A Birthday Prayer


Photo by Nikhita Singhal

“Come on, make a wish!” Everyone cheers while Isabel stares at her cake, so big that her husband John had to carry it with his sister.

The thirty-eight candles, spread over the three tiers of pastel frosting, dance in the dark, illuminating her freckles, hiding the world around her where kids play games and skip around. If it is not for the whispers and giggles, for all she knows, it could just be her and tiny flickering flames that tease her will to enter another year childless.

“Hurry up!” yells auntie Laura at the far end of the table, “we want some cake.” The whole room fills with laughter.

“Almost,” Isabel answers as she closes her eyes. Is it worth it? She thinks. Did she reach the point where her destiny relies on a birthday wish?

It’s been six years since John and Isabel tried to get pregnant. She remembers the first months after stopping the pill when they made love every day without planning, without looking at a calendar to match her ovulation. She misses the spontaneity. Now it’s all about procedures and statistics.

Isabel went through the hormonal treatment to in vitro fertilization. Nothing seems to work. Her body refuses to give her what she wants the most, a baby. How long would John be willing to wait? He wants a family so bad.

When she came back in tears from the bathroom last month after seeing again blood dripping between her legs, he took her in his arms and said,

“It’s okay, honey.”

“Maybe you’ll need to find a new wife.”

He stroked her hair and murmured, “Don’t ever say that. I will always be there no matter what. I love you.”

But she saw how he was looking at her friend Lisa earlier today when she came in. They would make a great couple.

Don’t think about that. It’s going to work. It has to work.

A week ago, they received a call from the fertility clinic, a last chance with an egg donor. She wasn’t sure about it, but John was so excited.

“This is fantastic, Isabel.”

Enthusiasm, just like hope, became a scary thing these last years, so were candles and dreams.

Of course, like all the years before, she knows her most profound desire, the same longing that is still left unfulfilled. Maybe there is a magic formula she isn’t aware of, like a spell or a way to do it. She should try to blow all the candles in one breath. There is no way she can do that. John should have bought a flat cake or just had numbers, a three and an eight. Easy to manage.

John’s arm wraps her waist, and she feels her body relaxing in the comfort of his warmth.

“I am ready!” exclaims Isabel, her green eyes moist with tears that soon will disappear as the flames turn into smoke.

She takes a deep inhale and slowly blows the candles, making sure none are left lit.

A kiss on her head breaks the stillness of the moment, followed by the sound of cheers and hand-clapping. The lights come back, and a new chapter begins.

“Happy birthday, love!”


~Christelle Jorge



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