Gilberto’s Birthday by Stephen Halpert
It might well have been the hottest day of summer. To celebrate his birthday Gilberto’s five buddies from the shipping department took him to lunch at Ham Hocks, a local eatery.
Gilberto’s tight brown polyester shirt clung against his back and shoulders creating the impression that he was an Olympic body builder.
"Beer, "they yelled. "Big pitchers for the table."
An unusually thin redhead with pronounced cheekbones and freckles handed out menus. Her eyes locked onto Gilberto’s muscular frame.
Seeing her excited him and turned him on.
His eyes widened. "Hello, I’m Gilberto."
"Today’s his birthday," one of his friends said waving his beer. He couldn’t stop looking at her.
"That’s really your hair?" Gilberto said. " All red and it comes from God and not a bottle from the drug store?"
She smiled. "All mine, all compliments of God." She poised her pen against her pad patiently waiting to take their orders.
"Tell me who you are?" Gilberto persisted. "So small and thin I could fit you in my pocket."
"Soup of the day’s lima bean, sausage and kale," she said ignoring his comments. "Daily special’s ham hocks six eggs over fried dough."
"So, what you want me to call you." He smiled dreamily.
Patiently she held her pen poised waiting to take their orders.
"Be careful," one said. "If he falls for you, he’ll marry you tomorrow. Gil wants six, seven kids."
They all laughed.
"All sons," Gilberto boasted. "I want my own soccer team; we go worldwide on cable sports channel."
"I’ll have a seafood bacon omelet," Ramon said. "With a double side of fried dough."
Four others chimed in. Finally, she looked at Gilberto.
"You! It’s you I want," he said boldly. "Today’s my birthday. Like they sing in that song; all I want is you." Gilberto gave her his best smile. Once that smile could melt a woman’s heart — when he was younger and a star of the soccer league."
"You gotta have a name," he pushed.
She sighed. "It’s really your birthday?"
"Yeah," Chico laughed. "He’s forty something."
"Don’t believe him," Gilberto shot back "Nowhere near forty. Try me out, see for yourself. I’m a stallion. Ride me and we come in first at the Kentucky Derby." In his mind his fingers played with her red ringlets. "So, ok, tell me your name."
"Tushy," she said flatly. "Any of you want the salad bar."
He looked serious. "What kinda name’s Tushy? You Catholic or something? I see you wearing a cross." He swallowed more beer. "You’re pintsize. I like your tough attitude." He grinned. "We play and I’ll let you boss me around. So, what’s with your name?"
"Ask my mother, I’m Danish." She lowered her voice and looked at him. "Something about you, something too hot for your own good."
"You want to teach me lessons?" His big hands widened, he grinned.
She smiled sweetly. "Yes," she whispered. Then she turned and went to the kitchen.
They finished lunch. As she collected their checks, Gilberto said. "What time can I come get you."
"Four," she said. "But I have to get home early so we can’t make it a late night."
Just knowing she was willing aroused him even more. "I’ll be back at four,"’ he grinned. "Then you can be my birthday present."
Hoots from his buddies. "More beer," Ramon cried keeping the festivities alive.
At four Gilberto stood in the doorway waiting. Too much beer and fried food caused an incessant grumbling from his stomach. He felt bloated but nonetheless optimistic. Right then all he wanted was for this skinny adorable redhead to be his.
"Where you want to go? I’m yours, whatever you want," he said between burps. He liked her freckles, her innocent face, and her small white teeth.
"Whatever you say," she smiled. "It’s your birthday."
"Let’s start in the park. Sit by the pond. Get better acquainted. Then maybe go back to my place." He thought putting it like that sounded romantic.
She smiled and took his hand. That moment he felt like he was on top of the world. They found a bench. Little kids were splashing. Mothers in modest swimsuits, knee deep in the water watched their children.
"Bet you have a nice bikini." He touched her thin shoulder. Her red hair glinted in the late afternoon sun.
He was nervous about his burping. What he really wanted was to kiss her endlessly, but he knew from past experiences it was best to go slow and play along with safe conversation.
Looking concerned she reached into her leather pocketbook and pulled out a small bag of what looked like shriveled black berries.
She looked at him. "I hope normally you eat better than you did at lunch today." She took out a few berries and handed them to him. "Here take these but chew them slowly. They’ll settle your stomach. You really need to know all that fried food will shorten your life."
He frowned. "Fried food’s my favorite." He put a them into his mouth and chewed intently. He grinned. "These taste good. Where do you get them?"
"My mother sends them to me from Denmark. They’re medicinal."
He found them soft and chewy, somewhere between a grape and maybe a sour cherry. They had an odd sweet taste. He took the bag from her, shook several into his hand and tossed them into his mouth like candy. "Tushy your real name? Never heard of a name like that."
She smiled. "No, my real name is Veronica. But Tushy was my mother’s nickname for me. I’m glad you like what I gave you, but I wouldn’t eat any more. I only take one or maybe two at the most when I really need to."
"They look like big raisins. What do you call them?"
"My mother always called them prune berries."
A typhoon, then a cyclone, followed by a tsunami exploded inside his middle. His eyes bulged. He shot up from the bench. "I’ll be back as soon as I can." Feeling desperate, he fled to the public toilets.
He wasn’t sure how long he was detained. Every time he thought to leave, his body insisted differently. By the time he got back to the bench dusk had fallen. Tushy was gone. A woman sitting nearby smiled at him and said. "Your friend had to get home early. But she said to wish you a very happy birthday."
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