New Year’s Eve

Kay was alone and happy for it. With all the fuss of Christmas, the goings-out and the comings-in she’d had her fill of people for a while. The silence in the house was comforting.

Early in the morning she had awoken with thoughts crowding away her sleep. It was about mother’s Estate and how Otto felt it should be finalized. Kay and Otto had been at loggerheads to the point of Kay being threatened with a challenge in court over the accounts; and now the two of them were sparring over a compromise that would help them resolve the issues. How she had started her day with this invasive garbage, she didn’t know. She must have been dreaming of it, sorting it out in jumbled illogical slumber. The instant her eyes opened, however, she had somehow clarified her thoughts  and before reaching for her coffee, she was sitting at the computer writing herself some notes to rebuff his specious arguments before she could forget them.

Before long, the phone rang with Heather proposing a meeting of all beneficiaries in January with an arbitrator. Everyone had waited too long. The business had to be resolved.

Kay hung up the phone and it rang again before her fingers had left the receiver.  It was Lizbet. She only had five minutes before she left for work but wanted to add her two cents worth. Kay ran her early morning list of thoughts past Lizbet, then inconclusively, Lizbet had to run.

Was this her New Year’s disaster? For so many years, Kay had experienced some kind of disastrous or disappointing event to the point where, forever thereafter,  she would no long plan anything for New Year’s Eve. It was a jinxed night. If Kay laid low, then she could scramble under the disaster radar and come out relatively well for the dawning of the New Year.

There had been the night when her favourite beau had invited her to a frat party at the Beta Phi house on campus. An hour after his appointed time of arrival, Kay was still pacing the hallway dressed in her cut velvet party dress, hair perfectly coiffed with a saucy upturn looking beautiful like a blond Jacqueline Kennedy clone. The phone rang and she pounced upon it. It was her brother Otto.

“David’s already here, if you’re waiting for him,”  he announced. “He’s got a date with him. But Phil is here and he hasn’t got a date. Why don’t you just get a cab and come out here. It’s a great party!” he added.

Where had she gone wrong? Kay asked herself. David had been very clear that he would pick her up at eight. Kay demurred to Otto’s suggestion It would look like she was checking up on David or chasing him. Phil didn’t even know who she was. Why would he want to be with her? She was hurt and unhappy about the turn of events. She didn’t want to go.

Kay returned to her parents and explained what had happened, and that was the end of that. She sulkily went to her room and got out her pyjamas, put the party dress away and picked up Atlas Shrugged and read. It was a better companion for an evening, anyway, she consoled herself as her mind turned over and over her conversation with Otto and the perfidy of David. By midnight, the book fell from her hands and she was fast asleep.

She had only  been nineteen then. But year after year, New Year’s Eve party after New Year’s Eve party, there had always been something. There was the night that her date had dug his car into a snow bank and she had found herself in high heels and short dress, freezing, while  pushing the car back onto the road with the assistance of four other people. She was sopped, trembling with cold,  and the heel on her brand new shoes had snapped.

There was the New Year’s night that her date got so drunk he couldn’t drive her home and some leering fool did. She had had to shove with all her might, this Mr. Octopus and his lecherous attentions, to prevent him from coming in the front door.

There was  the snowbound New Year’s night where everyone had been dancing in stocking feet and someone took her boots by mistake. The pair that was left was too small for her to walk in and she had to go home  through a foot deep of slushy snow melt in dancing slippers. Kay had begun to refuse invitations for New Year’s Eve.

In her young married years, she began to invite people in. That seemed to help, but there were even some of those, with all the preparations made, that no one came, usually the fault of a nasty winter storm of snow or a deluge of Wet Coast rain.

Kay remembered the years she was travelling and studying abroad. She’d been invited by a young student to visit her parent’s home in Leeds and she did. The parents were lovely, middle class working people – both of them. The daughter, Alison, was eighteen and just beginning to run with a rather rough crowd.  Her mother had been happy to have Kay go with Alison to her New Year’s Eve party. She hoped that Kay would bring a stabilizing influence to Alison. Alison would be responsible for a guest’s happiness, she reasoned, and Kay would have enough sense to bring Alison out of a difficult situation if one arose.

The party took place in a three storey walk-up in a rough part of town. There were a hundred teen and twenty-somethings trying to party in the top floor apartment which was unheated and unlit. Joints and pills were being passed from one reveller to another. The house had no indoor bathroom; the loo was located underneath the front porch and the young men had no intention of going down there to relieve themselves and so were pissing in the kitchen sink instead.The trip down to the front steps was encumbered by people lolling on the stairs, or wrapped around each other with no perceivable space between them from top to bottom, leaning on the walls, hindering passage. Kay’s only thought was of escaping this Hieronymous Bosch hell, but Alison who had promised her mother not to drink was imbibing not only quantities of ale but adding chemicals to the mix.

