Mary could have phoned, but she wanted to be sure -- didn’t want there to be any mistake. After all, she thought, it’s not every day you get to have a party for your eightieth birthday. So she walked up the road in that ungainly three-legged walk that the years had given her -- two feet, one cane, two feet, one cane, two feet, and take a moment to rest.|
The store looked bright and inviting and it smelled heavenly. Mary was happy to stop and rest a while, both hands on her cane, savoring the flavors of bread and honey and cakes that drifted on the air. Until a car roared past and spoiled the moment with its exhaust fumes.
Inside the shop, a young woman with hair tied back tightly from her face was standing by the counter. Mary waited for her to say “Can I help you?” but she seemed absorbed in her fingernails or in something hidden under the desk.
Mary thudded her cane on the floor and coughed. Third legs have their uses when you’re old and too well brought up to stamp your feet.
“Oh, hi,” said the assistant.
“Humph.” Mary coughed again. She’d get a “Can I help you?” one way or another.
“D’you need something?”
“I’m trying to place an order.”
“Oh, right. Right. Sorry.” The girl didn’t sound terribly sorry to Mary. But she reached a bulky folder out from behind the register, tipping pages that fell heavily to the counter as scraps of paper fluttered out. Then she tugged the pen from its elastic band, planted it firmly point down and looked up at Mary’s face. “Name?”
For a moment, Mary didn’t realize she was talking to her. Then she answered, “Mary Marsden.”
Mary wished that she could read upside down, though to be honest, she’d struggle to read right way up in these glasses. Old age was no fun. And though the cakes smelled delicious, she knew too well that many of them would make her ill.
“So you’re booking a party, right? What date do you want?”
“How many people?”
“And you’d like the basic food package? What sort of sandwiches? Snacks?”
Slowly but surely the form was filled, and Mary began to picture the party in her mind. Lots of friends. Sausage rolls. Cheese and pineapple on sticks. It was going to be good.
“And a cake, of course,” she added as the assistant started to pack her notes away.
“Yes, an eightieth birthday cake.”
“Yes, for me.”
“Oh right. Congratulations.” The girl scratched more letters onto the form then closed the book with a thud.
Mary paid, counting the notes carefully and balancing her purse on the edge of the counter. Then she rearranged her shopping bag on the arm that wasn’t holding the cane. A quick “Thank you,” and “Goodbye,” and she was on her way.
She left the store smiling happily, looking forward to her party with a joy that she hadn’t quite expected, and delighting again in the glorious, and gloriously forbidden, baking smells. Until a car rushed past, filling the air with its noxious exhaust fumes.
“Oh, really!” Mary stopped suddenly. “I forgot.” And she turned back. With her three-legged walk turning into a rush, Mary hurriedly returned to the store. “I forgot my receipt,” she announced loudly as she walked in.
“Sorry,” came the bored response.
“And you are?”
“Oh, really! I was only just in here booking a birthday party.”
“Oh right. Yeah. I remember.”
The girl put down whatever it was she was reading and pulled out the heavy order book. “Yes, here we are. Mary Marsden. Eighteenth birthday.” She looked up. “That’ll be your granddaughter will it, having a birthday then?”
“No. It’ll be me.”
“But it says eighteen.”
“I said eighty.”
“Really! I was sure.”
“I’m sure,” said Mary stubbornly and made her change it.
Even wearing the right glasses at home, Mary still couldn’t read the receipt. But she smiled. Just as well I went back, she thought. Being old and forgetful has its advantages too. Then she baked a small light cake in her tiny oven, and enjoyed its scent and promise without the accompaniment of oily fumes.