by Jude Higgins

In her hotel, she sang Happy Birthday to herself when she woke up and clipped her toenails, which her chiropodist said grew as fast as hooves. Now there was wriggle room in her new green shoes. A good start.

Blue sky broke through the rain clouds like a gift. She walked to the bakery in Via Frangipani because the name of the street was a name she would like to remember when looking back to this particular birthday. Other birthdays had been memorable because of people—parents, school friends, lovers, husband. Names of ancient streets near the Coliseum seemed appropriate these days. The bakery sold pizza slices, cakes, pies and biscuits. Her husband would have told her to avoid sugar for health reasons, but that hadn’t helped him in the end, so she chose twenty-four expensive biscuits—biscotti, amaretti. One for every birthday hour. The woman who served her, put them in a party box which she tied up with ribbons, curling the ends of the strands with a sharp polished fingernail. The cashier reminded her of her aunty—a cross-over apron, dyed hair thinning at the crown, kind eyes. She proffered some notes and a handful of change and the woman picked out the right money, then patted her palm, as if she were a child.

In the cafe next door, she ordered a cappuccino from a young man in a tight black tee shirt with a tattoo on his arm showing a father and son holding hands on a beach. She wished she knew the Italian to ask him if he’d had the tattoo done to remind him of his own father, or whether the small boy was his son. But the only word she remembered was ‘Grazie’. She tried to remember the presents her father had given her on her birthday when she was a child. Nothing came to mind. So many birthdays gone, so many forgotten. When she ordered her second coffee the man with the tattoo smiled at her. She wanted to say ‘Grazie’ again. Because being smiled at by someone that handsome was another welcome present along with the blue sky, the aunty woman in the bakery and the name of street.

He pointed to her ribboned box of biscuits, reached under the counter and brought out a tiny net stocking containing a heart shaped chocolate studded with a crystallised violet.

‘For you,’ he said. ‘I think this is a special day?’

‘Grazie,’ she said, and ate it there and then while he watched, nodding his approval.

And when she left and walked along Via Frangipani under a clear blue sky, in her new green shoes, holding her ribboned box, with the taste of chocolate in her mouth, her feet felt lighter than they had in years.

Jude Higgins is a writer, tutor and writing events organiser. Her flash fiction pamphlet, The Chemist’s House’ was published by V. Press in 2017 and she has been widely published in literary journals and in anthologies. She runs the Bath Flash Fiction Award and is a Director of the short-short fiction indie press, Ad Hoc Fiction and also directs Flash Fiction Festivals UK.