Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: birthday (05/23/05)
TITLE: Reflection in the Dark
By Lisa Smith
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The answering service informed him he had one message. He sat up in his chair, ready to write down the important numbers.
“Hi honey!” Will slumped back in his chair again as he recognized his mother’s voice. “Just wanted to wish you happy birthday! Hope you’re having a good day! Sorry I missed you - I’ll call back later.”
Will pushed his chair away from his desk and walked over to the huge window that dominated the far wall of his office. Hands in the pockets of his Armani suit, he leaned against the glass and looked down at the city stretched out below him, headlights moving purposely through the streets, office buildings lit up from within.
His birthday. He wished he had not heard that message. He had almost forgotten.
Every year at this time he cursed his younger self. Whatever had prompted him to agree to have his wedding on his birthday? Linda had thought it a great idea.
“That way you’ll never forget our anniversary!” He remembered her impish smile. And he had agreed - anything to please her.
Oh, he was so in love back then, so eager to win her, so impetuous and foolish in his desire to make her his forever.
He recalled his wedding day. September 10th, 1986. 15 years ago. The fall sun shining brightly through the church windows, making Linda’s blonde hair shimmer and her white dress glow . How beautiful she had looked. His clumsy and shaking fingers as he slipped the ring over her finger, amazed at how the familiar ritual seemed altogether new and solemn as he pledged his life to his bride.
He raked his hand through his hair. It had all gone wrong, somehow. Her needs, his work, her commitment to her job, his desire for a family. A tangle of conflicts and mutually opposing directions that had slowly but inevitably tore them apart.
He had been divorced for 3 years now. And each year, on his birthday, he was forced to remember the promise that had been broken, the pledge unfulfilled.
He was not normally a reflective man. But the silence of this melancholy night was making him restless, stripping down his carefully built defenses. He was suddenly seized with a pure longing so strong his throat constricted with tears.
What he wouldn’t give for a real birthday once again,one free of recriminations and regret. A birthday full of joy. To have something to celebrate again, to find the center that had come undone as his marriage unraveled. To start again, the slate wiped clean.
He recognized the same longing in his co-workers. They even joked about it sometimes, at the office parties. They all made fun of their spouses, or ex-spouses. Complained about the work, and the boss. But underneath it all he knew they were all frantically searching for something that really mattered, something they could cling to when the storms of life got rough.
He caught a glimpse of his reflection then, in the window. Haunted eyes stared back at himself. Here he was, the world almost literally at his feet, a job that brought him a more than adequate wage, and yet it wasn’t enough. What was he missing? How had it all gone so wrong?
He shoved away from the window, swallowing heavily. He had better get home before he got even more maudlin. He went back to the desk and checked the calendar reflectively. He needed the proposal done for tomorrow. But he couldn’t force himself to work on it any longer. Better to go home and have a beer, watch a movie. He’d have to come in early tomorrow to finish up.
Slinging his suit jacket over his shoulder, he locked the office door and headed for home.
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