No matter how hard I try, I've been completely unable to shake the habit of birthdays and, rather to my regret, I had another one of them not that very long ago. It seems that once the habit takes hold, the addiction is quite impossible to overcome.
This birthday was somewhat ameliorated by spending it with a friend who, by a strange coincidence, was also having a birthday. We were each born, seven years apart, on the same day of the same month, though on opposite sides of the world. Actually, time zones being what they are, I suspect I was a day short of celebrating my birthday when he arrived squalling into the world. But what's an inconvenient time zone between friends? Both the calendar and our birth certificates insist that we share a birthday, and since that is good enough for government bureaucracies, it is good enough for us as well.
This year our mutual birthday fell on a convenient Saturday. So people came from all over the country (well, Wellington, actually) to camp out in my house and have a party. I am being quite literal here. We had two people sleeping in the spare bedroom and two people and a dog sleeping in a tent on the front lawn. Originally the tent was to have been pitched on the back lawn. But that is Jake the Dog's territory and tents are his favourite food. Consequently it seemed wisest to remove temptation from him. Rosie, the dog who came with the tent, is a wonderful guard dog who would never dream of eating a tent herself — she finds them far too chewy. She was actually quite keen to protect it from harm and from Jake, whichever seemed more timely and appropriate. But since it would take at least ten Rosies to make one Jake sized dog, discretion seemed to be by far the wiser course. Rosie wasn't convinced of this (she has no idea that Jake is a big dog and that she is a small dog — dogs are notoriously poor at spatial relationships), but she went along with it for the sake of peace and quiet.
An unexpected extra guest who turned up at the very last minute was Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. There was nowhere for him to sleep of course, but that didn't matter because he'd never actually managed to work out how to do sleeping. He considered it to be a great waste of time. "Think of all the books you could be reading instead," he said. Most days I agreed with him.
Beelzebub gave me an enthusiastic greeting. "Happy Birthday," he roared "I'm glad I'm not having one. They really aren't very good for you, you know! I gave them up centuries ago." He gave me a hug. Then he gave me my present — 28 of his finest flies which at once moved into the kitchen and made themselves at home. When they had properly settled down, they buzzed out the rhythm of the traditional birthday song for me:
Why was he born so beautiful?
Why was he born at all?
He's no bloody use to anyone,
He's no bloody good at all...
Beelzebub had rehearsed them well. They hit every note right in the middle. I was very impressed.
Rosie attempted to sneak up on the flies and catch them in mid-air and Jake tried to round them up and corral them in a corner. Neither had any great success in their endeavours and both soon gave up in disgust and sulked.
On the evening of our birthday we all celebrated with a specially prepared meal. The humans among us ate it in a restaurant. Those who were less than human, and those who were suprahuman, stayed at home to indulge themselves. Jake settled himself down on the back lawn with a bone and Rosie went out to the tent without a bone. But she wasn't too unhappy about that. Her mum and dad had promised her that they'd come back from the restaurant with a doggie bag that Jake wouldn't be allowed to touch. So she knew that she wasn't going to miss out. The flies buzzed disconsolately for a while after we drove off into the night before gorging themselves on the feast that we'd left lurking deep within the bowels of the waste disposal unit. Beelzebub watched them benignly. What good little boys they were... Then he settled down to devour his favourite William Golding novel for the umpteenth time.
At the restaurant we all ate and drank inordinately because that is what you do when someone has a birthday. When we were done, the other birthday boy and I staggered out to the car, carrying an enormous box between us. In it was a huge chocolate cake decorated with our names and happy birthday wishes. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but not, unfortunately, to flies. "Down, boys!" ordered Beelzebub, when we got the cake home, but his orders had no effect. "Sorry about that," he apologised. "I painted the ears on each individual fly this morning before we left home, so that they'd all look properly dressed for the party. But the ears don't actually function..."
We shared the cake around, and the flies all agreed that it was the best cake they'd ever eaten. Since they were less than a day old, I suspected it was the only cake they'd ever eaten, but out of politeness, I refrained from comment.
The next day, Rosie and all 28 of the flies discovered Jake's bone on the back lawn. None of them could resist investigating it more closely. Jake, of course, took exception to this and, in no uncertain terms, he told each and every one of them to leave it alone. "See these fangs?" he said, lifting his lips sideways so that the sunlight glistened on his pointy bits. "They work really, really well."
But Rosie stood her ground and so did the flies. Clearly this bone was the archetypal bone of contention. We all took photographs.
"You know," mused Beelzebub, "you really are very lucky living here with all this glorious sunshine turning your lawn brown, and drying up all of your reservoirs day after day after day. I'm quite jealous. There hasn't been any sunshine to speak of at all in Wellington this summer."
"That's because the sun has been so busy doing such a great job of shining in my sky," I said. "It simply hasn't had time to make the long trip down south to Wellington. There's been far too much going on here. It's fully occupied for twenty four hours a day. Why, it even made sure to give us a bush fire last week — now there's attention to detail above and beyond the call of duty. And we've got some absolutely marvellous water restrictions in place as well. I think we've had the best summer ever!"
One of our guests is a sun worshipper and she stood on the back lawn, arms akimbo, soaking up the rays. You could see her opening up, blossoming and blooming in the warmth.
"Many people claim that in their last incarnation they were Cleopatra or Elizabeth the First," she said. "But not me. I know exactly what I was in my last incarnation. I was a daisy, and I still have all the characteristics of a daisy. See me flourish in the sunshine."
She spread her petals and Jake licked the toes of her roots, which made her giggle.