It is my birthday. All around me are friends, real and imagined, and family, real and gone. In the middle of the dining table rests a cake and a bowl of half-eaten spaghetti. The candles are weeping wax tears onto melted pink icing, claiming the best part of my birthday cake—an offering to the old woman hovering over my head. The noodles, saturated with sauce, glisten under the light, as if sweating in anticipation of its death by digestion.
We are waiting for the camera flash. My uncle is counting from three to one. We hold our breaths, our smiles. Nothing happens. Beside him, a stump of a man lifts himself onto the table. He blows out my birthday candles one by one. I pull my mother’s sleeve, pointing at the short man and his untrimmed beard. Too late. His eyes have found me, and I cannot help but scream.
Mother slaps my wrist—a gentle reminder that we are in the middle of taking a picture. The dwarf laughs in triumph. He stands on the table and hops in front of my family. No one acknowledges his presence.
His feet leave prints of water on the glass, which one of my aunts (I forget who) wipes away perfunctorily.
Later, after my friends have left and my family has scattered, I tiptoe across the hallway and sneak a peek at the kitchen table. There he is, that short, cunning man, cutting what is left of my birthday cake and passing out plates to his friends who are equally stumpy and unshaven.
I plot my revenge while memorizing the way his nose is bent, the way his voice pierces the air, colors it with shots of drunken red and violet.
He is full of mirth as his friends all raise their glasses in his name (which I know I heard, but can no longer remember). I wondered what might have happened to that poor man, that he had to crash my party just to celebrate his.
The blackboard is filled with equations written in a language I will never be able to master. A small boy is standing with his back to the class. His hand trembles, as he struggles to solve a problem with multiple operations. There is a tiny dragon curled against his neck, breathing jets of blue flame on his cheeks. We watch, frightened, as the boy at the blackboard forces the chalk to spell out a lie, a wrong answer. The dragon hisses in frustration. She turns her head to the class, and bores her gaze through my head. I am her next target.
There is a woman standing to my right. In her hands is a book. She reads one page after another, to a group of children who nod and squeal in delight. They know this story, know it so well that they answer her as one when she asks them who the Big Bad Wolf ate next.
But she is telling the story all wrong. The Big Bad Wolf wasn’t so bad at all. He only wanted to borrow a cup of sugar for his mother’s birthday cake. The three little pigs (who weren’t so little) failed to be hospitable neighbors to the sophisticated member of the Canis lupus family. Instead of lending some sugar and a kind word to the sentimental wolf, the pigs shut their doors, barred their windows, and left their neighbor outside with a terrible cold. Of course the wolf became angry, and of course the wolf sneezed. Could anyone really blame him? I share this insight with my classmates, so sure that they will agree with me. They do not.
The woman who is standing to my right looks mortified. She shakes her head and tells me not to interrupt her lesson in reading. She goes on about how the author of the story must be looking down on me with sadness for I had slandered his renowned tale. I frown at her and say, as sweetly as I can, that I am not lying, that I read about it all in a book called: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.
“Written by Jon Scieszka, and illustrated by Lane Smith,” I recite for her, from memory, because that was how she has taught us to read stories. My teacher dismisses my words with a wave of her hand. I have ruined her morning lesson with my bit of truth.She sends me out to play with my friends, but not before telling me to think about the wrong I had done.
“Was it something I said?” I whisper to the angel at my side, whose hair is long and black, and whose fingers look like my grandmother’s—all wrinkled and creased with old age. The angel smiles at me. Her face is pale under the artificial light, and her lips are all but dried up. She seats me on one of the swings in the playground and tells me the true story of my birth.
There is a gnarled hand on my ankle and a smooth, wicked voice in my ear. I yank myself frantically out of the nightmare but it chases me into reality. The next day, after wiping at my dried tears with a threadbare blanket, I decide that I am gifted with the curse of Sight.