Mayor Mark outlawed birthday celebrations. Five-year old Darma wanted that law changed.
"Okay. Make a wish Darma, then blow out your candles."
Darma didn't need to think. She said, "I wish we could celebrate my birthday at home and not down here, hiding out in some cave." Then she inhaled deeply and blew out all five of her candles.
Mary, Darma's mom and one of the founding members of the Partyfolk Council (the organization that created the underground party movement), looked at her fellow organizers. Then she said to Darma, "I know it's hard for you to understand Darma. Mayor Mark is much like the Grinch, except his complaint isn't with Christmas; it's with birthdays. No presents, no cakes, no celebrations - he actually made it a law and anyone breaking it will not only be imprisoned, but pay a large fine."
Darma stood up. She looked at her mom, the other adults and the two children who were allowed down to her party - not because they were her friends, but because they were children of the council members. She said, "There was a reason why the Grinch hated Christmas. If we can figure out why Mayor Mark feels the way he does, maybe we can be like Cindy Lou Who and help him to change his mind."
Some nodded, but Darma's mom said, "This isn't a fairy tale dear; this is real life and that's not the way it works. Be glad you can celebrate at all."
Despite the change in mood, folks ate the cake, Darma opened her presents and Mrs. Watkins attempted to make balloon animals. Darma and her mom then spent the short walk home in silence. The entrance to the underground party room actually went through their basement's foundation. So, at least, Darma could bring home the few clothes and games she received without being caught. Mom said she'd be getting a new bike in a few months so it didn't seem like it was for her birthday. Once home, Darma headed straight to her room. Mary didn't follow.
Mary knew the reason for the Mayor's position on birthdays, but she hadn't told anyone. She was at least part of the problem – as far as Mayor Mark was concerned. There would be a lot of people shocked by what she knew and the part she played, most especially her own husband and daughter.
Originally she'd vowed to tell Darma before her fifth birthday, when Mary thought her daughter would be old enough to understand. But clearly that time had passed. How do you admit to a life you have worked so hard to forget – to the point of changing your name and disowning your one remaining family member? Mary knew Mark moved into and developed his base in Norfunlandia on purpose. Mary figured he felt he had something to prove. Whether it was to himself or to her she didn’t know. Maybe it was to both. Regardless of the reason, Darma’s wish made it clear: the truth needed to come out and it needed to come out from her.
Mary went upstairs to check on her daughter. She pulled the covers over Darma, who lay curled up next to her giant stuffed panda. As she watched Darma breathe, Mary decided it was not too late to at least begin the process of enacting change. It was, after all, still Darma’s birthday.
As soon as Kevin, Mary’s husband, came home from work she told him she needed to run a few errands. She told herself she would explain everything to him when she got home – whether it went well or not. Boy would he be shocked to hear she was not an only child. The part about her parents dying when she was only seventeen was true, however. Hopefully he could understand the rest – and forgive her for not being totally honest with him from the start.
Mary desperately hoped, since she was going after hours, that Mark would be the only one in the building. Getting past the secretary could prove more challenging.
She was in luck. A Subaru Forrester with the license plate MYRMIKE was the only car in the parking lot. She pulled up next to it and then walked slowly into the building. A bell startled her as she entered the door. Mayor Mark, aware his secretary was gone, stepped to the opening of his office door to see who had walked in.
“Well hello Mary. I was wondering if you would ever make your way over here. What’s it been – twenty years?”
“If you mean since the funeral, yes. We were both 17.”
Surprisingly Mary felt little of Mark’s old intimidation. She moved a few steps closer. “Listen. It’s not my fault we were twins. It’s not my fault you felt you were cheated out of a lot of things including birthday celebrations because I had leukemia and a lot of our birthdays were spent in the hospital. I didn’t want them to make a big deal out of my milestones. I said that to you at the funeral. I tried to understand your feelings, your hurt. We were all we had left – each other – and that day you put an end to us as well.”
Mayor Mark said nothing. He leaned against the door frame and continued to look at Mary.
She went on, “I gave myself a new identity, convinced myself and those around me I was an only child – still a leukemia survivor. I’d hoped you’d moved on as well. Then five years ago you come into this town, get yourself elected mayor and enact a law that tells me you haven’t moved on at all.
“I am sure you are aware you have a niece. Do you know what her wish was for her birthday today? That she could celebrate it her birthday in her own home. You, of all people, understand and you are the only who can make that wish happen. Just think about it. Please.”
As she left Mary said, “I will always love you.”