My Great-Aunt Melon gave me a lime green shirt with a bedazzled pickle splashed across the chest for my fifteenth birthday. It also rained. I wasn’t shocked or sad at all. It had rained on my birthday every year for the past fourteen. Mom even said there was a thunderstorm the day I was born.
I know the story by heart and it always ends like this, “It was hailing and pouring, my God! I thought I was gonna have to have you right there in the bathtub.” Then she’d chuckle a few times and give me a burnt orange-stained kiss that left a mark I never get off until the following day. Ultimately, I’ve ended up with a lot of pictures with what looks like a birthmark right smack dab on my cheek that have tortured me to say the least.
Anyways, there the three of us were gathered on the patch of grass behind our apartment building. We sat under the fig tree in our version of a circle. Christmas themed paper plates sprinkled with Baklava crumbs were sprawled out across the pavement. The other relatives had left about an hour ago. I sat in the “special birthday chair” which was really just a folding chair with stale, yellow paint chipping off the barely there legs. The gift bag Great Aunt Melon handed to me, was a rather spiritless tan color, so you’d imagine my surprise when I pulled out a shirt that shouldn’t have even been allowed to have been made in the first place.
“Gee, thanks Aunt Melon, I uh.. I love it.” I tried to hold back the look of sheer embarrassment for myself and for her. But hey, my own mother hadn’t even gotten me a gift.
“Go ahead hun, try it on.” Mom mocked, a smile simmered between her dry lips.
I felt her eyes stare at my lanky frame as I took off my hoodie to try on my new present. The shirt drooped from my shoulders three sizes too big. Chills covered my spine from the discomfort of the itchy fabric. I was essentially wearing a tent. What girl would want to date a guy wearing a green tent to school? I would have to burn it immediately.
Melon’s sleek, black shades hid her eyes but her cheeks were bright with excitement. “Aww hun, it’s fabulous right? It’s gonna really highlight that raging red hair of yours.”
“Melon!—His hair is brown.” Mom yammered as she rolled her eyes around the world and back. My cheap grin drooped as I mumbled, Cars sure will be able to see me at night, under my breath. It was hideously awful.
I saw Melon make a rather perplexed look. She asked, “Cars? What about cars Theo?” Oh. Did I mention she has ears like a hawk?
“I just meant because it’s fluorescent, ya know?” I squirmed a bit in my seat.
“Florescent? Since when is the color apricot florescent?”
“Aunt Melon, the t-shirt you bought me—it’s lime green”
She let out a mundane laugh, “Well, I’ll be damned. A lime green shirt you said? The girl at the store said it was a casual apricot colored shirt.” Her face went blank when the realization hit her and became silent. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. So, I did nothing.
My mother sat silently confused as her hasty correction remained unacknowledged. Melon turned her head in my direction while she felt for my hand to say goodbye, “Happy Birthday Sweetie. Ugh, you’re growing up so fast. It’s both marvelous and dreadful to know.” She took a brief sigh before she directed her attention to the attentive golden retriever by her side. “Turbo are you hungry?” She looked back up at the two of us as we tried to not give off a sympathetic vibe. She hated that. “He always anticipates a treat around this time.” I handed her a polka dot umbrella as she got up from her chair. The guide-dog stood on four and directed Great Aunt Melon to the back door, dodging all puddles that might have tripped her up otherwise. She turned back once to say, “I almost forgot! Thank you for having me. Ta-ta!” She only lived a few doors down, we both knew she would be fine getting home.
Mom and I stared at spots on opposite sides of the ground. Our chairs slightly slanted away from the other.
“Oh shoot I almost forgot!” She exclaimed as she fished around in her overstuffed bag. This was it! She had finally remembered to give me my gift. I was overcome with a foreign, tingling sensation. I assumed it was pocket-sized, since it fit in her purse. I quickly voiced a prayer to the man who was supposedly up there. I hoped that it wasn’t something moronic. A wad of cash would suffice. Instead, she pulled out a shiny, black object that illuminated in her hand as her finger gently pressed the touch screen. My eyes bugged out of my head with delight as I recognized what it was. After having been bombarded with commercials over the past six months it was clear that the polished rectangle was the newest, limited edition smart phone. It hadn’t been released to the public yet. I was transported by ecstasy. In an instant a puzzled expression interrupted my smile. How did my mom get this for me in the first place?
The question vanished and was replaced with an image of the other guys in school. I, the only sophomore without a phone, would now be treated with the utmost respect. My mother’s voice disrupted my daydream as she continued to say, “I gotta text the girls and ask what time we’re meeting up later,” as her pudgy thumbs clicked through various letters on the screen. The polka-dot reading glasses she had found near the checkout line at Rite-Aid sat on the tip of her nose which bothered me to no end.
