“Happy birthday,” he said gently over breakfast.

She was 35 today – and in a very bad mood. “I didn’t have the time to buy you a present,” he had said at dinner the previous night, as if preempting disappointment beforehand would lessen the impact of the news. If anything, it made it worse. Idiotic copout.

He hadn’t understood her look. “I really didn’t,” he tried again, reasonably. “You know that. I came home straight from work every day, and I had to…” She hadn’t bothered to reply. Another quarrel would have begun, and she didn’t feel like engaging even in a fight.

Now she started to fume inwardly again. No time. What a fucking lousy excuse for a guy who worked regular office hours, was not the default parent for their children, and spent much of his spare time – even while sitting on the toilet – reading the news on his mobile phone and updating his Facebook and Instagram accounts. What a fucking lousy excuse, regardless of anything. Why, at the peak of her work responsibilities and in between juggling all the child-minding and household chores, she had found him a good gift for Christmas. He had said then, sheepishly, that he would make up for it on their anniversary, but she had been fine about it. They hadn’t made it customary to exchange gifts for Christmas in the first place, and it had been just a nice, impromptu gesture on her part. And for what, she thought bitterly. You just ruin my mornings!

“I will buy you two presents,” he was now saying.

Men are so stupid, I don’t believe it. She wished he’d just leave for work. She had an hour before the children woke, and she wanted to claim the privacy that hour promised.

She thought about the Facebook friends whose partners publicly celebrated their birthdays each year without fail, posting photographs of their Dian Xiao Er or Din Tai Fung family dinner online. So sweet, she would privately think, not a little enviously, even though she always said she disdained public shows of love.

She continued staring into her screen when he left the room quietly. She knew that at the door to the apartment, he would tap on the screen of his Samsung Note 2 for a last time before stepping out, to see if any new text or email messages had arrived.

She clicked on the refresh.

Jocelyn Lau has recently published 50 Metres: Our Swimming Pools, an illustrated book featuring public swimming pools in Singapore. Earlier in the year, she put out two collections of parenting haiku: Hey There, Tot! and Excursion to HortPark (see

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