So much for a gift of surprise,
Mother’s gift was a dolly that cries.
My friends are coming, all with presents,
Today's my birthday and no French lesson.
Mother said I could stay up real late
And I don't have to kiss the boy I hate.
Almost everybody's coming and we'll have fun,
'Course, it’s too bad that Daddy can’t come.
Corey stared out of the window at the rain. Mommy said the weatherman promised it to stop in the morning but it’s almost noon and it still hadn't stopped. She didn't feel all that different being ten years old. It was practically a decade. It was so much fun last week when she helped Daddy pack for his business trip. She couldn't understand why it had to be on her birthday. It wasn't fair. Corey kept crossing her fingers and prayed that Mommy and Daddy wouldn't fight like they usually did. The subject was always money, money, money. Daddy must be working hard or he wouldn't be away so much. Mommy just liked to scream a lot -- like when her room was messy and she had to clean up. Her party dress lay stretched out on the bed, light and dark pink stripes keeping each other company on its ruffled surface. Only Daddy wouldn't see her in it at all. By tomorrow, she'd be back in school wearing her jeans. Maybe she'd just stay here and not go to the party at all. Who cares, anyway.
Downstairs, preparations for the party were under way. The dining room chandelier sprouted long twisted streamers that led to the corners of the room. A round pink basket hung precariously underneath, promising a shower of extra party favors for every guest. Each place setting featured a paper plate decorated with a variety of zoo animals dancing in a circle, a party hat in the middle. Candy in paper cups and tiny toys made a fence around the setting. Corey's mom was busily giving the servants orders, rushing back and forth, and adding to the confusion. Every once in a while, she glanced toward the stairs, a frown on her face. She knew that Corey was sulking, but tried not to think of the day she would have to tell her that Daddy wouldn't be coming home. It was too painful to think about. The divorce was coming for a long time and Corey would just have to grow up and try to understand. She and Corey would have to adjust to not having a Daddy around any more. Corey’ll get used to it. Now she'd better call the agency to make sure the clown was on time.
Upstairs, Corey had climbed back in bed with the drapes tightly closed. It was almost as dark as night with just a little light creeping around the curtains. She thought that her favorite teddy looked like he was crying. No amount of hugging did any good at all. She thought about getting dressed, but she couldn't seem to get out of bed. Finally, she heard the door open a crack -- it was her mom. She closed her eyes and pretended to sleep, but Mom strode across the room telling her to wake up and get dressed. Slowly Corey got up and sat on the edge of the bed. Mom kept talking about the party decorations and the pile of gifts covering the buffet but she didn't say anything about when Daddy would come home.
In the living room, her friends stood around in groups fidgeting quietly, waiting for the party girl to come down. Corey finally appeared on the stairs amid an excited chorus of ‘Happy Birthdays’ and squeals. Corey allowed herself to be led to the head of the table. All the places were filled, but she kept stealing looks at the front door, even though she knew everyone was here.
After ice cream and cake, they all trooped into the living room to play party games. Corey liked the twister game, but didn't take part in the Post Office Surprise game. There was too much kissing in the closet for her tastes. Suddenly, a commotion in the hall drew their attention. There standing on one foot was the biggest clown Corey had ever seen! Big floppy shoes with its soles coming apart made a clapping noise every time he jumped on one foot. Different colored suspenders held up purple pants of a wild design. An orange and red shirt sported a blue bib held down by big yellow buttons. A wild blue wig surrounded a white face that was always laughing. He seemed to always get his finger stuck in his suspenders -- his face collapsing into a frown as it let go with a nasty snap. The children squealed with laughter as the clown got into his funny act. Then Mom came in with the coats and it was all over.
Suddenly the clown came over to Corey, picked her up and gave her one of the tightest hugs Corey had ever had. She looked up at the big clown and saw a tear wetting his cheek. "Happy Birthday, Pumpkin," he whispered and ran out of the house. Tears now filled Corey's eyes as she murmured to the empty room, "Good-bye, Daddy Clown."