Freckled with the usual sorrows that inevitably mark the crevices of our faces as we grow older, Ally celebrated her fiftieth birthday alone, stretched out on a foreign beach. She was wearing an old one-piece bathing suit that had become baggy on her during the last year. She’d never known how strange a baggy swimsuit could feel; it was like she was wearing a second skin that had begun sagging and stretching. She wondered if people who lost a lot of weight very quickly felt this way about their extra skin, and then she remembered that technically she could fall into that category and that none of her own flesh and skin felt this way.
The sunlight felt warm on her skin and she fleetingly worried about skin cancer, before bursting out laughing. A passing local – she could tell he was local because he was wearing tight Speedos rather than swim trunks – stared at her, startled. She smiled at him but silenced herself. She was still capable of being embarrassed. Shame and modesty seemed to be human qualities that you didn’t lose, even after being poked and prodded and operated on over and over again.
Three to six months, they’d said. It was now the seventh, and she got to celebrate another birthday, something she’d resigned herself to not being able to do. So she took herself to somewhere warm and faraway, where people didn’t look at her with tears or panic in their eyes at the idea that she could go at any moment.
“Happy birthday to me,” she sang quietly to herself. The crowded beach was noisy and no one heard her, thankfully. She flung an arm over her eyes and decided to take a nap.