The Birthday Curse – a slice of heaven

At the age of fifty-five, Benny drives home from his birthday party at Reyna’s Rules, a local comedy club.  Now that he’s a year older….nothing has changed.  Everything is exactly the same as yesterday, but he’s certain his wrinkles are microscopically deeper, a couple more hairs are grayer, and he’s a little closer to death. 

The girl next to him doesn’t seem to notice his age, even though she’s less than half of it with her taut young body and plunging neckline to prove it, as if anyone has any doubts.  Her blond hair hangs loosely around her bare shoulders and he imagines the tresses must be tickling her back around the halter. He wonders if she likes that, or if she even notices.

The next streetlight is red as he sees a man jump from the curbside, a bucket and sponge in hand, “Need a wash sir?”  Before he has a chance to accept or deny, the old man is busy washing the glass with dirty, dull water and a dilapidated sponge.

“Get off my car, you old coot!” Benny screams at him, laying on the horn.  It’s amazing the fool even considered approaching the Mercedes in the first place, much less beginning work without approval.

The old man flies across the hood of the car, almost as if he’s run across an electric circuit with his wet hands.  His back hits hard against the curb, taking his grungy clothes, scraggly hair and tattered beard with him into the ditch.  The blond laughs before removing her gum and tossing it out her window to bounce off the dirty asphalt next to him.

The changing light signals Benny to step on it, which he gladly does, peering into his rearview mirror at the vagrant.  He can see the elderly man struggling to get to his feet, his lips moving and his hands gesturing wildly in the air.   Of course, he’s much too far away to hear the infuriated cursing of the gypsy.

The three-thousand square foot penthouse welcomes the couple as they exit the elevator.  “Wow, you really live here?” the woman questions in awe, her thick southern accent nearly drowning her words.

“No, I got the key from the beggar back there,” without a glimpse of humor, but a shrug of his shoulders, “He’s letting me borrow it for the night.” Benny isn’t really shocked when he hears her response. 

“Really?” she allows her eyes to drift over the awards on his mantle before spinning around, “If that were true, you’ve either been lying about your name or you’ve put your awards and medical certificates on someone else’s wall.”

Bringing a couple of glasses with him and a bottle of Chardonnay, he takes a seat on the sofa.  “Nothing gets past you, I see.  Come and have a drink with me and we can toast my birthday again, um…”

“My name is Kristi,” she tells him casually, as if no one ever remembers what to call her.

“Right, Kristi.”

As the cork pops out, the aroma is oak and melon Benny notes, closing his eyes and drifting, if only for a second.  Opening them again, he pours each glass half full and prepares to take a swallow.  “Wait!” she interjects, “Have you even made a birthday wish yet?”

“No, I thought that’s what you were here for,” he raises his eyebrows, “to make my wish come true, baby.”

Her head lulls back and she laughs aloud, reminding Benny of the sound a very loud chicken might make, “I’m serious!”

“So was I,” he adds, “Now let’s celebrate my birthday.”

“Okay,” her serious tone comes back.  She holds her hand up in a motion to stop him, “But back home we always have three wishes for a birthday.  So, you have to tell me yours.”

The expression is priceless until he realizes the only way to overcome this obstacle is by giving in a little.  Besides, looking at those long and nimble legs, paired with that full breast, three wishes should be easy to come up with.  “Okay, okay,” he says allowing his gaze to wander into the night sky through the window reflecting the city lights below.

After a spell, he gets an idea, “I wish to become wealthy.”

“That’s it?” her eyes narrow as she shakes her head, tucking a curl behind her ear,”Everyone always wishes for that.  Besides, you already are, aren’t you?  I mean, I don’t know of any doctors who are poor.”

He laughs, “You’d be surprised!  Ever hung out at a golf course and really listened to…”  But then he stops because clearly this girl wouldn’t know which end of the club to hit the ball with, much less the difference between a driver and a putter.  A golf course is probably the last place you’d find this type of woman.  “Yes,” he finishes, “I would want to be so well-off that I wouldn’t know what to do with the money.”

“Hmm,” she says, eyeing the wine as she loops her arm around his with her wine glass.  “What’s your second wish?”

“I guess it could be the answer for the first wish,” he thinks aloud as he speaks, “I’d like to find the cure for everything.”