There was no food and poor Kay was allergic to ale. The only alternative was  tap water, but that seemed out of the question, given the most recent use of the kitchen facility as urinal.

The lights were dim. The music, crashingly loud, was a blessing and a curse. It was impossible to talk to anyone (and therein the blessing)  but the noise was deafening – and boringly repetitive. At midnight, a roar of cheering went up. Kay tugged at Alison and inquired directly into her ear when they might consider going home. Alison shrugged. The fellow who was to drive was nowhere in sight.

“Let’s go!”  Kay had suggested again  just after midnight. She was completely bored. She thought back to Alison’s mother. What iota of a difference could she make to the situation she and Alison were in? She wasn’t in control of transportation; there was no way to phone for a cab; she had no idea where she was. And Alison? Kay had not a whit of influence on her.

“Can’t. Can’t find Nigel. He’s got the car.” said Alison with a little slur.

“Let’s go!” Kay pleaded, at one.

“Haven’t seen Nigel, ” stated Alison unsteadily.

“Please let’s go”,  insisted Kay at one-thirty.

“I think I saw Nigel. Stay here; I’ll be back,” said Alison, and she went off, squeezing her way through gyrating dancers and clumps people yelling to talk to each other, to find Nigel.

Alison reappeared at two.  “Where’s Nigel?” shouted Kay.

“Hurry. He’s waiting for us down stairs and he’s impatient.” Alison sounded none to pleased. “We’re to meet him at the front steps. We have to take some other people home on the way.”

There were five bodies crammed into his little car on the way home, women doubling up on the men’s laps, the car was so small. It was fortunate that the streets were empty as they erratically hurtled through the streets to destination.

When Kay and Alison crept into the house, it was three.

“Don’t tell my mom anything about the party, ” Alison pleaded in a whispering voice as we went in the front door.

“Did you enjoy your party last night?” her Mom asked next morning.

“Lovely party,” said Kay without enthusiasm ” but I think we stayed too late. I’m getting too old for such late nights. Loud music. Too much dancing.”

Benignly, her mother thought back to slow waltzes and the crooning music of the just-after-war years. She imagined the pretty dresses and the decorated church halls where they took place.  A flash image of her husband in smart, clean military uniform passed before her eyes.

“I could see that you were older, ” her Mom said. “You might look young, but once you open your mouth, you can tell you are more experienced, level headed ….”

Kay was thirty looking an innocent twenty, and felt anything but level headed.

She was thirty six in Rheims on the New Year’s Eve that Kay and Frank had planned a party for the two Parisian women they had met at the Fair at the Porte de Montreuil in November.  Frank, in his usual culinary exuberance, had splurged on lobster and steak for this celebratory night and stocked a variety of finest wines. Four blue spotted lobsters with fat red rubber bands on their claws were ineffectually duking it out amongst themselves in a cardboard box in the cold passageway between the house and the inner courtyard. Frank and Kay were chopping garlic and parsley for a butter sauce. The salad was prepared and sitting on the small round drop leaf table. It was set for four with polished silver and the best plates. A special patisserie dessert was in the oven.

At nine o’clock, no one had come but the cook was well past the first bottle of red. At ten, no one had come and bottle number two was dead. Kay and Frank had began to worry. What had happened to the women? Like many homes in France, Frank and Kay had no telephone. Even if there was one, if the women were en route from Paris, there was no way to phone them.  Had they had an accident? Had it been too stormy to start out? Or had they not taken the invitation seriously?  It had been spontaneously given. Had they found something else to do? Had they reconsidered?

Daniel, a work colleague,  rang the doorbell uninvited at eleven and was dragging his son,  an unwilling and sleepy ten year old, behind him. Daniel was a taciturn teacher, single parent, always spreading doom and gloom. His uncommunicative son was absorbed in a new toy, a hand held game that he had received for Christmas.

Frank was so glad to have someone cross the threshold that he asked Daniel to share the feast. Bottle number three was uncorked. The lobsters were dropped into the vat of boiling water and they mutated from blue to brilliant red.   The meal had not been wasted, but the evening had spoiled. At five past midnight, Frank chased Mr. Gloom-and-doom  and his son out the front door and Kay and he headed for bed.

In February, an apology came by mail. Anna had borrowed her father’s car and it had broken down. There had been  no way to call and no other way to get to Frank and Kay’s. They had spent their evening out in the freezing rain trying to hitch back to Paris to get help for their stranded car.

At Kay’s  forty fifth New Year, on a quiet evening at home now back in Canada, Kay and Frank had invited Janice to share a midnight meal. The food sat prepared for the late night repast while the three of them took the bus into Vancouver to participate in First Night, the City’s free entertainment and fireworks.

