“Good morning, lazy bones!” Wren greeted Thatch as he entered the kitchen yawning. “Lazy bones,” Wren repeated, then in Greek. “What an odd expression.”
Thatch mumbled the foreign phrase. He had taken to repeating everything his father said in Greek in a vain attempt to learn the language. The only effect it seemed to have was to keep Wren from swearing. He had been about to sit down, but he noticed the awkward grin on his father’s face, as if he were up to something. He looked down at the table. “What’s this?” Thatch asked, his hand on the back of the chair.
“Charoúmena genéthlia!” Wren cheered. “Happy birthday!”
Thatch’s breath caught in his throat. He stared at the brown confection in the middle of the kitchen table. (What day is it?)
“It is your birthday, right? The papers said January fourth.”
“Uh-huh…” Thatch nodded.
“Is everything OK?” Wren furrowed his brow.
“I just…” Thatch had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could speak. “I’ve never had a cake before.”
“You’ve never had cake before?”
Thatch laughed dryly. “No – I mean, yes, but I’ve never had a birthday cake before.” His throat was tight as he remembered with envy overhearing the other children at school – more affluent children – recounting tales of birthday parties with clowns, cakes, and… presents. Thatch’s eyes fell on a small box, wrapped in butcher paper with a bow of twine tied around it. (Could it be for me?) Back on the ranch, he had only ever received a kiss on his forehead from his mother – something he would anticipate all year – and something he may have needed: jeans or boots, or something the ranch needed. One year, he had received a bucket of tar to re-tar the stable roof.
Wren pursed his lips, then continued: “Well, Sherrie assured me that Penelope – the black woman you… saw – could bake, so I asked her to bake you a cake. Then I thought – if you don’t have any other plans – we could go to the cinema. It’s been several years – ”
“I’ve never been to a movie.”
” – I’ve heard excellent things about this new science fiction movie.” As Wren spoke, his voice raised in pitch, as if his throat were growing as tight as Thatch’s.
Thatch stared at him, mouth open. It was too good to be true: He was about to spend his birthday – a proper birthday celebration – with his father. He had never dared to even dream of such a thing.
“Oh, Dad…” he said, his voice cracking. He threw his arms around his father’s neck. Wren chuckled nervously, but hugged him back with a tight squeeze.
“Oh, look!” Wren said, pulling away. He acted as if he could not see his son’s tears, instead focusing his attention on the box on the table. “You will like this: I wrote to my cousins in Greece – ”
“You have cousins in Greece?”
“Oh, yes, many! I asked them to send something representative of our family, and they sent this.”
Thatch felt as if the air had been knocked out of him as his father handed him the box. It was a featureless rectangle, not very heavy, and it rattled when he shook it. Wren smiled, biting his lip. Thatch began slowly, tugging the twine loose and sliding his fingers under the paper, but his curiosity and excitement overpowered him. He tore the box free of the butcher paper and slid the lid off.
A horse lay in a bed of tissue paper, carved out of a richly-colored wood. It was simple, almost featureless, but Thatch’s heart pounded as if he could see it breathing.
“It’s cypress,” Wren said.
“We were lumberjacks?” Thatch asked dully.
“No,” Wren laughed. “We were horse-breeders!”
Thatch stared at his father, at a loss for words.