“Everything?  Isn’t that a whole bunch of cures?”

“No, I mean one cure for any ailment,” he sits forward in anticipation of the drink.  “You know, a medicine that can cure anything!”

“Okay, like some miracle drug, right?”

“Sure,” his wheels are turning, “a miracle drug…”

“Great,” and her voice becomes deep and sultry, “and lastly, your third wish?”

“My third wish would be for someone to love me, unconditionally.”  The words sound like a stranger saying them through his head, but not him at all.  Still being his third wish,  that the game is over with and he can finally collect what he’s been anticipating for the past two hours.

“That sounds like something a woman would say, ‘unconditional love’,” she makes her voice low and drawn out for the ‘unconditional love’ part.

“Yeah, whatever,” he chuckles, “Let’s celebrate!”

They celebrate, celebrate, and Oh!  Celebrate!

The next morning, Kristi is making coffee and has the television on when Benny wanders into the room.  “Hate to make you rush, but I’ve got a few things to do today.  I’ll have coffee, but we gotta hurry.”  He sits down at the table and grabs the newspaper sitting to the side, opening it in front of him.

The smile manages to hold its place on her face, despite her disappointment and she approaches his cup with the pot of coffee.  “I heard them deliver the paper, so I brought it to the table for you,” she offers, but gets no reaction.

“Oh my God!” he murmurs, getting louder, “Oh my good God! I won!”  He jumps from his seat and runs to the coat rack, removing his jacket.  He immediately rummages through the pockets.  Withdrawing a piece of paper, he clambers over to Kristi, hands shaking and legs jumping, “Look at this, one of my wishes is coming friggin’ true already!”

Kristi looks at the numbers and crosses to the table to read the winning numbers, and sure enough, they match.  Benny is now a multi-millionaire.  “That’s amazing!” she adds before he takes a drink of his coffee to calm him down and bring him back to reality.  “I wonder if the other wishes will come true.”

Without taking the time to listen to her, he snatches her purse, thrusting it into her arms and pushes her to the elevator, despite protests.  “Wait, wait,” she cries as the doors close and she disappears from his life.

Despite feeling like the richest man at the office, Benny needs to wait until the funds come in.  Even when he receives the money, he will not be finished with his work.  He determines he’s going to make his other wishes come true.

Over the following month, he goes over the experiment he’s been working on.  The goal is to find an antidote for the onset of life-threatening diseases, stabilizing the first symptoms, making the secondary and more life-altering symptoms obsolete.  He believes this is the secret to identifying the cause and eventual cure of the illnesses. 

“Perhaps,” he suggests aloud, “tapping into the human mind’s psyche is the secret to reversing any negativity due to the activity of the brain.  There’s got to be a way to reverse the brain, while still permitting brainwaves to continue normal functionality, the cure for everything!”

The cell phone ringing interrupts his thoughts and he dashes to the phone.  When he looks at the screen, he doesn’t recognize the number and wonders if the bank is calling to notify him the money has arrived.  Taking a deep breath, he says, “Hello?”

The other end of the phone remains silent before a southern woman answers, “Hello, Benny?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“Kristi,” she clears her throat, “Kristi Marcus, but you don’t know my last name.”

“Kristi?” he repeats, “I don’t know anyone named Kristi.”

“Remember your birthday last month?”   The dead silence reflects his memory of the drunken evening where he recited his wishes.  He never could remember that girl’s name, but here she is now nonetheless. 

“Listen,” he tells her, “I don’t even have the money yet, so whatever hare-brained scheme you have for cashing in on my winnings, forget it, blondie.”

“I think you’re going to be a father.”  There is nothing more as the phone drops to the floor and he collapses.

The light is so bright when his eyes open, it takes him a moment to recall what happened.  The operating table lights are even more intense than he could imagine, as he squints his eyes to see the doctors and nurses.  But there are no doctors or nurses here.  Only plumes of drifting mist for as far as the eye can see. 

“Where am I?” he asks himself, sitting up, and it echoes as if he’s screamed it at the top of his lungs.  In the distance, he can hear the tap-tapping of shoes as he sees a small man, hair parted neatly on the side and cut short, approaching him.  His suit is obviously tailor-made, with his silky black tie lying neatly on his chest.  The thin mouth cracks a diminutive smile while he pushes his black glasses up onto his bridge and pulls a tri-folded slip of paper out of his breast pocket.

