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Friday short story time: "Birthday Presence"

Today is my birthday. I did consider some kind of full-length blog post on the subject, but I am not sure I have much to say beyond that. Life is decent, I am well, so I am posting a regular Friday short story instead. It is birthday themed, and I am very proud of the pun in the title.

As ever, you can see more short stories here, and I hope you like the new one.

Birthday Presence

By Nick Bryan

‘So, how old are you next week, Astrid?’

‘Twenty-seven.’ Astrid looked weary, although perhaps she was putting it on a little. Samantha could never tell. ‘I’m worried this might be the end of my mid-twenties.’

‘No, it’ll be fine!’ Just in case it was a genuine crisis of confidence, Samantha made her voice very concerned. ‘You can say it’s your late-mid-twenties. People will believe you!’

And Astrid laughed. ‘You’re very sweet, Sam, but that sounds too desperate. I don’t really mind. I mean, I’m alive, I’m happy, I have people, I don’t need to desperately cling on to everything.’

‘Oh.’ Sam nodded thoughtfully. That seemed like a good attitude. Fearless. Why couldn’t she be more like that? Not worry so much all the time, or look like a fussing mother hen.

Whilst Sam was hanging back pondering, Astrid stepped fearlessly out to cross the road and was immediately taken out by a passing motorcyclist. Sam could have taken it as a parable, showing her why it was good to have a little caution sometimes.

But she didn’t see it this way. She just saw it as watching her best friend getting messily run over. If God intended that as a little morality play, he was a bastard.


It was Astrid’s birthday. By midday, Sam had almost risen from bed once, but it had been a false start. She had taken the day off work to celebrate; her flatmate suggested last night that she could go into the office, simply because it might stop her moping.

Enraged, Sam had shouted that Astrid wouldn’t have wanted her to do that, but said flatmate had simply shrugged and said Astrid probably wouldn’t have wanted her to lie in bed feeling shitty all day either.

She had lain there for some time regardless, but this logic had stayed with her. And so, finally, Sam groped around her bedside table until she came across her glasses, then sat up. Her duvet followed.

Her flatmate, Jan, who often dispensed sensible yet brutal advice, also had the bright idea that she take Astrid’s presents to a charity shop. This hadn’t gone down any better.

The funeral was tomorrow. Sam thought it might be nice to hold the funeral on her birthday, eat cake and do the whole “celebrating her life” thing, but Astrid’s family had not agreed. In fact, her characteristically gentle suggestion had ended in being screamed at by a crying mother.

Which had upset Sam a little too. At last, she got up and walked over to the door, intending to make her way slowly to the bathroom and get the day started in her own time. As she emerged from her cave, blinking, she was met with the severe features of housemate Jan, raising her fist to knock on the bedroom door.

‘Hi Samantha,’ Jan waved, not at all comfortably, ‘I was worried you might spend the day wallowing, so I got the afternoon off and came to keep you company.’

‘Oh.’ And after a minute, Sam remembered she never offended anyone. ‘That’s lovely of you, thanks. I’m just going to…’ And she trailed off into a stammer, jabbing her finger at the bathroom.

Once the door had safely closed behind her, enveloped by the smell of clean things, only then did Sam allow herself a couple of small sobs. 


‘So, do you want to go out for some lunch?’

‘No, thanks very much.’

‘Okay, sure.’

It turns out, Jan’s plan for cheering Sam up amounted to little more than coming home, ushering her into the living room and switching the television on, then making inane suggestions to take her mind off it all. There was cash in the attic, bargains in the basement, probably a deal in the dining room, Sam just didn’t care. But she didn’t want to make Jan feel bad, so stayed put.

And when Jan opened her mouth shortly later, Sam would find herself wishing she’d had the guts to leave long ago.

‘Look, Samantha, I don’t think this is doing you any good. Don’t you want to at least go for a walk? I’m not even saying I have to come with you,’ she hastened, ‘but you should do something. I could make us some food, then we’ll watch a movie?’

This wasn’t going to stop, was it? Sam sighed irritably, not out loud of course, and decided she would have to concede eventually. And this was Jan’s least annoying suggestion so far.

‘Okay, let’s do that.’ She even managed a bright smile and enthusiasm, as she started to leap to her feet. ‘We’ll watch Love Actually! It’s Astrid’s favourite!’

And the grin on Jan’s face froze like death. ‘Oh, do we have to? I hate that thing.’

And she’d been doing so well. Samantha, having successfully risen, turned around and glared down at Jan on the sofa.

You were the one who wanted me to do something! It’s Astrid’s birthday and she is dead and I am sad and we’re going to do her stuff.’ That had come out as a long, high-pitched sob. She squeaked in another breath, before adding in: ‘And you’re being horrible!

For emphasis, Sam slammed the nearest door. She knew that was the done thing, despite the fact she hadn’t needed to go through it. That would have left her in the kitchen, and there was nothing to do in there. She’d have ended up pretending she wanted a glass of water, then slinking straight back into the living room, past Jan, to get to the stairs and her bed.

So instead, she’d grabbed the door with an outstretched hand and wrenched it shut. It had flown into its frame with a mighty crash, making them both recoil. Near the door was a shelf of DVDs, attached to the same wall that Sam had just unleashed her fury upon.

The combination of the door rushing home, as well as Sam herself shoulder barging it as she jumped, send a mess of plastic cases falling over themselves. One particular specimen bounced off Sam’s head, provoking a coo of pain, before crashing downwards into Jan’s foot, dangling nonchalantly off the sofa. She clutched it up to herself, swearing less gracefully.

Whilst Jan massaged her toes, Sam picked the DVD up. Without even looking, Jan growled ‘It’s Love Fucking Actually, isn’t it?’

Grinning wider than she had for some time, Sam nodded. ‘That’ll teach you to be mean to my dead friend.’

Jan shook her head, still wincing. ‘I don’t think it was Astrid’s ghost that dropped a shit movie on my foot, Samantha.’

But Sam didn’t even dignify that with a response. Instead, she put the DVD carefully on the table and headed for the other door.

As she opened it quietly, she nodded calmly but firmly at her flatmate. ‘I am going for a walk now. I believe you have some cooking to do?’

Copyright me 2011, please don’t steal it or anything, it’d be a horrible thing to do on my birthday. Requests to use this (or any of the others) elsewhere, or general birthday wishes, can be directed to me by email. And yes, today I become the same age as Astrid would have in the story.


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