The day Hemingway attended a child’s birthday party
by Paige Parker
The sun was hot, and blue and gold streamers hung from the bungalow’s front door. The face of the Spanish boy, Diego, blazed fierce and beautiful on the Mylar balloons that bobbed on the breeze.
The children arrived with their mothers and fathers, and they’d never seen war. The mothers wore frowns and yoga pants. The fathers were pale and thin. Their hands were damp and soft, and they recoiled at my handshake. They stood in a cluster by the cocktail wieners and talked about gluten intolerance and tort reform and where to find the best value on a stroller.
“What do you do?” someone asked me.
“I write, and I kill things,” I replied, and the room silenced. I drank deeply from the Diego cup, and it was a pink liquid, and it tasted nothing like Paris or Spain or Africa. It tasted like Omaha. It tasted like defeat.
“Whiskey,” I called to the birthday boy’s mother.
“It is 11 a.m.” she called back, but she brought the bottle. The whiskey felt warm and sharp on my tongue, and it bit like the truth I knew I would speak that day to the neuters of Omaha.
“You have some cupcake crumbs stuck in your beard, Uncle Ernest,” the boy’s father said, and then I saw his polo shirt, and it read, “2010 KPMG auditor’s unit retreat, 2nd place, firewalk.”
“Care to wrestle?” I asked.
He muttered something about his carpal tunnel syndrome. “Suffer like a man,” I said, and fell into the wrestler’s crouch. Another father screamed.
The boy’s mother strode in.
“Get up,” she said.
In the busy parlor, the birthday boy mounted a couch. He wore a red cape. He held a plastic gun. “Wild Kratts!” he brayed, and the other girls and boys roared back, “Wild Kratts!”
“The boy seems tight.”
“What?” his mother said.
“The boy, he’s drinking?”
“Ernest, Avery is 5. He’s excited, and he’s had a lot of sugar.”
“Will the children fight?”
“I hope not.”
“Will they fight for money?” I asked.
I turned to the boy.
“Give me the gun,” I said.
“Mom said to run from you if you said that.”
I wrested the sidearm from the boy’s small hand.
“I enjoy gunplay immensely,” I said. “Where can we shoot?”
“Oh, no,” his mother said, returning and reaching for the weapon. “Not after last time. I told you after you barricaded yourself in the tree fort and threatened to blow your head off that I didn’t want you playing safari with Avery.
“Besides, it is time to pin the tail on the donkey.”
I felt my blood quicken. It would be a good sport.
“Couldn’t get a bull?” I asked.
“For the pinning. Had to settle for a donkey?”
She stared at me, just stared, with eyes that seemed to have seen everything.
“Why do we keep inviting you?”
“The screams of the donkey might frighten the children. Should we do the pinning outside?”
The mother did not answer. She shook her head.
“The blood will run. I can put a tarp down.”
She still did not answer. She walked into the kitchen. She brought me three hard-boiled eggs.
“Eat them,” she said. “No more whiskey. Here comes Emma’s mom. Try not to call her a cunt this time.”