“Clearly, the question you ask is rhetorical,” the man suggests, “as I don’t know how it can be any more obvious to you that you’re dead.”

The reality takes a minute to clear the fog in his head, as it seems as thick as the fog surrounding him now.  “Dead?” he questions, and then chuckles, “I can’t be dead.”

“On the contrary, you certainly are dead,” the man argues, “and you brought it on yourself, understandably, through your own ignorance.”

“I don’t get it,” Benny pinches his bridge and squints his eyes again, but the chap remains, even closer now.

Shaking the paper open, the man extends it toward Benny so he can have a look and what it reveals. The list is nothing more than the numbers one, two and three down the left margin of the page.  “Sometimes when dealing with the simple-minded folks, I find it takes me a bit longer to explain,” he begins, “Generally speaking, the simple-minded folks are the ones who think they are better, faster, or smarter than the average person.”  And then he whispers, ” In a word, you.”

“This is a dream,” Benny exclaims as he laughs, pinching himself quite hard on his arm several times.

“No, although it probably would be better for you if it was only a dream,” the courier stifles a giggle, “but on your birthday you made three wishes.  And those wishes have been granted.”

“Why would that be a bad thing?” Benny inquires, “All of the wishes I made were good wishes, right?”

“Well, normally that might be so, but you made them directly after nearly running over a gypsy.  The gypsy who, by the guided hand,” he motions upward, following with his eyes, “was doing his best to live an honest life.”

“So there’s a catch, big deal,” he climbs to his feet in front of the man who he recognizes is a third less taller than himself.  He puffs out his chest and for the first time notices himself wearing a dull cotton tunic and pants, as if he were at a hospital, less the vibrant colors.  “I’ll still take my wishes.”

The man empties his throat and looks at the list.  “First, you wished to become wealthy, is this not true?”  His eyes peer over the paper as he momentarily lowers his glasses.

“Yes, doesn’t everyone?” Benny is proud of himself, despite the gentleman replacing his glasses and lifting the paper back up.

“You won the lottery with those little numbers you picked, did you not?” the man lifts his chin as if he has just proven a point that’s not up for argument.

Receiving no answer, he continues, “The second wish was to discover a mystery cure for every ailment, correct?”

As if it was a trick of some sort, Benny ponders before answering this time, “Yes, I was just about to make the greatest discovery of all time which, by the way, would make me even wealthier still, right?  But I was interrupted!”  Benny’s anger is evident by now.

The man falls into hysterics before straightening up again, “No, silly.  The cure for every illness is death, and everyone discovers it eventually.”

Reality checks in with Benny and then he stops for he cannot remember what his third wish was, but surely after death, there can’t be anything more.  It is as if the little business man is reading his mind because he continues without being egged on, “You did have one more wish, did you not?”

“Yeah,” he slowly replies, “One more wish…”

“It was to be loved ‘unconditionally,’ wasn’t it?” the man presses his lips together as if he’s secretly proud of himself for making Benny uncomfortable.

Recognition envelops him, “Yes, I’ve never been loved unconditionally.  So it appears as if there’s been a misunderstanding.  If you could return me back to earth to finish my strange quest, I would certainly appreciate it.”  His swollen pride returns as he smoothes his shirt down with his hands.

“You are loved unconditionally,” the messenger delivers, “the baby, whom you fathered on your birthday will always be grateful to you for bringing him into existence.  He’ll be grateful for the talents he’s inherited, and he will love you for all the things you were attempting to do for mankind before you died.”

“But the baby isn’t born yet so there’s no way to claim me as his father,” comes the smug reply.

At this, the messenger laughs uncontrollably.  “You were a scientist with your DNA scattered about the place, were you not?  You died immediately following the announcement you were to be a father, so in order to prove it for her son, Kristi needed to do so immediately–and she did.  Besides, you’ve been here for a long time now.  The time difference is quicker here and your son is now in school.”  He motions toward a window that mysteriously appears behind him.

Walking with laden feet, Benny strolls over to the window to peer through and sees a young man, who is the spitting image of himself.   “Wow,” he murmurs, “wishes really do come true.”

“You are now the proud dead father of a very rich heir.  Congratulations!”

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