They had hardly been there an hour when Janice had become ill and all three had to return home. By eleven they were there packing Janice into her own car and she left. The cold meal shared by two had lost its flavour. The bottle of Champ. remained unopened. What was the point? Frank downed a tall glass of red and went to bed. Kay stood outside on the balcony overlooking the city watching the fireworks rise out of Coal Harbour until the last magnificent one fizzled and faded into nothing. Just like this New Year’s Eve, thought Kay, focusing on the dribbles of colour falling towards the black, cold  waters of the bay.

After her divorce and after Kay had agreed to assist her mother by living in the same house, Kay spent each New Year’s Eve with her mother, watching Lawrence Welk and his Bubbly machine. The gas fire place was lit. A card table was set up before the fire and the  Times Square count down droned on the television.

The table was set with embroidered linen and the high-days silverware, the Lavender Rose china, and a tiny repast to see in the midnight hour. At five minutes to, Kay and her mother would sit at the table, serve a half sandwich without crusts and  a sweet to each plate, pour a glass of sparkling ginger ale, and toast to the New Year. For each of twelve years, her mother related how her father had died just two weeks before her wedding, but everything had been arranged and so many people had been invited. Grandmother had insisted that they carry on bravely.  It was not only New Year’s Eve, it was Mother’s wedding anniversary and a  reminiscence of husband and father long gone. At least that had been lovely and quiet; and nothing bad had happened.

And now Kay was alone, on New Year’s Eve 2008, happy to be home. Happy to be unwinding the lights of the Christmas tree. Happy to be packing the baubles and tinsel. Happy to be drinking a fine cup of coffee and eating some warm leftover apple crumble with ice cream. Happy to have laid the morning’s distress to rest for the day, determined not to let it intrude on what should be a day of celebration.

Here was Kay, happy to see the last Royal Air Farce on the telly. Happy to read a little, write a little, and above all, stay home, quiet with her thoughts, listening to a Sibelius and Rachmaninoff.

Midnight came and Kay studiously did nothing to mark the passage. At fifteen past, she heated a cup of tea and selected two shortbread from the box of Christmas baking and smiled.

Outside, she could hear firecrackers and fireworks. Some noisy passers-by were still calling one to the other as they walked down Twenty-seventh Street.

Just one more year. She had sneaked under the radar before anything could befall, and she had safely made passage into the New Year.


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8 Responses to “New Year’s Eve”

  1. Chris Miller Says:

    What snake-bit day! (at least, as far as you’re concerned) I’ve always been such a nerd — it never occurred to me to do anything special — though today, I’m still recovering from my annual New Year’s Day Drawing Marathon that I host at the art club.

    12 hours of life-drawing — with occasional retreats to the kitchen to stir the pots of soup and chili. Lots of fun — and totally exhausting — it will take me about 5 days to recover. Here’s some pictures from this year’s event — where due to overbooking — we had two sets of pair models. Wow!


    Chris, Your marathon Drawing session sounds like so much fun. Mind if I steal the idea?
    Yes, New Year’s Eve seems to be my Nemesis, but knowing that, if I just lay low I can make it over the time line and everything shall be good this year. I feel it in my bones!
    Happy New Year to you.

  3. lbtowers Says:

    I loved the description of the “Hieronymous Bosch hell”. That said it all!! Very funny. I’ve been to a few of those myself in my younger days. Thank GOD those days are over with.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for stopping by. I checked out your web site to see your paintings. Great stuff!

  5. Stephen Says:

    What is it about new-years eve that brings out our yearning for joy? I sometimes sit on the roof in the cool of the night and see the sporadic fireworks and listen to the revellers in our town. Your story carries haunting wisps of tragedy mingled with resolve. Very sad and beautiful. What is your strategy going to be in the future? I loved Chris Miller’s posting with the beautiful drawings. But there is always the midnight hour.

  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for dropping by. I really appreciate your comments.
    New Year’s Eve is a tradition that purports to banish all the sins and troubles of the previous year and wipe the slate clean for the New year coming. A fresh start. So greeting it with joy has been a long standing tradition.
    Your question may have been rhetorical. I may have too much baggage with me, so the perhaps, on that day, I need to sneak past midnight as quietly as possible so that no one will notice. Works for me!
    I watch Chris Miller’s post regularly. He always has some excellent art to share.

  7. wrjones Says:

    Damn – this should be in chapters. I notice it has been a while. Did you use up all your words on this post? Did you find beauty so you could stop looking?

  8. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi WRJ
    I still out there looking for beauty. If you see some hapless creature out seemingly calling for their dog “Beauty! Beauty! Where are you?” It just might be me. (Or else the Beast got there first, and I don’t have a chance…”
    More to come, but perhaps not about New Year’s Eve.
    You might try where I blog a little more often these days, on art related stuff.

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