The road in Badlych was empty and neglected. And so was he.
It was a late Sunday afternoon in the small town and it was his birthday. An event received, at best, with stolid zeal in front of those who cared to attend the occasion. But Henry would’ve been equally apathetic if it was fated to be his death day instead.
The radio played hits from the eighties, and he quietly mused that his life would have been so much better if he was able to truly live the golden age instead of being born into it. He could’ve been in his room, a self-imposed bachelor, forsaking kids, and marriage, and scoffing at social expectations while designing the walkman, or drawing the first drafts of He-man. He would listen to his mixtape of Bon Jovi and Bruce, have silent images of Who’s-the-boss flashing on the TV box, and without too much effort, in brightly colored baggy clothes, become a Pac-man, or Tetris, or Super Mario legend in his spare time – all while his fancy walkman and action figures earn him millions, to the envy of friends and family, and all the woman he would woo on the weekends.
His wife gave him a beautifully blue side-eye as she turned down the volume. Oldies were never her thing. Vegan food and overpriced skin care was. And as Don’t you forget about me faded into the background, he imagined, if he had become a world-famous musician instead, he would middle-finger the world instead of serenading it.
“I was listening to that,” he said. His tone was solemn, but also ceding that the words would fall on ears that wouldn’t give a shit.
“It’s rubbish,” said Sue, short for Susan, full-time mother, wife, and occasional psycho.
“Nah, Mom, I like it.”
“Thank you, Ollie.”
“Yeah, it’s cool. Some of them are weird, but I like this one.”
Sue didn’t say anything and instead thought it prudent to direct Henry to his aunt’s house; a place he’d been to more than a few times before. The words Fuck sake Sue, I know the God damn way formed in his mind, but for the sake of the day, he decided to let them simmer for just a second before evaporating.
He took the right as she’d indicated and drove down the hill to the house. There were a few cars already parked inside the driveway, leaving no space for the birthday boy.
“Just park on the grass. There, next to the wall.” Henry did as Sue instructed and thought to himself that the universe would do him a favor if it would send some scumbag thief to take the piece of shit Nissan off his hands.
“It’s my birthday in a week, you know,” said Ollie as they all exited the car. “I hope we’re not having it here as well.”
“No my boy, where’s a better place to have it? It’s your sixteenth birthday. We’re gonna raise the roof and burn down the house.”
“Henry, please don’t talk like that!” scolded Sue as only Sue could scold. Ollie gave his father a wry smile and opened the boot and removed their non-alcoholic refreshments. Sue’s choice.
“Ollie, we’ll have a perfectly normal birthday for you,” said Henry. “Virgin ice teas and Titanic on the telly, and we’ll discuss the proportions of the door that Rose had watched Jack die from.” The comment got more than a smile from his son that time, but Sue remained unamused. “Besides, your aunt Janice has a much bigger place than ours. And she insisted. And I’d rather leave when I want than wait for the last of your drunk uncles to leave our house.”
Ollie nodded his approval.
“Press the buzzer, will you,” said Sue. Henry buzzed for a few seconds and felt, to his slight surprise, his wife’s hand returned a stray lock of hair to its proper place behind his left ear; which was slightly smaller than his right, and meant his sunglasses never stayed level on his face as they were supposed to.
“You look good today,” she said softly and cleared her throat.
“Of course I do,” replied Henry, “you chose the clothes.”
His cousin Alex, two years his senior, appeared in the courtyard and pressed the remote; the gates swung open silently. Their labrador came charging up a steep declivity and put muddy paws on Henry’s favorite pair of jeans. The light denim kind. The kind that showed streaks of wet brown dirt brilliantly.
“Look at your pants now,” said Sue.
“It’s fine,” Henry replied and flicked a thick piece of mud off his leg. He had a general preference for animals over people and always had a soft spot for Max. A scratch behind the ear was a token that he had forgiven the dog’s exuberance.
“Come inside,” said Alex as he waved them over. “Everyone’s here already.”
“Yes, I can see.”
“Just try to be nice, please,” Sue pleaded.
“I am nice,” Henry whispered indignantly, “the fucken’ place is packed with cars. Of course everyone’s here-”
“Hi guys,” Alex said and stretched out a bony hand to greet them. “Oh my God, Henry, look at your pants! Max!”
“No, it’s not. Bad Dog! Go! Go!” He shooed poor Max back down the slope that dipped and rose again to a fence that encircled the outside terrace where everyone was gathered.
“It’s fine, don’t stress about it.”
“Okay, sorry about that. I was watering the garden earlier and you know he plays in it and then runs inside and makes a huge mess.”
“Ya I know, he’s a good dog though.” They passed through the courtyard and up a few steps to the open front door.
“Hey! You’re late!” said Shaun, Alex’s twin brother (in age only). He was making a round to the kitchen to collect another six-pack. As if the six-pack beneath his shirt wasn’t enough, Henry thought.
“Hi Sue,” he said smiling and gave her a cheeky peck on the mouth. “Hey Ollie, how have you been?”
“I’m good,” Ollie said and shook his uncle’s hand.
“Where can I put the bags?” asked Henry.
“Just drop them in the kitchen there. I’ll get you a beer.”
Sue and Ollie walked through the lounge and dining room and the open glass sliding doors to meet the rest of the family outside under the thatch.
“How’re you doing, Henry?” Shaun asked as he passed the six-pack to his brother.
“Good, good. And hey, you’re thirty-five now. It’s all downhill from here!” He laughed like a fool and followed Alex outside.
Henry smirked sardonically and thought if my life goes any more downward I’ll be in free fall soon...