Today for my birthday my pal Dougy took me out to dinner.
Dougy called me this morning and he said Happy birthday. He asked me why I hadn’t gone away for the holidays like practically everyone else of our friends. I said that I wasn’t sure. He said that he wanted to celebrate my birthday with me some time.
Dougy’s the kind of person who everyone thinks is the nicest guy alive. He’ll give you his left arm if you ask for it. I didn’t really have any plans tonight or any other night for the rest of the break, but I wanted to say no. I’m not really a huge fan of Dougy’s. There’s something about how he’s so nice all the time that makes me feel non-kilter.
I told Dougy that I didn’t know if I wanted to celebrate. He said that it would be his treat.
Dougy’s also the kind of guy who’s so generous he won’t take no for an answer—or, who maybe doesn’t know how to take a hint. I wasn’t sure how to just go and say no straight out without feeling bad about hurting his feelings. I told Dougy Okay, and that I was free tonight.
When we got to the restaurant Dougy told me Happy birthday again. I said Thank you. He said that his kid sister’s birthday was just earlier this week, coincidentally. I told him that I didn’t know he had a little sister. Dougy said that no one much knows about her since she doesn’t go to our high school. He said that she has learning- and other disabilities and that she needs to get homeschooled, which his mom does full-time. He said that she was born on Christmas. I told him to tell her Happy belated.
In my experience, being born so close to Christmas is fun when you’re a kid because by the time Christmas comes around you get two back-to-back rounds of presents. I got excited for those types of things as a kid. It’s not the best anymore because most of my good friends go away with their families over the holidays, and I end up spending my birthdays alone. I wondered if Dougy’s little sister still got excited for those things.
Dougy said that his mom went into labour with his kid sister on Christmas Eve, and went until Christmas day. His mom was driven to the hospital by his dad on Christmas Eve’s afternoon, with Dougy in the car. After Dougy’s mom was set up in a room his dad took Dougy to his grandmother’s house, whom Dougy called ‘Gramma’. He spent that Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at Gramma’s house. He was afraid that Santa wouldn’t realize he’d switched his address and that he’d have to wait until the indeterminate time when he went home from Gramma’s to open Santa’s presents to him, and he almost couldn’t stand it. As a kid you don’t have the patience to deal with unexpected delays like that. But when he woke up on Christmas morning he found that Santa still managed to get the presents to him. When Dougy was older his dad told him that that Christmas Eve his dad had left his mom at the hospital in the middle of the night to drive home and bring Santa’s presents over to Gramma’s while Dougy was asleep, all so that Dougy’d have presents to open Christmas morning.
Sometimes I’ll think that when Dougy’s so nice he’s just acting. I can’t really explain why—it’s kind of a hunch, maybe. I know that I couldn’t be so nice all the time. Earlier today I even wondered if maybe his taking me out was just an act to make himself seem like a good guy, especially with his paying for both of us too.
Dougy said that he was four years old when his kid sister was born. He said that he’d wanted a kid sibling for probably two years until that point. That Christmas and the one before he’d written ‘Little brother or sister’ on his letter to Santa. Dougy said that on Christmas morning at Gramma’s his kid brother or sister was the only thing from his list that he didn’t find among his presents under the tree; everything else he’d asked for was there wrapped.
I even wondered earlier today if maybe Dougy’s the type of guy who gets off on being generous.
Dougy said that after opening presents he ate breakfast with Gramma, which he remembered Gramma had made for him. He said that he couldn’t remember what the breakfast was but it was probably a big one; when he was a kid Gramma was always complaining that Dougy didn’t eat enough, the way all grandmothers do.
Dougy said that he knew a kid brother or sister was coming. He saw the way his mom’s belly was swelling, and knew that that meant she had a little baby inside her.
There was one time when a bunch of Dougy and I’s friends organized a surprise birthday party for him. It was more my friends’ idea than mine. Whose house we had it at I can’t remember. After the surprise when Dougy walked in and we gave him his birthday present, I remember that Dougy cried.
Before Dougy’s kid sister was born his parents had set up a crib in their bedroom for the baby to sleep in, Dougy said. They put the crib under the window close by their bed, so that they could get up in the middle of the night and walk over to it if the baby cried or something. The crib was taller than Dougy at the time. It was white and had a lot of slats in its sides which were so close together that you couldn’t even fit a pinkie between them. He said that before the baby was born he’d liked to go to his parents’ room and look through the tiny gaps between the slats at the little cartoon animals on the crib’s mattress’s blanket, imagining his kid brother or sister lying there. He said that during mornings and early afternoons the sun from the window would shine through the gaps and make a pattern of vertical lines across the carpet which felt warm to touch, and sometimes when Dougy looked at the little animals up close the sun would shine into his eyes.
