Belinda’s Birthday by Petrea Burchard

Jan 9, 2013
Photo by Petrea Burchard

Photo by Petrea Burchard

Damn hot flashes.

Belinda Marvel rolled over onto the empty Cheetos bag, causing orange dust to blow in her face. Her pajama pants pinched at the waist. Her stomach growled.

She allowed her sock feet to flop to the floor, the motion propelling her to sit up. On the silent TV screen a skinny girl sat on the bed in a hotel room, crying and eating take-out, in a rerun of a reality show.

Belinda smacked the remote. The screen went black.

The crumbs in the cookie package on the coffee table would not suffice. Belinda heaved herself to her feet and slogged off in search of food.

At first she hadn’t been able to do even that much. Rising from the couch meant confronting the swollen pile of mail under the front door slot. She hadn’t opened a single envelope and now, after six weeks, the heap of sympathy cards and legal-sized envelopes had stopped growing. Belinda had become accustomed to it, as if it were a batch of mending she’d get to one of these days.

She rarely went down the bedroom hall except to use the bathroom. She preferred to sleep on the couch with its crowding bolsters, rather than face the king-sized bed alone.

The dining room had its obstacles, too, namely the pyramid of birthday gifts gathering dust on the table. Belinda scurried through the curtained room, jiggling her new fat, avoiding the sight of the packages. She didn’t want to know what he’d meant to give her for her fiftieth birthday.

The kitchen cabinets gaped. Why bother to close them when you’re just going to open them again?

She had started with the vegetables and fruits from her last trip to the Farmers’ Market. She had once dreamed of a garden of her own in the back yard. Organic whole foods, that was her.

He was Cheetos and cookies. He adored sugar-coated cereals and salty chips. High calorie, high fat, high bad, that was him. She had begged him to change his eating habits. She worried about his heart. He was over fifty. He had to take care of himself.

The perishables were gone by the end of the first week. Then she’d tucked into the canned goods: first peaches, mandarin oranges, kidney beans and organic diced tomatoes. Then the refried beans, canned chili, spaghetti and tamales. He’d stocked up to prepare for disaster, not knowing what form it would take.

Early on her birthday morning, he’d gone to a bakery in Eagle Rock so he could surprise her with her favorite flourless cake. A drunk driver had hit his car head-on in the middle of the Colorado Street Bridge. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt because it was too tight. It wouldn’t have mattered.

Two lean, healthy Pasadena Police officers had come to the door, hanging their heads and bearing his belongings, including the bag of pastries he’d bought. As soon as they left she had eaten it all, even the frosted long johns.

Belinda kicked aside empty cans, their gaping throats crusted and molding. She tore through a lower cabinet, shoving aside a sack of dry lentils. One last jumbo bag of barbecue flavored potato chips was hiding there. Belinda plopped to the floor, ripped open the bag of chips and stuffed a handful into her mouth. Then another. She couldn’t eat them fast enough. Little bits broke off and tumbled down the front of her pajama top. She picked them up and ate them, too. She stuffed herself with handful after handful.

Finally she licked a finger and wiped it along the inside of the bottom of the bag. Red barbecue seasonings covered her pajama top and chin.

Her stomach roared. It wasn’t enough.

A long, low moan erupted from her, but not from her stomach.

Sobs hit like hunger pangs. She was insatiable. Between wails she gasped the rank kitchen air. Air gave power to sobs of rage.

“I won’t go out!

“How could you get so fat?

“How could I get so fat?

“God damn drunk driver!”

Belinda grabbed the sack of lentils, and threw it against the wall. For a few seconds, it rained lentils in the kitchen.

Belinda sat. She shook the beans from her gray-brown curls. Grasping the countertop with pudgy fingers, she pulled herself up with a grunt. She waddled to the sink, splashed cool water on her face, and dried herself with a kitchen towel. The towel came away rusty-red with barbecue seasonings.

Belinda blew her nose on a paper napkin. The trash can was spilling over. It stank. She found a grocery bag in the cabinet and put the napkin in it. She added the potato chip bag.

Belinda stood still for a minute, bracing herself on the countertop.

She exhaled, then shuffled through the debris to the dining room. The presents on the table were wrapped in bright colors. He was creative. He was generous. He had liked birthdays. There were a dozen packages, all sizes and shapes. She couldn’t open them all today.

Her finger stroked the topmost gift, a chartreuse envelope addressed to “Beautiful Belinda, garden of my heart.” Belinda smiled. Not much of a poet.

Another hot flash came with its immediate, internal combustion.

The envelope rattled like maracas. She slid a dirty fingernail under the seal.

Inside were seed packets: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce.

Belinda gasped. She clutched the packets to her chest. Her heart pounded. There was no air.

She ran to the kitchen, kicking a path through the lentils to the back door. With shaking fingers she turned the deadbolt. Her heart whammed. She squeezed the seed packets to her lips and opened the door.

The sun rushed in with a cacophony of birdsong and fresh air. A fly buzzed past, a butterfly flitted through blossoms on the orange tree, and a dog barked several yards away. A lawnmower next door kicked up scents of cut grass, wet dirt and salvation.


Copyright © 2012 Petrea Burchard
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About Petrea Burchard

Petrea Burchard is a writer, actor and photographer. She doesn’t take sides on the health food issue and neither does her husband, but their dog Boz refuses the canned stuff.

Connect with Petrea at

her website:, where you can send an email or read an excerpt from her upcoming novel, Camelot & Vine;

her blog:, where anything and everything gets filtered through the lens of Pasadena, California;







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