“Mom! Stop!” I reached for my new device as I continued to shout, “Text them from your phone!”
“Theo! What’s come over you? Shouting at your mother? This is my phone.”
“But! I just thought—you know what, never mind.”
“Oh honey, didn’t I tell you? It was Cheryl’s husband’s birthday last week so we’re all going to celebrate at Pinocchio’s over on Lake Street.”
“Who’s Cheryl?”, I continued to stare at her with a confused look. I had never heard of this friend’s name before. Mom tended to do that though, she would all of a sudden have plans with a great friend she hadn’t caught up with in awhile. She went on to emphasize, “Oh come on you know Cheryl, I used to work with her before I got my new job.”
“Nope, don’t know who you’re talking about.” I said as I felt my heart sink to the tip of my big toe. It was my birthday after all.
I had hoped she would to take me to the mall to exchange the shirt for something cooler. Hell, maybe even get a double-double from in-n-out, but no—she had already made plans. Mother of the year. Truly.
I decided to save myself from the further humiliation that would come if I asked her to join me, so I got up from my chair and headed for the back door. She still hadn’t looked up from her phone by the time my hand turned the knob. Once inside, I glanced over at the clock that hung above the kitchen sink. It was only five o’clock. I continued through the kitchen, down the narrow hallway to my room so I could change. I yanked the pickle shirt off and shoved it into my backpack. Then I threw my hoodie back on with a pair of sweats that had kept the floor company long enough and hopped into a pair of dingy sneakers as I headed for the front door.
Luckily, the bus stop was just up the block so I didn’t have to walk far.
When I reached the top of the street, I decided to avoid the damp benches and stood on the curb beside a bald, older-looking gentleman with a grand mustache and a grim expression on his face. He lent the bridge of his nose to a pair of tortoise frames with circular lenses. The man wore a crimson cardigan over a crimson button down shirt and jet-black slacks. I glanced down at the floor and noticed his smoking slippers were entirely soaked wet. He carried a damp newspaper as a substitute for an otherwise forgotten umbrella. He looked at me and smiled a faint smile. I gave an awkward one back. I’ve never been good with strangers. I looked behind me and noticed a long line had formed now. As our grand chariot arrived, I motioned for crimson man to go in front of me. He was the first to step onto the bus and I followed in second place.
The bus driver scratched the extra pudge on his belly as I reached for the quarters that had jangled around during my walk but instead pulled out the fabric inside my empty pocket. There appeared to be a small hole just large enough for every single quarter to have fallen out.
I took a deep breath and took wide steps towards the back of the bus. I had just crossed the middle doors and tried to make my way past him while he was distracted. However, just before I could walk on, I heard his husky voice. “Woah, hold on there kid. That’ll be $2.50.” He demanded as he took a sip from the chewed up straw he had shoved into his extra large cup of soda.
“Um yeah so about that…you see my pocket has a hole in it. The quarters must’ve fallen out on my walk up here. I was sorta in a rush. Can I still get on? Just this one time? Please sir?”
He looked at me with a sore look. “Kid. No fare— no ride. It’s that simple.”
“I might have some more change in my backpack. Give me a second, okay?” I nervously crouched down and pretended to search for loose change in my backpack. The bus driver began to tap his fingers against the steering wheel as my fellow passengers, who had waited just outside ,shouted out dispiriting comments.
“Kid, you’re gonna need to step off the bus. I don’t have all day.” He pointed towards the back doors.
“That won’t be necessary.” Crimson man roared as he strutted up the middle of the bus with his metro card readily available to be swiped one more time. “Don’t worry about it kid. I know how Tuesday’s can be.”
My eyes were shocked. “Thank you, sir.”
“Alright, alright. Enough with the chit chat. Move so everyone else can get on kid. Geez.” The bus driver couldn’t have cared less.
Crimson man returned to the back of the bus. I took a seat near the front. Those who had been delayed tried to barge through the front doors at once.
On the way, I watched the road move past me as the bus went on to make stop after stop before it finally came to a halt. The mall awaited my entrance.
I wasn’t sure if my luck would change. Hell, it probably wouldn’t. As I stepped off the bus and waved goodbye to the bus driver, I decided to grin as wide as I could because it was still my birthday after all. I was now fifteen. I had made it through another year and knew I would somehow find the guts to make it through one more. I returned the shirt and used the money to buy a crimson button down of my own. I then went to the food court and treated myself to a double-double with extra grilled onions and spicy peppers. I washed it down with a strawberry shake.