The dread of forty


To my relief, the questions and comments about a birthday party soon subside, perhaps suspiciously so. Jimmy and Freddy are up to something, I know it. They had better not be planning a surprise party.

The dread of turning forty grows heavy and I become consumed by a countdown to my birthday. What will happen when I reach forty? Will I become an old woman at the instant flick of a switch, too old to walk let alone run? Maybe I’ll suddenly have fifty wrinkles and be fat? Or maybe my dreaded fear around what happened to Dad will become a mirror of my reality!

I caught Jimmy on the phone to Yolander this morning, which is highly unusual, and now he’s on the phone to Freddy. He barely rests the handset on the telephone base and I’m into him.

‘What’s going on, Jimmy? With you and Freddy? And Yolander this morning?’ I demand, standing with arms tightly folded into my chest.
‘Nothing. Freddy just wants to borrow the tent. He’s taking the kids camping in a few weeks time.’

He can’t look me in the eye. ‘Rubbish!’ I scoff. ‘Freddy doesn’t camp. It’s five-star luxury all the way for him. He can’t stand the dirt.’
‘He said he … um … he wants to try camping because some bloke said he should try it, to experience the bush, to connect with the environment … you know, to experience the environment.’

‘What rot! And what about Yolander?’

‘She … she wanted to borrow a saw.’

I storm off, raving. ‘What codswallop! I’ve told you and Freddy already, I don’t want a surprise party. I will truly turn around and leave if I walk into a surprise party. How could you, after all I’ve said? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?’

‘We’re not,’ Jimmy calls after me. ‘We know you don’t want a party, Sade. It’s only a week to go anyway. We couldn’t organise anything in a week.’

I find myself in the only quiet place in our home – the toilet. Sitting there, with my face buried in my hands, I wonder how I’m ever going to get over this stupid stuff. I have to try to forget about turning forty and tell myself it’s just another birthday. I shut my eyes and I’m flooded with the image of Dad sitting dwarfed in a big, black reclining chair, all skin and bones, complexion grey, only the odd strand of hair left on his head; struck down with cancer at forty and after an arduous suffering, dead soon after. The memories are so vivid, as if it happened yesterday. It’s in the family, I tell myself. What hope do I have? My father’s own brothers and sisters all died young of cancer. I have no hope. It’s inevitable that I, too, will be struck down in the same way!


I can’t even find a bit of peace in here.

‘Phone for you,’ says Jimmy. ‘It’s Yolander.’

‘Coming.’ I leave this alone place, messing my fingers through my auburn curls as I walk up the hallway. Eugene meets me halfway and whines for me to pick him up. I scoop him into my arms and take the phone from Jimmy.

‘Hello. You took your time,’ says Yolander.

I walk into the sunroom and collapse onto the couch with Eugene on my lap. I tell Yolander of my solitary time in the toilet and my anguish at turning forty, not daring to mention my fear around Dad.

‘You know,’ says Yolander in her steadfast tone of you listen to me or else. ‘You’ve got to get over your fear of dying young.’

I freeze. I haven’t told a soul. I’m not sure for how long I don’t move but I’m sure my blood stops pulsing through me.

‘You there, Sade?’ Yolander asks.

‘Yes,’ I reply. My eyes follow Eugene as he walks to play with his trucks on the floor. ‘How did you know?’

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