Birthday Lunch

By Betty Seek

The Girl

It was my idea to go to a steakhouse for my twelfth birthday, but I thought it was going to be fun. We were going to go to one downtown by MacArthur Park, and it was going to be five cousins, all about my age, some aunts and uncles, Mom and Mom’s new husband, Bob.

But two of my cousins were at summer camp, one was with her other grandma, one broke his leg and one had soccer practice. On my birthday, I was with six adults in a dark restaurant where I got a tall Coke with a cherry in it and all the adults got Margaritas.

I wanted to wait to have the party, but Bob wouldn’t let me.

"She said she wanted to go to the steakhouse. Now, you want to change that. No wonder she’s so spoiled." He slammed a cabinet door and I saw Mom jump.

I thought a steakhouse would be different, but the steak wasn’t cooked enough, the baked potato wasn’t that good, and the salad was just boring lettuce.

I asked Mom if I could go outside.

"No, we won’t be here much longer."

"Just for a few minutes?" I bounced up and down when I talked because it made her hear the words better. "There’s a park over there." I saw it when we parked the car.

"No. You can sit still for a few minutes."

"Pleeease. It’s my birthday." I crossed my arms.

"Do what your mother tells you." Bob had to say something.

But then Mom said, "OK, But just for a few minutes. Be back here at one fifteen."

I didn’t go to the park. I meant to. I thought I’d walk around it to the other side and come back through it but I hadn’t expected the crowds. People were everywhere, going up the sidewalk and down the sidewalk, in and out of stores and just standing still.

* * *

The Merchant

In my business, you got to look out because people are always stealing from you. I watch them all the time. I watch them on the sidewalk too because we got merchandise out there and they’ll take it.

I seen this bag lady out there and I know she steals. She hangs around close to the bins all the time. So I watch her.

This little girl comes by, about ten years old. Maybe older. Little white girl who don’t belong here. The old lady starts yelling "Hello" at her. Scares the little girl and the girl don’t say nothin back. The old woman is yelling "Hello. Hello. Hello" trying to get right in her face, you know.

Finally, that girl says "Hello" to get the old lady to leave her alone.

Now, there’s somebody else saying "Hello." This big guy in a suit. Big white guy in a nice suit, nice haircut, clean. He’s saying "Hello." Some kind of hello day.

The little girl walks in front of him and, like that, he grabs her. He puts his hand on her, here and there on her chest and her shoulders, feeling around on her, and he tells her he’s blind and he’s deaf and she’s got to take him home because he don’t know how to get there by himself.

She’s just standing there and he’s got his hand on her wrist and he’s not letting go. He says he can tell her directions but he can’t go alone.

Then another man comes. This one I’ve seen. Skinny guy with a ponytail. He tells the girl the big man lives up Eleventh Street. Says, "I know where he lives. I’ve seen him." And he points.

The little girl and the man go where he said.

* * *

The Street Lady

I think people can say hello to me. I can ask that. If I speak then they can speak back to me. If they don’t, then who are they? Nobody.

This little girl was on the street and I said hello and she said nothing. She had kind of a big head. Blondie hair. She looked to me and she saw me and she heard me but she didn’t speak.

I don’t like that. That ain’t right. It’s like I’m not a person.

So I said hello again and she said nothing and I said it again and I said it again and she said hello. She’s not above me. She can speak.

That’s all I ask.

Then there’s this big man who looked like a cop or a man from the offices and he’s standing on the street and he’s saying hello. I didn’t say hello to him.

This girl who didn’t want to speak to me, she goes right up to him.

He grabbed her. I saw that. How did he know she was there? He musta seen her or heard her but he says he’s blind and deaf. I heard him say that to her. He grabbed her by the arm and this other man comes and he tells the girl to go with the big man up the street that way and she does.

He grabbed her and held her arm.

She didn’t say nothing. She didn’t say she didn’t want to go. That’s all I know.

* * *

The Man with the Ponytail

I have seen that blind man before several times. He walks up here in the morning sometimes and he comes back in the afternoon. Somebody always meets him. I don’t know him but how can you know somebody you can’t talk to and who can’t see you?

But I didn’t think he was a problem. I’ve seen him for months maybe. He’s always dressed nice and I’ve heard him talk like he was talking to that girl. He talks nice.

The girl got too close to him and he grabbed her. I was just trying to help when I told her where he lived. Just two blocks, maybe three, maybe four. Upstairs in a boarding house.

He needed somebody to help him walk and she was it. I had something I had to do, was going to pick up my check or I could’ve walked him home, I guess. I didn’t think it could hurt her to do it.

When I got my check, I went back home and I saw them in front, walking slow. Of course he walked slow. So I hurried to get up to them and help her get him into his house but she was scared, I guess, cause the next thing I know, she pulls his hand off her arm, plants it on me and runs. She ran back the way she came.

I got him inside all right. Once he got up the stairs and into the front room, he was ok.

He said, "Now, there’s someone else here. The young lady is gone. Can you see my house? It’s two story with a winding sidewalk. If you can see it, move my hand up and down."

I did that. He talked all the time and gave out directions.

* * *

The Uncle

I eat fast. I’m always the first person to finish even in this group. I know it’s not good to eat that fast but that’s how I am. When I grew up, you had to be fast or go without. There were seven of us, all having steak, including Lila and after I eat my steak I said I’m going outside to just look around and get some air but really I was going to smoke. My wife thinks I quit smoking. I cut down but sometimes you just got to have one.

I can see the park from outside the restaurant but don’t see Lila. If it was my kid, I wouldn’t have let her go off like that by herself. But if it was my kid, I wouldn’t have had this party. Should’ve been cancelled. A party for a kid with no other kids!

Anyway, I look but I can’t see any sign of her and it’s not like she should hard to spot. She’s blonde and most of these people here are Mexican or Filipino, I think. I went back in and told them I didn’t see her and Bob, my brother-in-law, my sister’s new bridegroom, went to the park to look for her.

He didn’t find her and we were thinking what to do when she came in. Should we call the police? Should we all go out and look? Should we wait? Her mother was worried sick and Bob wasn’t helping any saying she probably ran off with somebody and there was no telling what she got herself into. Bob needs to learn that a mother’s got to be a mother.

Turned out she didn’t run off, she was hauled off.

It was a good steak.

* * *

The Girl

When I got back to the restaurant, all six adults were where I had left them and all of them were frowning.

"Where have you been?" Mom looked angry.

"In the park," I was out-of-breath and heaved my chest when I talked and wanted to lean into Mom, wanted to climb on her lap but she looked too mad.

"Bob went looking for you. He didn’t see you in the park." She sounded like she was trying to be stern, like maybe she wasn’t really mad, just trying to sound that way.

"I didn’t see him," I said.

Bob grabbed my arm and snatched me around. "Don’t lie. Don’t start lying. You weren’t in that park. I looked everywhere." I pulled my arm back and slid into Mom’s lap. Out the restaurant window, clouds moved across the sky. Mom put her arms around me and pulled me back til we were body to body. I could feel her chin on my head. It felt sharp.

Betty Seek lives in the Florida panhandle with her son and two cats. Her work has recently appeared online in Opium Magazine and at  Betty also writes a column for her local newspaper.

Contact Betty.