Surprise! by Michele Alter Brenton

Anyone will tell you I’m a scream. I’m the life and soul of the party, me. I like a bit of banter, I like to shake things up. Get people going. It’s a laugh. They love it really. They get into the spirit of the thing, acting like they are upset and shaking and crying but they are just hamming it up. Most of the time they would have nothing happening in their lives if it wasn’t for me.

Take my mate Tim, he’s had a rough time this year. Lost his job, split up with his partner, one thing after another. He’s been down in the dumps. A right mardy arse.

So I thought – a surprise birthday party’ll put him right. Plenty of mates all together at the usual watering hole, plenty of drinks, food, music – maybe he might pull.
And yours-truly is the one to get the ball rolling – organisation is my middle name – calling everyone up and swearing them to secrecy.

Spoke to his flatmate John – told him not to say a thing about his birthday. Don’t mention it. Same to everyone. No Facebook greetings, no cards, nothing. Complete shut down. Don’t give him the smallest hint that anyone even knows it’s his birthday. That will make the surprise even better.

Everyone thinks I’m the best mate ever. Putting all this effort in for Tim. Like I said, “That’s what best mates are for, going over and above. Happy to do it. Yeah okay I am pretty special I suppose – but it’s just how I am. Do anything for anyone.”

Everyone has stuck to the plan. They wouldn’t dare do otherwise. They don’t want to be in my bad books. They all remember what happened that time Daisy crossed me. Nobody sees Daisy any more. She moved to Huddersfield in a bit of a hurry. Best thing all round in the end.

And now we’re here. All of us. Everything in place. Everything sweet as a nut. Only person missing is Tim. I text him. I call him. A few of the others do too. It’s getting awkward. I’ve sent John over to their flat to see if he’s still there.

Hang on – I’ve got a text. From John. Tim’s not at the flat. There’s a note though. I need to get over there.

I leave the pub and get to the flat in five minutes – it isn’t far. John’s in the living room white and shaking and he hands me the note. It’s from Tim:

What’s the point? Another birthday and nobody cares. No cards. No Facebook messages. No job, no girlfriend. It’s the last straw. Don’t even expect anyone will be bothered if I leave a note. Not sure why I am. Tim.

I don’t know what to do.
“Should we call the police? His parents?” I ask.
“What could they do any way? Maybe it will be okay,” John says,“Best thing is to go home. Hope he’ll come back later.”
“I’ll keep trying to text him and call him,” I say and do so straight away and hear Tim’s phone ring in his room.
I go in and it’s on the bed. That explains why he hasn’t answered calls or replied to texts.
I still want to call the police but John says they won’t start looking until he’s been missing for twenty four hours and I’m persuaded.

I head back to my flat. I’m knackered. And annoyed at Tim, truth be told. I put a lot of effort into that party and he ruined it.

Late morning at work I get a text from John. The police called round first thing.
Tim’s only gone and topped himself!!!
Bloody hell. Not good. Not good at all. How could he do this to me?
I have trouble concentrating at work. Not too much of a problem – I’d cleared the decks yesterday expecting to be hungover today, but all the same.

I’m feeling pretty low by the time I get home. I let myself in to my empty flat. I don’t need to put the lights on with the cold blue street lamp glowing through the windows like brightest moonlight as I pad into my bedroom and get a shock.
“Bloody hell Tim! How long have you been in here?”
“Surprise!” says Tim.
And I laugh.
“You git! You got me!”
It all makes sense. He’s turned the tables on me. Somehow he and John cooked this all up to put one over on me.
“Funny guy,” I say, “But you owe me a party.”
“Surprise!” he says and I go to high five him and my hand meets thin air.


Michele Alter Brenton started reading horror when she was two years old and half a century later writes it. She spends her life ‘having ideas’ and ‘doing experiments’ to see what happens. It isn’t her job but she likes to feel she is a bit like a scientist. No matter what else changes she always makes poetry and always has. Or maybe the poetry makes her. She is the chicken and poetry is the egg.

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