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art by Shothot Designs

Surprise Party

Steven Saus injects people with radioactivity as his day job, but only to serve the forces of good. His work has also appeared in print in the anthology Timeshares and Hungry For Your Love, and in several magazines both online and off. You can find links to them all at www.stevensaus.com, and read his blog at href="http://ideatrash.net" target="Trash">ideatrash.net.
Sarah pulls into the driveway, and we all start to whisper. The tension and arguments of the day melt away in the heat of the birthday candles being lit. Rover whines from the bedroom and one of us--hard to tell which in the darkened living room--shushes the dog.
"Better that Rover whines instead of eating the cake," the person hiding behind the couch with me says. I nod before remembering that he probably can't see me either. We might argue later. We probably will, since we're a little too alike to get along comfortably. But right now we're all focused on Sarah, just waiting for her. As the last candle is lit, the whiff of butane reminds me of smoking. It reminds me of how badly I craved a cigarette when Sarah and I last argued.
Her voice had been calm. Too calm. "I want you to spend more time with me, Michael."
I had spluttered something about work and obligations, but she had stayed the kind of furious calm that is so much worse than screaming.
"I want you to pay more attention to me, Michael. Or else we're done."
"I'll..." I had been desperate, trying to stall, to keep her there. "I'll fix it, baby. I can shuffle around--"
"I don't want to hear your promises anymore, Michael. You keep breaking them. I want you to show me that you can do it." She kept going over my frantic affirmations. "I don't think you can do it, Michael. I think you're just a self-centered jackass."
I had shut up, barely able to see her through my watering eyes. The flint of her expression softened, and her fingers grazed my chin.
"Okay. I'll give you this one last chance." She moved her finger over my lips before I could open them. "Don't tell me what you're going to do," she kept on through my words. "Surprise me."
Now, Sarah's key is rattling in the lock. I think we're all ready. Without Sarah's offhand comment, I would have never considered this kind of party for her. My mother's attempts at surprise parties still spread across my childhood. I cringed, remembering year after year when Mom--just Mom--jumped up from behind the sofa, a cheap store-bought cake balanced in her hand. This is different; we are scattered throughout the room. When Sarah's key finally clicks the lock, I feel the fabric of the couch shift when they all grab it a little tighter.
She opens the door, and late afternoon light floods into the room. Sarah takes a step inside and drops her briefcase just inside the doorway.
"Michael?" she calls.
The doctors and technology were expensive. The 401k was even more worthless than it was back during the recession, and I'd canceled the cruise we'd been saving for. But she's more important than money. I gladly went through the painful tests. I bit my lip during the brain scan. The biopsy needles left aching bruises deep inside my body.
But I'll show her that I care. I can think of someone other than myself.
The lights flip on, and all fifty of us--force-grown clones of myself imprinted with the memories from yesterday's scan--leap out and shout "Happy Birthday!"
We are all completely focused on Sarah.
She is very surprised.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010


I get uncomfortable when people pay too close attention to me. I get twitchy and anxious. I have a hard time understanding when significant others want me to "pay more attention" to them. I don't think they mean that, they just want to be reassurred that they are important to me. I think you should be careful what you wish for.

- Steven Saus

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