Thinking Out Loud

December 29, 2017

Happy New Year!

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

This is the fourth of the four stories we’re presented over the Christmas season; two by myself and two by my wife.

by Ruth Wilkinson

At 10 minutes to midnight, Meg was sitting in the most strategic place she could find. On the couch in front of the TV, wedged between the armrest and an extremely affectionate couple. She hoped she was inaccessible, having spent the evening dodging the optimistic Ed, a friend of Joyce’s from work who Meg had heard quite enough about over the last couple of weeks.

‘You’d really like him,’ she thought. Ug.

Joyce had invited them both to her New Year’s Eve party, and Ed had decided, after a couple of martinis, that he did indeed like Meg. And with midnight looming, she wasn’t going to be in kissing range. Not that there was anything wrong with Ed, she just didn’t appreciate being set up and wasn’t going to play. As long as the affectionate couple stayed affectionate, she figured she could relax.

She balanced her drink on the armrest, laid back against the cushion. And yawned. She realized how tired she was.

The TV was set to Times Square. It looked like so much fun. She’d love to go, just once. But it was still on the to do list. Like a lot of things.

Like most of last year’s resolutions. She was going to exercise and eat better (including more chocolate) and call her mother more often and go to church more often and read more books and fewer magazines and and and. Most of which were on this year’s list of resolutions as well.

Next year was looking hopeful. Like a new job, maybe. Steadier hours, better money and more interesting, too. She had a good shot. She and Tony had achieved some kind of detente, which took the edge off a lot of things. Shane was doing well in school and wanted to be a vet. And, if she did say so herself, he was a nice kid. A likeable young man.

And, this party notwithstanding, she might be ready for a social life again. She’d see. No rush.

Because for now, here she was standing in Times Square with thousands of cheering people, wearing her favourite sombrero. She looked beside her and there was Mahatma Gandhi. He smiled at her and said something she couldn’t make out. She shouted, “What?”

The affectionate couple jumped and she woke up.

She smiled a bit, said “Sorry.” In the corner of her eye she saw Ed carrying two glasses of champagne looking for someone.

One minute to midnight, people were gathering around the TV. She fixed her eyes on the screen as the ball started to drop. 10 – 9 – 8 – 7…

•••

At 10 minutes to midnight, Tony surrendered. Shane had won. He’d just eaten his second scoop of the most painfully hot, the most searing, sinus mining salsa his son had ever made and just couldn’t manage a third. His cheeks were burning, there was sweat on his forehead and chin and nose and his tongue was on fire. He coughed and sniffed and waved across the table at Shane who laughed and downed another scoop.

It was almost not funny. Almost.

They’d just turned the TV to Dick Clark in Times Square. They’d watched movies all evening. A Matrix marathon. Shane had them memorized. This was Tony’s first time. They were pretty good. They’d invited Walt to join them, but he’d had other plans. Just as well, Tony figured. He probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Too much fighting.

Tony liked the idea about red pills and blue pills. You take a red pill and wake up in a reality you didn’t know existed, but it was more alive, more true than the one you kept living in if you took the blue pill. Blue pill — same old. Red pill — who knew?

Shane asked his dad which he’d take. Tony thought about it. The red pill had its appeal — adventure, a fresh start, the chance to be a hero. But —

He asked, “If I take the red pill, will you still be there?”

Shane frowned, “I don’t know. Maybe if I took one too?”

Hm. Tony thought for a second and then said, “Nah. Too risky. Blue.”

Shane told him he was boring, but he smiled. Tony thought he’d given the right answer.

One minute to midnight Tony poured them each a glass of sparkling grape juice. The ball was starting to drop. They toasted each other and shouted “10 – 9 – 8 – 7…”

•••

At 10 minutes to midnight, Walt was in bed with a cup of cocoa, the new James Bond novel and a plate of shortbread cookies Meg had given him Christmas Eve, baked by herself and Shane. Made with real butter.

Perfect.

The TV was on. Times Square looked crowded and noisy and glaring. He’d rather be where he was, with warm toes and his thoughts.

The boys had invited him to come watch movies, but he’d said no thanks. He’d already seen The Matrix three times. Loved it, but not tonight. Plus, he knew what Shane put in that salsa and there was just no way.

But mostly, he needed to face this one alone.

Last New Year’s Eve, he’d fallen asleep with the TV on and Esther beside him. She woke him up for the ball drop and kissed him and said, “Here we go again.” He replied, “Here we go again.”

They’d had over half a century of new years together. It was so strange for her to not be here. So wrong.

He put away the book and reached for her picture on the bedside table. His favourite picture. Those blue eyes and silver hair and the wrinkles at the corner of her eyes. She would have been a wonderful grandma. A wonderful mom.

He wondered what she was doing right now. Not watching Dick Clark, anyway. Too bad. She’d liked Dick Clark. He used to tease her about having a crush on him. She’d say, “Don’t be stupid” but Walt knew it was true. For a while, anyway.

He looked at the TV and raised his mug. “But she loved me, Mr. Clark. She loved me.”

Oh, God, he missed her. Just knowing she was there. That she was who she was.

He envied her. He’d always hoped he’d go first. Selfish, yes.

He’d never dreaded the new year before. This was the first one. But he really did. Another year of worrying about what the doctor might say, of taking that stupid cane everywhere, of trying not to be a burden to people who weren’t even family. Good people, but they didn’t owe him anything. Another year of being old and tired and alone and, if he was honest, angry. At the world that he was stuck in and the God who left him there.

One minute to midnight. He took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes shut and with his throat tight and his voice shaking, he said, “Jesus, you know I love you, you know I don’t complain much. But I don’t know if I want to be sitting here a year from now just the same, only worse. I’m not doing anybody any good. I’m not accomplishing anything like this. I don’t want to be… Blast, I don’t know what I want. You better know what you’re doing.”

The ball was dropping. …7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1

He raised his cup again. And took a solemn sip.

On the screen Dick Clark gave his wife a kiss. Walt sighed, whispered, “Here we go again.”

He turned off the TV and the light and settled down to sleep.

The phone rang.

“Hello?”

A horn blasted in his ear and Shane’s voice, “HAPPY NEW YEEAAAR! Happy New Year, Walt!”

He had to laugh, “Happy New Year, Shane. And to your Dad, too.”

Tony shouted, “Happy New Year, Walt!” and blew his horn again.

Walt laughed again in the dark and said, “Go to bed, already.”

Shane said, “‘Night, Walt. Hey…”

“Yes?”

“I love you, you know.”

It took Walt an extra second or two to say, “I love you too. Good night, my boy.”

He set down the phone, lay silent for a moment and said to the darkness, “You think you’re so smart.”

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