The wail of a child rose and carried from behind a closed door as hushed voices discussed in the hall.
“I thought you took care of it.”
“In my spare time?”
“I handled it the last two times!”
“I’ve been a little busy.”
“Mister Flufferrrrrrrrs!” the child’s muffled voice moaned.
His mother raised her hands, tape in one, streamers in the other. “The guests will be here soo–”
His father broke the staredown with a grunt and pivot, curling the hallway runner. “Son,” he cooed, knocking softly, “Daddy’s here.” He shot her a you owe me look before entering.
Her victory smirk faltered as the child’s cry renewed.
“It’s okay,” his father comforted, “It’s almost time for your party. Let’s find a box for Mr. Fluffers and after your guests leave we’ll bury him in the backyard under the forsythia bush.”
His mother smiled. Of course, only place left.
“You know the forsythia bush? The one with yellow flowers? Where Mr. Fluffers always got stuck when you let him outside in his ball?”
The child replied with a wet mumble.
A chiming doorbell compelled his mother to action. Setting the tape and crepe aside, she greeted the company and called for the birthday boy.
Red-nosed, but dry-eyed, he emerged from his room and descended the stairs, new shoes squeaking on wooden steps despite the plod. His father followed, holding a small blue shoe box.
“Party’s out back,” said his mother, ushering gift-laden guests through one door and out the other. Bright balloons, fresh flowers and elaborate decorations embellished the patio. Stacks of shiny wrappings glittered in the sun. His father placed the shoe box on a pansy planter to the side.
His parents did their best to entertain the children and distract their son, but the air weighed heavy with six-year-old sadness. Through catered lunch and hired games the kids almost laughed, almost played, the guest of honor ruining the impetus with moping and loud sighs. Not even Giddy the Clown or Mickey the Magician could extract a smile.
At cake time, the boy stared intently at the flames flickering atop his elaborate pastry. The children sang and then shouted, “Make a wish!” Closing his eyes tightly, the boy spoke aloud, “I wish Mr. Fluffers was alive!” He blew with hopeful enthusiasm.
His parents exchanged a shrug that said, your fault, as his mother reminded the son that you’re not supposed to say your wishes out loud. The generous slices of chocolate and vanilla marble cake were being distributed to the sugar-jonesing visitors when the blue box shuddered.
“Mr. Fluffers!” the boy screeched, flipping the lid on the box to find a nose-twitching red-eyed fluffy white rodent about the size of a six year old boy’s shoe. “You’re alive!” He picked up the critter, cuddling it to his cheek. “I’ve had him since I was three,” he bragged. “I knew he wouldn’t leave me.”
His parents exchanged a look of accusation, you said it was dead!
The shriek of a guest threw attentions elsewhere. The party focused in the direction of the pointing finger of the screaming girl. Throughout the courtyard, dirt was rifled, figures emerging.
More children screamed.
His parents exchanged a raised-eyebrow oh my god look.
How many had there been over the span of three years? Five? Seven? Ten? Who knew guinea pigs were so fragile? Through various states of decomposition, his parents could make out which Mr. Fluffers was which. Erupting through cardboard and dirt beneath the oak tree was the swollen Mr. Fluffers who had choked on the purple crayon when their son was first learning to read and thought his pet would like some ‘grape.’ Over by the clematis trellis surfaced the emergency Mr. Fluffers who hadn’t been white at all and had brown eyes. Its demise their fault, as the boy thought the discolored Mr. Fluffers was ill and gave him ‘medicine’ to make him better. After that, whether it took two or more pet stores, they always tracked down a white, red-eyed Mr. Fluffers.
Gosh, there were a lot of them. A skeletal creature, moving more slowly than the rest due to broken legs from the trampoline adventure with the child, crossed the yard. They all crossed the yard.
The birthday boy stared from the deck. He clutched the only Mr. Fluffers he knew.
As the carcasses crawled, hobbled, inch-wormed in the direction of their owner, the six year old processed what – no, who these creatures were. He ran to the yard, corralling them. In the center, he plopped to the ground and let the revived pets roam over him.
He giggled. His parents gagged.
Slowly the party guests’ curiosity overcame their discomfort and they joined him.
All the decorations, games, clowns, and gifts were no match for smelly, bloated, rotting, desiccated Mr. Fluffers’.
His parents watched the children laugh and play in earnest. Hands entwined, they whispered, “Happy Birthday, son.”
Mary Lamphere, co-founder of In Print professional writers’ organization, writes poetry, novels, short stories, and her Monday blog. She is multi-published and has won several awards. As much as she loves writing, her mind is currently distracted with thoughts about her first grandchild, Benjamin, due June 25, 2014. She can be reached through http://www.marylamphere.com.