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People were gathering, and the buzz of anticipation was almost palpable. I sipped my  champagne and scanned the crowd. I caught someone’s eye and began to smile, but they swiftly  looked away. A quick glance around revealed others furtively watching us too. The surreptitious glances were making me uncomfortable, but Mum didn’t appear to notice. We had been invited to a Mid-Summer party on the Big Field. Mum and I stood together waiting  for James to arrive. It was almost 7pm, he should be here soon. 

The gentle music was hypnotic and floated on the warm breeze, dancing along the white  sparkling fairy lights that wrapped around the marquee. 

It was an unusual melody, one that I had only heard since living here. 

‘Here’ was Evergreen, ‘Twinned with Latrommi, Italy’ the sign had said, a beautiful, small  village deep in the English countryside. All the usual cliches were present, thatched roofs, roses  around doors and Sunday afternoon cricket. I wondered if Latrommi in Italy was as beautiful. 

It took us a while to find the village when we first arrived 3 months ago. The car GPS didn't  pick it up, so we had to use an old paper map and some written directions from the last petrol  station we stopped at. We found ourselves driving down a winding country lane so narrow, it  was hard to believe it led anywhere! Evergreen was a place you wouldn't just stumble across;  you would have to be looking for it. 

After a while, I realized that although it was friendly, it was also tight-knit, and it felt a bit  strange at times. But I could live with that, it was only for 12 months. My secondment for work  would be over by then. 

The night of the party was one of those strange times, but I couldn't fathom why. Behind me, the music picked up tempo, the strange tune becoming quite loud. I looked across the  expanse of lawn. The last-minute dawdlers, silhouetted by the moonlight, were making their way  across the grass towards the marquee. I studied them, hoping to see James. Not sure why, but I  felt I needed some moral support.

As Mum and I waited, my mind began retracing the months  since we had arrived. I wasn't sure we had fitted in as well as I had hoped, but I suppose it was  still early days. People were friendly, and they seemed happy and well. Actually, they seemed  very well. Then it occurred to me; I had never heard one complaint of illness from anyone, no  winter flu, sore hips, or hay fever. And I couldn't remember seeing a doctor’s surgery, or a  dentist anywhere in the village, in fact, all medical facilities were absent. A kiss on my temple  interrupted my thoughts. 

“Hi Babe,” said James. “Happy Birthday Helen.” He kissed Mum’s cheek. “Oh, you made it,” gushed Mum as she linked her arm through his, “Let’s go inside.” We had to present our invites at the marquee door to gain entrance. 

I thought that it was a bit formal for a village party on the lawn. 

I wondered if they usually had trouble with gate crashers. I smiled to myself. The invites themselves were also a bit formal. The occasion was ‘In Honour of Latrommi’. It’s an interesting concept for villages in different countries to be ‘twinned’ or’ paired with’, and  to have a party in their honour was a nice idea I thought. 

Our invite came in the post and included Mum, which was a lovely gesture considering she  was only here for a short visit. Since we had lost Dad, Mum had been lonely. Her 85th birthday  was coming up so I thought I would invite her to spend it with us. Her birthday fell on a Saturday, and I had planned a nice dinner for us in a neighboring village. However, a few days  before, we received the invite. It was for the same Saturday. Mum’s actual birthday. “Do you fancy going?” I asked her. “Or we can just go to dinner as planned if you would prefer.” 

“I think a party would do me good, dear,” she said. “I know it’s not MY party, but we can  celebrate my birthday, nonetheless. I would love to go” 

So, we did. 

The decor inside the marquee was breathtaking, all fresh flowers, sparkling fairy lights, and gold billowing organza. I turned to Mum, “How are you feeling?” 

“Fabulous darling.” She’d gone all Patsy on me! I decided that the champagne had gone to  her head. Her eyes were sparkling as she took it all in. It was so nice to see her happy and full of  life, it had been a long time since she had smiled like that. A few older ladies had approached,  and Mum became immersed in their attention.

She started giggling and really looked like she  was enjoying herself. They all chatted animatedly together and after a few minutes started  walking towards the buffet. Mum turned and gave a little wave as they disappeared off into the  crowd. 

I turned to James. “Wow, this is unusual.” 

There had occasionally been parties like this one, on the Big Field, but we had never been  invited before. I had always been curious as to the reason for the celebrations. He smirked at me. “Maybe we have been here long enough and have shown our worth. I’ll get us a proper drink.” He sidestepped the champagne flutes on a passing tray and headed to  the bar. 

As I found us seats my mind wandered back to my previous thoughts with unease. Everyone seems so healthy, especially the elderly who were particularly spritely. I can’t  remember seeing anyone with walking sticks or other mobility aids. Or even glasses for that  matter. 

“Oh, that reminds me,” James said as he took the seat beside me. “Here’s something you  may find interesting. As I was making my way over here, I took a shortcut through the cemetery,  and I knew it was dark, but the headstones in the graveyard were weird; I’m pretty sure everyone  was 85 when they died. Every single one.” 

I was just about to question him when there was a commotion at the front of the marquee. “Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!” Suddenly everyone started singing and  clapping. I followed the voices and saw Mum up on the stage, dancing, and twirling, being the  center of attention. She must have shared the fact that it was her birthday. Then, almost  immediately, our focus was taken off Mum as an elderly lady noisily plonked herself in the  chair opposite us. 

“It’s my turn next month, I’m 85 next month.” She slurred her words, obviously having  had plenty of champagne. But her eyes looked sad and they glistened with tears. “Oh, congratulations! How are you going to celebrate?” asked James, trying to lift her  spirits. 

“A party! Oh yes, you can be sure there will be a party, just like the one for every 85- year-old. Just like this one for your mum. The last party in everyone’s life.” Then she lowered her voice and whispered “We aren't allowed to live forever you know. It’s  against the rules” I looked at James, puzzled, not quite sure what to say. 

“Oh, this isn't Mum's birthday party, we were just invited…”

She cut me off, “Oh yes, it is, she just doesn't know it” the lady mumbled as she  staggered away. 

Suddenly it hit me, “Oh no! MUM!!!” I began running toward the stage, stumbling over  uneven grass in my high shoes. “Mum!” I yelled, tears blinding me, dread in my gut. James was running behind me. “What’s wrong?!” he panted. As I ran through the crowd,  hands grabbed at me and my clothes, trying to prevent me from reaching the stage. I broke free  just in time to see Mum being bustled through the back curtain. I stood fixed to the ground. It  all made sense. The strange looks, the headstones, the youthfulness, the 85th birthday parties. Latrommi is backwards for Immortal, but we aren't allowed to live forever you know. It’s  against the rules.


I am a registered nurse living in Western Australia. I have always wanted to write and now my kids are grown I'm fulfilling that dream. I am working on my first novel and I am currently undertaking a creative writing course with The Writers Bureau. I have had one flash fiction published on a podcast - 'Alone in a room with invisible people'.


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