by Anna Hayes
Laurie was toying with the notion of opening the bay window to cut out the stifling heat in the room when her phone buzzed with the expected text message.
Happy Birthday old… timer!
The same message every year: the same capitalisation; the same trio of full stops between the last two words, evidence of either how excited or how much of a hurry she’d been in when she was frantically tapping it onto the screen.
Evidence of how much she simply wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings.
Laurie took a deep breath, kicking off the thin sheet that was wrapped around her, holding the phone away from her body as if it was something poisonous. In a sense, she supposed, it was, and yet it was something that sent an icy fire through her veins every year when the message came through at exactly the moment that the clock struck on to her birthday.
She’d never once slept through it. Not even the time when friends had dragged her out on the town and filled her with alchemical concoctions of alcohol to drown her sorrows and make her forget everything. Even then, she’d stumbled home blindly, speared her key into the door, and curled up on her couch, watching the clock on her phone, refreshing the screen every few minutes to keep that dim, blue light glowing in the room while it spun around her.
This year, she had simply decided to get away from everything, go somewhere that was as cut off as one could be from modernity and… just be happy to exist without the constant fleeting concerns that seemed so pointless so much of the time.
It had been easy enough to set up the automated text, to programme it as a regular fixture, and to, like so many things on the internet, leave it alone, never to be altered again.
She felt like that sometimes, like she wanted to be left unaltered for the rest of her life, content to waft through a colourless world, feeling nothing and everything at the same time, and being overwhelmed by the contradiction of it all.
The full moon outside, that prompted wild beachside celebrations not very far where she was, glared through the thin netting that covered her window, the light casting abstract shadows that made it look like she was not alone in her bed. Laurie took a deep breath, eyes closed, and allowed herself to melt into the idea of sharing closeness with someone again.
It was fleeting, but it was enough.
Finally, she pulled the phone towards her, sliding the security screen off and opening the message.
Happy Birthday old… timer!
A string of messages – all identical. The same time, the same date, a different year.
The same hurt and the same solace, conveyed in four simple words and an absent-minded ellipsis.