Dougy said that one time when he was older, maybe eight or nine, he slept over at Gramma’s and she fed him so much that he threw up in the middle of the night, onto his bed. Some years later, Dougy said, he remembered that he’d told that story to his dad and uncle at the reception after his Gramma’s funeral, about how Gramma loved to feed Dougy so much as a kid.
Dougy’s mom and dad came back from the hospital with his kid sister on Christmas afternoon. They came to Gramma’s house. Dougy had been playing with the Christmas toys he’d opened when he heard Gramma’s doorbell, and he ran to the door and opened it for his mom and dad and newborn kid sister. His mom said ‘Look what Santa brought you,’ referring to the baby. At that point it occurred to Dougy that he’d gotten everything from Santa that he’d asked for. Dougy said that that was the only Christmas he’d spent at Gramma’s—the only one not at home, too, for that matter. When they got home from Gramma’s his parents moved the crib over so that it wasn’t right under the sun for when Dougy’s kid sister took her afternoon naps.
Gramma was a World War II survivor, Dougy’s dad once explained to him. She lived alone and really loved having Dougy sleep over. Dougy said to me that she was probably around our age when she was sent to a labour camp. He said that his dad once told him that the whole time during the war she was hungry because there wasn’t enough food.
Dougy said that over the next few days he would take his new Christmas toys into his parents’ room after lunch and play with the toys on their bed. He remembered that the bed with its down blanket was so soft that he could sit on it and hold a toy as high as his head and drop the toy onto the mattress and it wouldn’t make a sound. Dougy’s mom would bring his kid sister over in the early afternoons for her naps. Dougy went to go play in their room right after lunch because then he would get there before his mom did with his sister. He said that he liked being around her, his kid sister. He said that he made sure to get to his parents’ room before his mom because he wanted it to seem to her that he wasn’t playing in there just so he could be near his sister. The bed’s softness made it easy for Dougy to play quietly. He thought that if he went in after his kid sister did his mom might stop him so that he wouldn’t interrupt his kid sister’s rest. Looking back on it now, Dougy said, he doubts he ever actually deceived his mom.
Dougy said that he had wanted to hold his kid sister, but that every time he’d asked his mom or dad they wouldn’t let him because she was too fragile for clumsy little four-year-old Dougy to hold.
His parents’ bed was tall enough so that Dougy could sit on it while he played and could look over the crib’s railing at his kid sister napping, which railing his mom usually only kept up halfway. Sometimes she’d lay his sister on her front and sometimes on her back. Dougy said that he later learned that his mom was trying to prevent flat spots from forming on his kid sister’s head, because the baby’s skull is so soft in parts that lying in one position for too long can sometimes let those flat spots happen.
I told Dougy that he was being too generous about treating me to dinner. He said Don’t mention it. At one point during the night the wait staff presented me with a cake with candles in it and they even sung me a ‘Happy Birthday’ song. Dougy later said that he had arranged the whole thing before I got there.
His mom and his dad and Gramma had all held his kid sister. Dougy was the only one who wasn’t allowed to. Though self-explanatory now, Dougy said, it was something he just couldn’t comprehend when he was four. He said that of all the things on his letter to Santa that he got, his kid sister was the only one he wasn’t allowed to play with.
Dougy said that as a kid he felt almost jealous about not holding her, because his mom had said she was Santa’s gift to him.
It was four days before Dougy finally went to play with his kid sister. He said that when he stood beside the crib he wasn’t tall enough to reach over the side. He said that he climbed up into her crib so that they could play with his toys. With both of them in there it was really cramped. Dougy said that she wasn’t able to hold the toys on her own and he didn’t have enough space in the crib to be able to sit her up while holding the toys in her hands for her, and there were no pillows in the crib to help her sit. He said that she was heavier than he’d imagined she’d be when he tried sitting her up, kind of like a log or tree stump you try to hurl into the lake to watch it splash. Dougy remembered that the light from the sun was making a plain rectangle on the carpet because the crib was moved over away from the window. He said that he thought that if he had more space he could get his kid sister to hold the toys better, but when she landed on the bed she bounced off onto the floor.
Reggie lives in Toronto, Canada where he drinks too much coffee. He is previously unpublished.