ow was a good time for the dead ones to pull into my station.

Without help I was never going to have enough puff to blow out the 101 candles standing like a wax forest on the cake. The red ribbon neatly bowed at its white iced waist reminded me of a knife cut to pale flesh.

But they could snuff the lot without so much as a shift in the breeze or a flutter to the flames.

‘Come on Grandma Clara, we’ll help,’ all the little ones chorused.

In the absence of my less visible guests, I was glad they were here. Already their little mouths were puckering up for the big blow. Trouble is, I didn’t know who’d add more spittle to the icing – them or me.

After the last hip, hip, hooray was shouted, I creaked my question mark spine back into the soft vinyl of my wheelchair and wondered if this year my birthday wish would come true. I couldn’t be bothered going through all this again next year.

Ah, there’s another of the little ones come to use the rubber wheel of my chair as a teething ring. There’s always one or another keen to take in the view perched up on the old relic’s lap, suffering a bristly chinned cuddle before dashing off to the next exciting adventure with a cousin.

Oh good, they’ve started arriving. There’s my sister. As I’d expect, she hasn’t wasted a minute scowling at my granddaughters in their short tops and even shorter skirts. She never did shed that none too revealing spinster grey she wore with the piety of a nun’s habit. Not even when she died.

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First published in Quality Women’s Fiction [UK], Issue 41, 2003