Sixteen, he thought, testing the flavour of the word on his tongue. I'm another year older today. Folding his arms underneath his head, he gazed unseeingly at the clouds. They were grey shapes frozen against grey sky in that moment before day began, when dreams dripped from each leaf like dew.
"Now make a wish before you blow out the candles," a smiling woman says, standing near the light switch. She looks to be in her mid-thirties, but there are surprisingly few creases etched around her eyes.
Another woman is also present in the darkened room. There are enough similarities between the two that she can only be the mother of the younger woman. She stands behind a boy sitting in his chair and urges him, "Wish!" This, then, must be her grandson.
"I wish," he begins, the candle flames flickering in his pupils.
Both women open their mouths, foreheads creased, but the boy's next proclamation stops them.
"I wish to be happy!" he says in a rush, the words falling from his tongue, tumbling over each other. He grins up at his mother now watching him with her lips pressed together, then twists around, quick as a cat, to face his grandmother.
The younger woman is the first to recover. "Good boy." Her lips stretch. "Now blow out the candles and Nana will take some photos."
The two women meet each other's eyes for a moment, and then his grandmother comes around the chair, turning her back on the younger woman. She faces the boy and smiles.
"That's right. Our Benny is a big boy now."
The boy beams.
The candles are blown out - all six in two bursts of air and saliva that the boy tries to disguise as one. The cake is cut and served. But the words that went unspoken continue to circle on the breath that gave birth to them, round and round the table. If you say your wish out loud...
It was dawn that woke him with prying fingers coloured delicate pink and gold. He hadn't even realised that he had fallen asleep but sure enough, the sun stretched his long arms across the land and rose slowly over the edge of the horizon. Light slid warmly through the grass beside him, over him, and continued past him. The dreams had dried up, leaving only dew threatening to fall from the fragile tips of bowing grass.