Birthday Celebration

Photograph by windflower


When I turned 87, I said — and I meant it — no more birthday celebrations for me. If I somehow make it to 90 years past the day when a scrawny little boy was born to a worn-out mother, then so be it. Let’s treat that day like any of the infinite number that passed before. Send a check to the American Heart Association or the Sierra Club. Or better yet, take that money and buy yourself an exceptionally fine single malt whiskey and savor every single drop; let the fine amber liquid ease its way down your throat as you raise a toast to me.


I’m having a hard time imagining what that toast might consist of. I sit here in this fancy contraption that you all bought for my 85th, a chair so padded and engineered and ergonomic that I could sit here all day, sleep here all night and dream away the rest of my life. It was really a thoughtful present. I’m comfortable here, slowly curling up into myself, becoming more embryonic every day. Maybe I’ll wake up one morning and find that I’ve sprouted a small, translucent tail, with which I can glide my way once and for all into the deep and shady part of the pond.

But that’s not what you want to hear me saying, I know. Maddie, beloved and honest great-granddaughter, asked me the other day why I have so many whiskers in my ear, like a cat. I told her that, when you get to be as old as I am, you can choose any animal in the world to turn into. Instantly, her eyes lit up and she said, “Really? Is that really true? Oh, then I will become a grizzly bear with great, grand teeth and paws the size of baseball mitts.” I thought to myself, that might actually be something worth hanging around to see.

See, here’s the thing. Your birthday cakes and candles, the tiny ones you bring to cheer up great-grandpa, the photos you magically send to that device on my credenza — all of these only serve to tether me to the loud and living world, when what I really want is to slip away quietly, leave the warmth and the laughter behind, and ease my way into the starry night, to head home unnoticed.



Author's Comment

One of the blessings of many years of work as a psychotherapist is the ability to deeply imagine oneself in another person’s shoes. In this short story, I thought about how, coming to the end of life, there might be a strong desire to exit without fanfare. But having worked with so many families in so many different situations, I also know that other family members might not see things the same way.


Claire Chow is a writer and semi-retired psychotherapist. She has published a book titled Leaving Deep Water: The Lives of Asian American Women at the Crossroads of Two Cultures; (Dutton, 1994) and is the author of a self-published collection of flash fiction with illustrations (Lulu Press, 2021). In addition, her short fiction has appeared in Mobius (Spring 2022). Ms. Chow is deeply interested in the ways fiction and poetry can illuminate the mysteries of the human heart.

windflower lives on the Mendocino Coast in Northern California with her wife, Border collie, and mini-Aussie. Her camera is a door into a journey of light and color and meditation - and a connection with the poetry in nature and her own spirit. Her work has been shown in several exhibits and publications. windflower is also a poet.


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