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  • Writer's pictureSylvia Schwartz

Thirteen Candles

It’s my thirteenth birthday and I’m spending it with my parents. I’m officially a teenager, so my mom made the cake bigger. That’s supposed to be a big deal, because I’m on a diet. I’m always on a diet. This month I’m not supposed to eat white food. White bread. White potatoes (red ones are okay, ‘cause Mom said they’re smaller and the skin is good for you). No white sugar. No whipped cream. And no cauliflower (though I don’t consider this food and I don’t tell her this, either). My cake is brown, made from molasses, I had wanted chocolate. But as Mom often says, “wishing won’t make it so.”

I don’t know where people come up with half of what they say, but “school year birthdays are best” is all wrong. I would rather my birthday was in the summer when no one was around to know about it. During the school year everyone makes a fuss over the popular kids’ birthdays. When I was a little kid, their parents would send them off with cupcakes or cookies and these cool kids would pretend to hate the attention. But everyone knew they loved it. Everyone who’s not cool wishes they were. That’s just the way it is. Now the cool kids get sent to detention and that makes them even cooler. I tried to get sent to detention, but the teachers know my mom’s the PTA president, so it’s no use. Besides, teachers like me. I wear granny glasses, so they think I’m smarter than I am. I wish I had contacts.

Just before my birthday, my mom took me out shopping for a new bra. I haven’t “developed” any since our recent training-bra shopping days, but Mom thought it will be good for me. Like somehow my chubby boy’s body would want to transform at the sight of padded C cups. She wishes I looked more like her. I like the fact that boys don’t look at me the way they do other girls. She says this will change some day. I’m never sure what to believe.

My teacher said I’d be perfect for the leading role in our school play. It’s about a shy, awkward girl. Even my few friends tried to encourage me. But my father was worried I’d blow my lines. And Mom said there’s nothing worse than failing in public. So I didn’t take that part. I took the other part. The one with more lines. The role of the woman who helps the shy girl out. No one thought this was a good idea. But in the end, everyone clapped. My father told the teacher I took after him. That he had once acted in high school. Mother wished I had chosen a different dress.

Sometimes when I’m alone in my room at home, which is a lot of the times, I think about what might have been. What if I’d grown up with different parents or had aunts and uncles and cousins or had grandparents that lived nearby. What if I had lots of brothers and sisters and I was the big sister—the high school cheerleader with my skinny body posed up in the air doing the splits. My thick blonde mane, clear skin and toothy smile beaming down a single, burning ray of sun. And then, somehow, I’m rising higher in the sky that has become night, and I’m now a star: the beginning of matter, with all the particles that we are composed of in its purest form—before even the evolution of thought.

Back on earth, though, I hear my father say, “make a wish.” My thin candles are dripping and if I don’t blow them out soon the wax will clump at the bottom and Mom hates that. The candles were lit at nineteen hundred hours. My father likes military time. He wishes everyone would adopt it. We’re supposed to say seven o’clock only when we mean a.m. Father claims to be confused when we say dinner is at six even when it’s dark out.

At nineteen hundred hours and thirty seconds, I haven’t thought of a wish. Not that there aren’t lot of things I want. But it’s hard to find that one single wish you want for the entire year, especially when thirteen candles are being liquified. I don’t want to make the wrong wish, so I blow them out without asking for anything. In my head I hear my mother’s voice, “wishing won’t make it so.”

Originally published in The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society.

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