Happy Birthday

By J. W. Wright

Sarah listened to his recording play over and over again. It was the only thing she had left of him. He had been taken away from her all too soon, and nothing could change that now. She sat there silently, taking in every note of his song. His voice echoed with bass and it was extremely nasal. Some people would shudder at such a voice as this singing them a song, but not Sarah. She closed her eyes and let the words fill her soul. They meant everything to her. They meant more than life. She needed him, and she needed him now. That was not an option.

Three years ago, a week before her birthday, he left. It wasn’t because he wanted to, it was because he was obligated to. Sarah didn’t understand why the army had to take him right before her birthday. That was selfish and uncalled for! Why couldn’t they have waited a few more days? She wanted her daddy home for her birthday! That would have been the best present she could have asked for. Instead, she got a box. Inside that pink box, affixed with an even more pink bow (if ever there was such a thing) was a recording. And on that recording... on that reel of tape and metal... was her father’s voice. To anyone else, this would have been just a sweet thing to do for someone on their birthday... but to her, it was everything.

She ran to play the recording. She had the device set up in the corner of her room; it was buried amidst all of her stuffed animals and toys. Throwing them all aside, she plopped down next to it, and put on the recording. Her father’s voice filled the room.

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Sarah! Happy Birthday to you! I love you Sarah! While I am gone you need to be strong! You need to remember I will always be there for you, no matter what! No matter how tough times get, or how hard it is, always remember that I am just a phone call away! Be good for your mother! I will be home soon, my darling! I love you, Sarah... I will always love you.”

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes, as she now sat, three years older, listening to the same recording... in the same room... feeling the same way she felt back then. She missed her dad. But she knew the truth. He was never going to come home again. She remembered so clearly, the day she had heard the news. She fought every day to block it out of her memory... so every day she would play this recording. Every day she would long for her dad’s return… a return that would never happen.

Sarah knew she would give anything, anything at all to see her father again, to have just one last conversation with him. All she wanted to hear was that he indeed loved her as he said in the recording. Even though she knew it was true, she wanted to hear it at least one more time.

Just then, Sarah remembered something her father had told her when she was little. He told her on her birthday that if she blew out the candles on her cake and made a wish it would come true. Sarah knew that was just a lie though. For the past three years, she wished that she could talk to her father again. For the past three years, it hadn’t come true.  She had no hope for it anymore. She went about her business as normal. She watched her mother cut the cake. She listened to her grandmother tell her stories she didn’t care about. She opened a whole bunch of presents. All of her friends were there, but it was missing one thing. And no matter how much she tried to fight it, it was always in the back of her mind.

As she sat there, sobbing, listening to her recording for the tenth time, she heard the phone ring. She didn’t bother getting up to answer it, no one she cared about would be calling. Her mother answered the phone, she exchanged a few words, and then walked up to Sarah, “It’s for you, honey.”

Sarah held the receiver up to her ear. All she heard was static. There was no one there. “Who called for me, mom?” asked Sarah. “It was your Aunt Linda.” her mother replied.

Sarah sighed deeply. Why in the world would she have gotten her hopes up, knowing full well that nothing was going to happen?

Then, Sarah remembered. She remembered what she had heard her father say a million times when she listened to the recording. It was so simple, but it was worth a try. She remembered how he had told her he would always be just a phone call away. “Why not?” shrugged Sarah and began to dial her father’s old number.

The phone rang three times. It cut to static. Sarah held the receiver to her ear. She listened in the static, it was nothing. She went to hang up the phone... and then she heard it. It was the recording singing “Happy Birthday”. The voice was unmistakable. It was her father.

She glanced over to see if the recording was playing. It wasn’t. The sound was coming from the telephone. Sarah’s heart dropped in her chest. She slowly raised the phone to her ear. “He-hello?” said Sarah slowly, “Happy Birthday, Sarah!” replied her father, “I love you so much, I am so glad you called... we have a lot of catching up to do...”