Terry had begun to get suspicious around ten-o-clock on his forty-first birthday. There had been no cards, not one, nor a single present. Things had not improved when the pawnbroker had taken his customary walk through town during lunch. The bakery was closed due to sewage works on the pavement outside, and Terry had missed Sean’s corner shop by minutes – the old man mustn’t have seen him as he was locking the door for his half day. Terry’s luck was no better in the supermarket. He could have sworn he saw Emma Wilkins ditch her basket and stride out past the tills upon seeing him. A fine way to greet one of the town’s most generous philanthropists.
The penny dropped when Terry saw what was in Emma’s abandoned basket – wine, chocolate gateau, and crinkle-cut crisps. Terry smirked as he strode out of the shop. They’d kept it under wraps well enough, but a person needed to get up pretty early if they wanted to beat Terry Grubb. The pawnbroker ambled back in the direction of his penthouse apartment. There was no harm in letting them get organised. He would go as far as to affect surprise on entering, ruffling the confetti from his hair and pretending to be lost for words as they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and fell about laughing.
The locals’ preparation was particularly touching when one considered the town’s financial straits. The recession had hit the northeast hard and spare change was hard to come by. Whilst Terry’s pawnbroker business was booming, the same couldn’t be said for the tannery workers and the car plant employees. Not that the townspeople resented his success. God no. Business was business, and some businesses were more recession-proof than others, that was all.
A low babble reached Terry’s ears as he approached his front door. It stopped as he put the key in the lock. Composing his ‘shocked’ face, the birthday boy walked down the hall and into the kitchen with all the nonchalance of a man about to spend the rest of the afternoon in his pants. There wasn’t the roar of ‘surprise!’ that Terry was expecting. Neither were there streamers or party poppers. His friends were all there, though. Maxine, who had pawned her mother’s wedding ring after her chemo meant that she couldn’t work full time. Old Mr. Tennant, who had been the recipient of a very generous offer for his war medals that had helped fire the gas burner through the cold winter. Little Jimmy Kibble, whose joinery tools fetched a pretty price and meant that his claim for unemployment benefits went through quicker after the DWP concluded that he did not have the means with which to provide for his young family. Sean and Emma were there too, as predicted.
There was a an awkward silence as Terry entered. People were standing around looking awkwardly at their feet or fiddling with their presents behind their backs, not wanting to be the first to congratulate him. A couple of them were looking at him with narrowed eyes, trying to work out whether their surprise had been effective. Their mouths were chewing, possibly having already tucked into his birthday cake. The greedy sods!
Terry beamed at them all as the front door clicked shut behind him.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is an absentee member of the Glasgow Writers Group, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order.