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  • Harlan Yarbrough

Happy birthday

By Harlan Yarbrough

Grayson locked the front and back doors to his house every night, when he remembered. He didn’t fear for his safety, but he had valuable guitars, mandolins, violins, banjos, and even a beautiful Keith Harrison celtic harp in the house and didn’t want want anyone to be able to slip into the house and make off with some or all of them while he slept. Some nights, tired from working late on one project or another, he forgot. In ten years in the valley of the East Fork of the Illinois River, his only losses had come from burglars entering when he was out of the area working, on tour with one or another band or as a solo folksinger.

One Tuesday night, feeling tired but productive after adding four thousand words to a novella in progress, Grayson listened to his friend Robin’s weekly so-called bluegrass show on the local low-power FM station. The two men carried on a long-running but friendly argument about the show: Grayson objected to his friend’s calling it a bluegrass show, when bluegrass music constituted less than a quarter of the music broadcast. Robin liked newgrass and played mostly newgrass recordings on the show along with some commercial country and some oldtime string band music and the occasional but mercifully rare pop music track.

On the evening under consideration, Grayson felt pleased to get to listen to Bill Monroe singing “Muleskinner Blues” followed by Jimmy Martin singing “Chalk Up Another One” and thought, Ah! Real bluegrass, as he flossed and brushed his teeth. He reached out to switch off the radio but drew his hand back as Red Allen’s voice began singing “Someday, My Aching Heart will mend ...” When that song reached its conclusion, Gray again reached toward the switch, only to be interrupted—as if Robin were keeping him awake on purpose—by the sound of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers doing “Windy Mountain”. A newgrass track followed that song, so Grayson finally switched off the radio and tumbled into bed, albeit without remembering to lock either door.

With the memory of Red Allen’s voice running pleasantly through his mind, Grayson began drifting toward slumber but retained enough consciousness to hear a sound from the front of the house. The sound could well have been made by one of the animals native to the valley and the surrounding mountains, but it sounded like the turning of a doorknob and reminded Grayson he had not locked the doors. Before he had time to swing his legs out of bed, a muffled voice called, “Gray, are you awake? I need to talk to you.”

“OK,” he called back, unsure to whom the voice belonged. “I’m in bed, but I’m awake.”

“Good,” said his neighbour Liese, daughter of a couple who lived two properties up the valley on the other side of the road. “That’s perfect.”

The visitor sat beside her host on his bed, laid her torso on top of his, and planted a gentle, lingering kiss on his lips. Grayson emitted a soft moan and then said, “You be careful, girl. You could get me in a whole lot of trouble.”

“I’m not a girl, I’m a woman. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m not going to get you into any trouble.”


“Gray, I love you, and I am not going to let any trouble distress you.”

The situation developed rapidly and naturally from there. The two enjoyed a rapturous night of connubial bliss, repeated clandestinely most nights over the next six weeks. At the end of the sixth week, Liese abandoned secrecy and moved in with Grayson, the day after her eighteenth birthday.


Educated as a scientist, graduated as a mathematician, Harlan Yarbrough has been a full-time professional entertainer most of his life. Repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and town planner among other occupations. Harlan divides his time between Bhutan and Australia. Fifty-three of his eighty short stories have appeared in fifty-nine literary journals in nine countries.

1 Comment

Feb 05, 2023

Nice! A great story, really: nobody gets hurt, and everybody's happy at the end.

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