My birthday is on a date that is, fortunately, generally drowned out completely by other celebrations. This is a good thing. I do not like the fuss. I am not responsible for my birth.
A friend turned 80 on Friday. Her daughter had a party for her on Saturday. Her sparse family was invited. A few neighbours were invited. I was invited. That was it.
I knew the occasion would be one of those affairs where people actually have to find things to say - or sit in uncomfortable silence. The invitations were late in coming and I already had two other events to attend. I said I would call in for a short while early on.
"Come on in Cat," her daughter says when she sees me at the door. She is busy trying to get food ready in the kitchen. I let myself in.
My friend, who is getting a little vague and forgetful, is sitting there in the semi-darkness of the overheated lounge room. A neighbour has arrived. The neighbour is older but more alert. She is trying to make conversation but it is stilted. They have never had much in common and my friend is now in a nursing home. They have even less in common now.
I stand there and the neighbour nudges my friend. "Cat's here." She looks up.
"Oh, hello dear." I say hello and Happy Birthday and all the other things that should be said. She smiles but I am not sure she is really taking it in. She seems overwhelmed. I give her the little parcel. She likes the dogs on the little bag. It is not an old lady bag at all. It is intended for children but she loves dogs and misses not having one of her own. There is a dog on the card too. All the cards which said 80 were mushy and the print would have been too small for her to read.
It takes her a while to read the card and investigate the bag.
"You can open the parcel too," I tell her gently. She looks at it. I have wrapped her parcel in tissue paper and put a piece of curling ribbon loosely around it. She has difficulty with small things, with tape and bows and fiddly things. Slowly, very slowly she pulls the ribbon off and puts it to one side. She looks at the tissue paper and then realises that it is coming apart. There is a hint of relief on her face and she unwraps it more quickly. Socks. I have made her blue woollen socks with lace tops. There is not much else I can do for her now but she is always saying here feet are cold under her slacks.
"Oh." She smiles, "They're lovely." Suddenly she turns to the neighbour and says, "Do you remember how we used to have to darn the socks..."
She starts to reminisce. The neighbour and I exchange a glance. We let her talk. More neighbours arrive and it seems like a good time for me to slip out.
When you are old the past is fine. The present is difficult. The future is almost impossible.