On My Birthday
S. Craig Renfroe Jr.

They got me a talking board, a spirit board, not a Ouija board, not some garbage cardboard and plastic trinket by Hasbro or Parker Brothers or even Fuld, but a slab of wood with letters burnt into its surface and a glass guide in the shape of a dark heart.

Elisa, mad at not getting to give first, thrusts a bouquet of Venus flytraps at me, followed by a handful of flies to drop into their waiting maws.

Others deposit their offerings in a pile at my feet. A jeweled skull pierced with a silver dagger. A doll, delicate and decayed, filled with the spirit of a runaway who died asleep on a subway track. There’s a robot full of human brains—one for each function: a dancer’s brain controls the feet, a surgeon the hands, a politician the mouth, and an artist the camera eyes. In its first three days after activation, it perfected the best way to divest an avocado of its meat, saved the life of a lovelorn architect, and created a new currency. But then the brains began bickering, fighting broke out. Presently the smooth metallic shell sits catatonic, even though MRIs have shown the minds bursting with activity.

I smile and accept each gift, my disappointment paining my face. I can’t stand the forced happiness. I open a gift bag full of gold scarab beetles who in the darkness of a new moon will spell out a person’s fate. A thing that looks like a dog had sex with a cat, the giver explains, is the offspring of a dog and a cat.

No one asked me if I wanted a vial of water collected from the bottom of the sea. No one has guessed, intuited, what will naturally fulfill me.

They wheel in the sarcophagus of a man petrified in a bog a thousand years ago, who now occasionally offers the most prescient stock tips.

Because it is a new moon, the scarab beetles are everywhere—party guests step on them, making the message unreadable. The dogcat is eating some.

The doll says, her voice the scratchy pitch of a pull string creature, “I only want a friend.” This is not even close to what I wanted.

They bring out the cake. There is a tallow candle in the shape of a hand, the flaming wick an extended middle finger, topping a confection infused with cocaine and cannabis, the chocolate so decadent it wilts the memories of all the Halloweens anyone has ever known. And when I blow out the flicker it will complete the spell to grant us power over the world and a gate will open to the next and a line of hangers-on will flank both sides of a caravan a mile long.

I am screaming: “You can’t give me what I want! None of you can give me what I want! No one can give me what I want!”

Elisa pulls the dagger from the skull and slides it effortlessly into my side. I breathe and bubbles expand and contract from my lips. She eases two of her fingers inside me and extracts a dark cone. It is leathery and segmented like a worm—one end has small barbed antennae that test the air, and bits of my flesh still stick to their ends.

I hug her. I am so free, so light, with no need I can imagine. I see nothing beyond those gathered around me. It is like having been released from some grand responsibility.

She is still stabbing me, my side, my thighs, my back. Others have come up to join in. People are kicking me, spitting and punching and thumping. The dogcat gnaws on my toe. The doll has her string wrapped around my neck. That leather thing inches toward my mouth. The robot sits, unmoved. There is confetti now that sizzles in the air, shooting from little cannons, a smell of acid, a rain coming.

The bog man, muffled in his sarcophagus, calls out to “Sell! Sell! Sell!”


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