Flash Fiction: The Children’s Birthday Party by Jennifer Bowen Neergaard

March 3rd: Willow Bee Anthony is turning 5! Bring your best unicorn and narwhal costume to celebrate the big day!!

 Do girls dress as unicorns and boys dress as narwhals? I thought I spied your pretty progressive noggins from the recent local activist email/blog/social media blitzkrieg? I write this comment on PaperlessPost, delete, write instead, CAN’T WAIT!!

Willow is both a unicorn and a narwhal! Color me gender gerrymandering misinformed. I take off my judgment hat and replace it with crippling social anxiety. Adults cradle beer/wine/spritzer in drizzling rain next to the rented manatee pool. I volley, Did you know Diane Keaton is in a Justin Bieber music video? I mean, what? Blank, alien eyes stare back. One parent shudders, nods head in acknowledgement. Yes, I still got it.

No pizza for the kids. I equally applaud and resent this choice. Crudité, burnt eggplant, sushi rolls in the shape of Paw Patrol. My daughter guzzles two Capri Suns, finds a third, sucks it down in a fever rush behind the bouncy house, lest I find her, which I do.

Twenty-eight–year-old Mom Woman Girl asks me where the bathroom is. When I was twenty-eight I was unmarried, childless, lived in a tiny, delightful, scroungy area of the East Village and thought forty-three sounded old, which it was, back then, but not now, since that’s my current age, and I know in my heart she’s asking me where the bathroom is since I remind her of an ancient crotchety authority figure. I silently fume, It isn’t my party. Why would I know where the bathroom is? I tell her it’s down the hall, pull hard on the handle to open.

Goodie bag has a Bitcoin voucher. I lift it up toward the dying sunlight. Is it real? Son-of-a-B–HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY–


March 9th: Jasper Casper Smith-Reynolds is turning 5! No gifts, please.

Why do parents do this? Don’t kids want gifts? I scroll the Evite and see a Unicef donation request in lieu of gifts. I curse my capitalistic Target shopping manic desires and humbly click the link. IN HONOR OF JASPER CASPER.

Everyone also brings a gift! What the !!???

There is pizza for the kids, no booze for the adults. Kids are scaling the rock wall, swinging from ropes, zip-lining into eternity.

A boy asks my daughter if we have an above-ground pool or a pool pool. She turns to me confused. I answer, We don’t have a pool. We live in an apartment. My husband and I are artists. See it as a cautionary tale. A learning experience. They’ve already run off. I’m babbling, alone, to the double wide refrigerator.

The Elsa Clown arrives. I equally fear and desire to know more. She sings Let it Go while juggling plastic snowflakes and shooting fire out her mouth. I whisper to the dad who laughed at my Justin Bieber joke at the last party, She’s more of an Elsa Magician, really, but damn, this is some fascinating, f-ed up shit.

Goodie bag is personally labeled and has a thank-you-note for our $5 donation to Unicef on Jasper’s behalf. I want to explain to the parents that I meant to do $50! Really! It was an accident, a typo–HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY–


March 17th: Sve$#tch is turning 5. Follow the drone photos day of to the location.

I show the paper invite to my husband.

 I’ll go to this one, he says.

 No, it’s OK, I know they are harder for you, socializing, all that, I say.

 They are seeming hard for you too, he says.

 I don’t know this kid, do you? I say.

Our daughter tells us you don’t pronounce the symbols in his name, just acknowledge them. Sounds like, Svetch. Rhymes with, Are you kidding me?

The parents are so nice! They live in a white space hologram carbon defiant home and it’s beautiful.

The dad who laughed at my Justin Bieber joke two parties ago avoids me like the pink eye bubonic plague. I equally understand and plot ways to get him back somehow.

I tell myself not to drink and then double down on the Sve$#tch cocktails which are the elixir of the elderflower liqueur Gods.

The kids spend half the party in a virtual reality simulation of the party, then the second half painting planks of wood for the families next Habitat-for-Humanity project.

Goodie bag is a butterfly that is real, not real, a mirage, a hope for the future, the stuff of nightmares. No, it’s actually really eloquent, no, that’s not the right word, it’s…how many Sve$#tch cocktails did I have? I text my husband to pick us up–HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY–


March 26th: Samuel Lawson is turning 6! Come celebrate with us.

Samuel is my daughter’s best friend. Their mutual love of trains bonds them together. The text invite is sent with an emoji of balloons and three hearts.

I’m coming too, my husband says.

 It’s OK, I say.

I’m coming.

Our daughter jumps on the sidewalk, double fisting wooden trains, ready for the party. Her auburn hair falls past her shoulders. Sometimes when she turns her head in profile I can see another person about to emerge.

We knock on the front door and Samuel’s dad answers. We hug and chit chat and he tells us, We have an art class going for the kids. It’s actually a drop-off, unless you want to stay. But most parents dropped off.

I get a quick squeeze in around my daughter’s middle before she sprints inside the house.

My husband takes my hand. Let’s get coffee. She’ll be fine.

I am grateful for the break and yet am suddenly bereft.

Goodie bags could be water color paints, rainbow erasers, candy. My daughter’s hand will dive into the paper bag/plastic bag/felt bag, without me, treasures and wonders unknown, hungry for the taking.

Jennifer Bowen Neergaard is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts and studied at Sackett Street Writers. Her writing has appeared in The Ocotillo Review and In Parentheses. Her theatrical plays have been produced in New York and San Francisco and finalists at Trustus Playwrights Festival (2012 & 2014) and Kitchen Dog Theater (2014). She created BookHive, a beta reader focus group service for authors. She lives in Irvington, New York with her husband and daughter. www.jenniferbowenneergaard.com      

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