Juliette sat with stuffed animals in the darkness. Her mother placed the cake on the table; a pink and white “9” rested in its center, providing the only illumination in the room. A droplet fell onto the frosting. Her father had just opened a window and finished taping another red streamer to the ceiling. He threw more confetti into the air, hoping she would become lost in laughter. Some of it landed on the cake, most of it on the table, and a few sparse circles covered the framed black & white photo of Elizabeth playing in a sandbox. A plate lay in front of it. Juliette saw the candle flicker in the glass, an orange streak of life in the space between them. They sat together and watched the flame as it danced around the wicker. When it suddenly leaned toward the photo, she took a deep breath and exhaled in broken increments. Her father blew his party horn, but all she did was smirk lightly, holding her gaze. Her mother cut the cake into quadrants and filled the plates. Juliette held out an arm for them to take, and they gripped their children with both hands, singing, “Happy Birthday,” knowing it was better to celebrate one more year than mourn the loss of five.
– Jordan Blum
This piece was originally published in March at Connotation Press. Check it out here.