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Looking for a lighter on my 41st birthday

by Colleen Alles

They listen from the next room as I dig through the kitchen

junk drawer: screws, pens, half a dozen cords that charge God 

only knows what. A rubber band older than Methuselah 

snares my thumb as my husband calls, Hon, you find one?

I’m fishing for a book of matches in this sea of safety pins, 

AAA batteries. Why bother, part of me wonders. Let’s skip 

the candle, the singing, cut the cake already. What’s the point 

of a candle burning barely the length of one song? I tell them 

I’m coming, even though I’m no closer to the light in this rubble 

of everything we needed, everything we need now, everything 

we may need someday. I set aside the unticking watch I bought 

in Dublin, the expired driver’s license wherein I still look thin. 

Here’s the fortune from that one stale cookie that seemed to know 

about my most recent mistake before I did. 41. Halfway there, 

I think. Me. Maybe more. Maybe less. God only knows. The kids

squeal at the table. I know my husband can’t keep their fingertips

from the frosting much longer. I know no one waiting for cake

is asking Why bother? I’m thankful, as I finally spy a Bic beneath 

a book of postage stamps, that all these years, I’ve always been

loved enough to have lighted candles on my birthday—loved

in a way that someone’s always taken a light to the tip of a wick 

without worrying too much over the lifespan of my flame.


Colleen Alles is a native Michigander and award-winning writer living in Grand Rapids. The author of two novels and a collection of poetry, she is also a contributing editor of short fiction for Barren Magazine and obsessed with her hound, Charlie, who is a very good boy. You can find her online at


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