Happy Birthday

Laylah Reid

I never took myself for a crybaby. I don’t fight back tears because they never come. But, on the rare occasion I feel needles strumming my tear ducts, they come like a cloud of hail. Storming down my face, dipping uncomfortably into my nostrils, and bullying their way into my balled lips. They don’t taste salty to me, they taste like sadness. Humans have such a strange way of wanting to compare something to something else: going to a new city,  searching for the similarities of your own town in it— just to have the comfort of familiarity. Giving human names and symbols to stars. Looking for horses and spoons in the sky instead of fearing that big vast nothingness. 

My tears don’t taste like potato chips, they taste like pain. 

“It’s not your fault.” 

My brother clung onto me like my body hurt to hold, he didn’t even mind that I was crying on his shirt, he was so considerate of me, always had been. Even as I stand bloody, with a body at my feet. The body of a boy he watched me love and cherish, the body of a boy he called brother. Even then, it is not my fault— in his eyes at least. 

“For your birthday, I’ll take you out to eat, yeah? We’ll get you all cleaned up. Get a new outfit and we’ll go get dinner, any place you want. My treat,” he says, disregarding that body. Pouring all his attention and emotion into me and me alone. 

A feeling in my core began to surface, a curiosity. I wanted to question if it was my last meal before god noticed that I killed a man on the very day he gave me life, and my soul is damned to hell, but I rejected it. I thought that if I stated what was already known— that I had killed someone— that my brother would let me go, and look at me like the murderer I am, and hate me. I didn’t want that. 

So instead I held him tighter, and nodded my wet face into his crisp white tee-shirt. He always smelled so fresh— his clothes always unstained and pressed. He always made sure everything that belonged to him was nice and neat. But I’ve betrayed his cleanliness, and in it I’ve dirted him with my own filth. 

“I’m sorry,” is all I could muster, but I wished I hadn’t said anything at all, because he let me go. It made me wonder if no matter what I had said, he wouldn’t be able to stand touching me any longer. 

“I said it’s not your fault.” He pulled me into another warm embrace, this time, the shock of being touched kept my eyes wide open, as tears continued to jump off the peaks of my bottom lashes. I could see his back and his broad shoulders reaching up to cage me. I could see a few stray overgrown dreadlocks that had escaped from his bun lying limp on one of those broad shoulders of his. I could see the black ink crowding the brown skin on his neck and the backs of his earrings, shining even in the dim light of the room. 

All I could remember wondering was how far does his love extend. Not gratitude for it, but the desire to know when it would run out.