The doorbell rang again and my eyes widened with anxiety and fear. My heart felt like it had stopped to prevent me the horror of seeing who it might be.
“Oh god,” I thought. “He’s here. He’s here! I can’t do this!” I wanted to run away and hide in my bed again.
I heard a soft bahhh as I forced myself to walk to the front door and the fear melted away. My shoulders went back down and I let out of gust of air. Safe for now.
I opened the door to find a large, balding man with a baby goat and a sheep. His shirt and hands were stained with dirt and other questionable brown splotches. In one hand he held two ropes leashed to the animals and the other had planks of wood and coils of wire.
“I’m the petting zoo guy,” he said as he reeled in the curious animals sniffing at my skirt. “I’m Louis.”
“Right,” I said slipping between the goat and Louis. “Let me show you where you can set up.”
Louis and his animals followed me into the backyard, past his truck where I heard more bahh’s and, I swear, a moo. We walked through the gate into my transformed yard where two covered buffet tables, three tents (in case it rained, of course), and enough chairs to seat Sammy’s entire pre-school class plus parents waited. I directed Louis to a shaded area in the corner of the yard where he could set up his pen and lay down the hay. And, somehow, I just knew that I would be picking up that hay for the next five years.
My shoulders were already feeling tense again as I returned to the house and left Louis to set up the zoo. It’d be best if he just showed up already and I wouldn’t have to deal with this dread clinging to my muscles anymore. I wish he wouldn’t show up at all. It was an empty hope because Sammy specifically asked that he be here today, and I couldn’t disappoint my daughter.
I checked off the petting zoo in my mind and the doorbell rang again. I hardly had time to see the mess the kids made of their breakfasts, but I knew it was substantial.
“Meg, can you clean Sammy up and help her change into her birthday dress while I get the door? I think some friends might be here.” I gave my daughter a sneaky smile as her eyes lit up again. She grabbed Meg’s wrist with a sticky hand and pulled her towards the stairs. Maybe this day wouldn’t be as horrible as I imagined if I got to see her face light up all day.
As I opened the door with a more optimistic spirit this time, a chorus of incomprehensible screams smacked me in the face. I saw shiny glittering presents, balloons, and I think someone even threw confetti in the air.
“Wow,” I started as I tried to gather myself while presents were shoved into my arms and people walked past me into the house. “Hello…er, everyone.”
It looked as if the entire class had carpooled together in five cars. “At least I won’t have to keep leaving the party to answer the door,” I thought, trying to deceive my panicking brain with positive thoughts.
I began to check off another part of my list and close the door, but not before a hand shot through to stop it. “Oh, and don’t forget about me!” came a deeper voice. A voice I knew only far too well from the darkest depths of the twisted part of my mind.
He pulled the door from my hand and I saw his evil face veiled in a shadow. Covered in shimmering fabric with colorful face paint and a curly orange wig, he was a cliché straight from my nightmares. My voice caught in my throat where my heart was also trapped as it tried to escape. And before I could do anything, he was walking past me into the house, squeaking as he moved.
“I’m Ben, but you can call me Bubbles today,” he said with a grin painted on his face. “Four years old, huh? I’ve got two of my own; they grow up so darn fast! This is one of those moments that’ll only happen once, but she’ll remember it forever, y’know.” He laughed a high-pitched, escalating laugh. I followed Bubbles the clown into my once safe house and made a last mental check for the day that my daughter and I would remember forever.