'For one more month!' she laughed.
'Its your birthday soon,' our boy said, laughing along with his mother, although he didnt have a clue why, and tapping me on the back of the head with his bloody light saber.
'Please dont do that, Pat,' I said.
He was back there with the weeks shopping, strapped into his little car seat and muttering under his breath, pretending to be in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon with Harrison Ford.
'Ive lost my starboard engine,' he jabbered away to himself. 'Fire when ready.'
I turned to look at him. He was four years old with dirty blond hair that hung down over eyes that were the same shade of blue as his mothers. Tiffany blue. Catching my eye, he grinned at me with pure childish delight.
'Happy birthday, dear daddy,' he sang. 'Happy birthday, birth-day.'
To Pat, my birthday was a chance to finally give me the homemade card he had hidden under his bed (Luke Skywalker decapitating a space monster with his trusty light saber). To me, it meant that the best might already be over. It really did.
When would I feel the way I felt the night that my wife said that she would marry me? When would I feel the way I felt the morning that my son was born? When would life be thatI don't knowreal again? When?
'When did you become interested in cars?' Gina said. She wouldnt let this car thing rest. 'I bet you dont even know what kind of petrol this one uses, do you?'
'Oh, come on, Gina.'
'What is it, then?'
'The green kind,' I said, taking a wild guess. 'You knownon-leaded. The one that saves a rain forest every time you fill her up.'
'Its diesel, you doughnut,' she laughed. 'I never knew a man less interested in cars than you. What happened?'
What could I tell her? You dont tell a wife that some inanimate object somehow represents all those things you know you are never going to have. The places you are never going to see, the women you are never going to love, the things you are never going to do. You cant tell a wife all that stuff. Not even a wife you love very much. Especially not a wife like that.
'It only carries one passenger,' she said.
'What does?' I said, playing dumb.
'You know very well what Im talking about,' she said. 'It only carries one passengerone thin, female passenger.'
'Youre still pretty thin and female,' I said. 'Or you were the last time I looked.'
'Whats brought all this on, Harry? Come on. Tell me.'
'Maybe Im compensating for becoming an old fart,' I said. 'Im joining the old farts club so, pathetically, I want to recapture my glorious youth. Even though I know its ultimately futile and even though my youth wasnt particularly glorious. Isnt that what men do?'
'Youre turning thirty,' she said. 'Were going to open a couple of bottles and have a nice cake with candles.'
'And balloons,' Pat said.
'And balloons,' Gina said. She shook her lovely head. 'Were not having you put down, Harry.'
Gina was a couple of months older than me. She had breezed through her thirtieth birthday surrounded by friends and family, dancing with her son to Whams greatest hits, a glass of champagne in her hand. She looked great that night, she really did. But clearly my own birthday was going to be a bit more traumatic.
'You dont regret anything, do you?' she said.
Copyright Tony Parsons, 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced by the permission of the publisher, Source Books.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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