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I give the coloured envelopes on my doorstep an ambivalent stare. I then pick them up, but decide I want to make myself a coffee before opening them. I feel a little more tired as I consider my new age. I sigh as I flick the kettle’s switch and gaze into space as it boils the water. I feel like I ought to be more anxious about my age, and then decide it’s probably a good thing I can’t muster up any strong feelings about it.
Once I have my caffeine hit in place, I carefully tear the envelopes open and pull out the cards inside. There’s a good mixture. Humour from my sister, though not the tasteless kind that’s about tits or beer or both. That kind of card comes from Mark, my closest friend who I haven’t actually seen in months. Then there’s the sentimental card from my parents, telling me what a treasure I am. Those kind of lines were patronizing at ten, let alone at forty odd.
I look at the cards from across the kitchen table, sipping my coffee and hoping I’ll feel more alive in the next ten minutes. How did it get to this point? It’s my birthday, I have no plans, noone to call, and nothing to do. This is why old people turn crazy, I decide. It’s nothing to do with your brain deteriorating, it’s the loneliness and complete lack of meaningful contact. Gone are the days when phone calls to the family were something I’d guiltily hate. Now they’re the only thing I really get, and I string out the conversations with pointless questions about people I haven’t seen in years nor have any particular interest in.
My sister’s husband, for example, is a solicitor and the dullest person I’ve ever met, yet I quiz my sister on his work, which I don’t even understand. She mumbles on about various contracts, clearly finding the discussion even more mundane than I am. I reluctantly let her go, wishing I knew what to ask that would animate us both. I remember a story from our childhood, but it’s too late; she’s put the phone down.
I set out a plan to celebrate my solitude. I will walk to the university campus and wander around the lake. Then I will go to town, return my library book, and then eat at whatever restaurant I feel like. I’ll buy some booze, cider will do, and return home. That’s when I’ll start drinking, and later on at night, when I’m hungry again, I’ll order the greasiest takeaway on offer. I’ll scour the internet for the most promising porn film I can find and link it up to my larger TV screen in front room.
I wouldn’t be able to do that, if I wasn’t alone, would I?