The International Writers Magazine: A Solo New Year
So I sat there on my time and a half minutes. I sat in garish light and cool colours waiting for the night to end and the year to begin. It was misery, but there was nothing else to do. I thought to myself, I thought, that if I were to be doing nothing on this night when everyone does something, that I might as well be paid for it. And my little strings of hope that told me I would be appreciated for this in the long run had not yet been gurgled down by festive cynicism.
Yeah, so what I was alone. Not everybody had the thrill of a jazz mag hidden under his paranoid little desk that night. Not just anyone could knock one out and chase the thrill of moving just so, so that the CCTV couldn’t catch them, not that night. And no one else, or very few other people had the smug knowledge that they had wiped their own winding evidence over the kit kats they would later serve to the stoners who thought it was dead funny to ask for “reality” in the deathly birth cries of the New Year. No one else had my seat and no one else wanted it. I just had to find ways to make myself feel better.
It wasn’t that I had no friends, I guess. It was that I hated all of them. And I felt my fingers growing thinner every day and somehow this made me not want to be seen in a social situation. You won’t understand. You’re not all like me. You wouldn’t give up the chimes and the flares and the foghorns for a caked little window with a grille, now would you? I would. I didn’t want it anymore. I was nauseous with tradition. I’d had it crawling all over me for the last ten days. I’d been paralysed pissed all over the holiday season, alone, with people, alone with people and so on and so on. I loved, I hated, I felt used, vindicated. I was lover extraordinaire, I was wishing I was dead. Christmas as usual.
So, how did it start, that night when you were vomiting in to the party hat offence and drooling on the one you wanted for 364 days before? For me, it started with a “thank you”. Most New Year’s end with “thank you”.
1. “Thank you, Mr Taxi Driver…ahahahahahaha”
2. “Thank you for taking me home”
3. “Thank you for letting me take you home”
4. “Thank you for holding my hair”
5. “Thank you, but no Thank you
You recognise all of the above. I know you do. But mine started with “Thank you”. Mr Tinhat of Fool Street gave me the keys, all of the bellowing keys spooled in to my hand and said “Thank you” as he left the forecourt. He even turned and waved and mouthed it as he got in to his car and pleasantly pissed off. His garage it was. He knew he’d get some local chimp to serve his crap throughout the night and I was that gormless body. No petrol of course. Who’d be driving? But those cute little muffins wearing nothing in the bitter winds of the south coast would stagger across the open light to get their fags at my hatch. There was a pub just across the road. They’d wander up from there. He knew they would. And he’d give me just a little extra cash and I wasn’t doing anything anyway. He knew that too.
So, “Thank you” was how it began. And nothing happened for an hour. Except my quasi-expensive self-abuse that shimmied me up to nine o’clock. Then there was some noise across the road. I hovered myself in to the corner of the hatch pressing my right eye to the metal slats and chewing some vinegary crisps. There was a fight happening. Excellent. Now whoever said that working on a night like this would be boring huh? Some shorn meatburger was just shoving a smaller guy. Now why do they do that? They never seem to punch do they? Just do a lot of enthusiastic shoving and shouting of course. I heard many “YEAH? YEAH? YEAHS?” and I felt my nose grow cold and start stinging as I pushed my face harder to the view. Then the mother of all things. The little guy in his happy basket of abuse leapt and smacked the guy down. Beautifully done and I heard myself applaud and whistle. I could even make out a black peacock feather sprayed on to the wall of the boozer and could just about hear the wet cackle as the ape hit the ground. If nothing else happened on that night, I could have always just been happy about that.
The little guy was suddenly guilty of a lot of cuff straightening and I had to look away, realising that gobbets of crisp were lodged in the grille. Initially making me pissed that I would have to clean the bloody thing, and I then realised, I would have to clean the bloody thing. Give me something to do. So, woollenly intoxicated by my recent sight, I unwrapped a brand new, pink toothbrush from the shelf and gave the old girl a good going over. She came back black and I realised Mr Cracknut would bollock me the next for this little indiscretion. I hid the toothbrush in my solemn backpack along with the rumpled girl-littered pages and half a bag of maltesers.
We had a little stereo in the kiosk and it was only when I looked at it on the shelf that I knew the silence. It was easy to turn it on. So I did. And there was noise. Noise like you don’t want to hear. Not like a man’s head cracking on a newsprint pavement. But I kept it. Maybe the tradition of noise was wanting to reclaim my sad act night. There were girls singing on the radio about someone they loved. There were at least five girls singing and I wondered if they all loved the same person or if they all loved each other. That thought kept me going until the end of the bile-swelling song. And then I heard a man’s voice telling me I only had two and a half hours to go. I thought about how he would know that. I thought if he really knew I only had two and half hours left, that he would come and see me. Then there were some sleighbells.
“Ching, ching, ching-ching” I sang to them as I ferreted a Christmas hat out from the box under the desk and dumped it on my stupid head.
“La la-la la la ho ho ho” I sang swaying my head towards the window to see if could see any more. There were blue lights now and the little guy was looking so smug that his protesting of innocence was something of a pointless process. I thought he caught my eye for a second. And for an even briefer time as they shoehorned his arms in to manacles, I thought I saw a wink. And I winked back.
Ten o’clock. I wished the night would go faster and I wished I had a customer. I felt even more useless without customers than I would sitting in the back of a bar hiding from the girls and drinking to smother my inadequacies. I tapped my skinny, god they were skinny fingers and sung to The Big O on the radio, laced up by his voice. Now there was a man who must have known love. Could you sing like that without love and purpose? It was my excuse anyway. Never try anything creative unless you have love and purpose. That was my motto. And it sucked. Because I had neither and I had no creativity and no inclination. But damnnit, I had chocolate in all its many colours balanced all around me. I had enough fags to line the walls of the fallout shelter, although I hope you realise that you cant smoke in a petrol station so you should feel even sorrier for me now.
Then, the first one came and it was a man. He was one of the goons who gathered underneath the heady mixture of violence and scotch to watch the main attraction .
He came over to the window, tripping over his own floppy shoes and scratching his eyeball. I braced myself expectantly and even gave myself a smile….my first seasonal gift. Now I wasn’t that young, but..
“All right, Son. ‘Ow’s it going?” Molecular man said to me. I just looked at him. My eyes were grey and confused people. Pissed people were a popular target. He tried again.
“Mush, ‘ow are you?”
“What can I do for you this evening, Sir?”
“Silk Cut, if you have them.”
Course I had them. I think the “sir” confused him more than my eyes did. Plus I’m not sure he knew if I was a boy or a girl. Oh he did call me “Son”, didn’t he? Yes, he knew. And Silk Cut, Jesus. If you are going to give yourself leg amputations and death masks, do it with some class for fuck’s sake. Or just go to Leeds.
I fingered some mushy air sticks off the rack for him and asked for the money. Quite a lot of money as it happens. Do you think we just rip you guys off for juice? Or charging you to go the cesspool we call the gents? He whistled at the mention of lowly pounds and pence and started slowly, very slowly to clamber through his coat. As he did so, he changed the topic from that of coin.
“D’you see that over there? Did you?”
“Bugger me, never saw that one comin’. I fought I’d see that midget take a pasting…..one, two, two-fifty….so you know obviously, you gotta go look aintcha? Human Natcha.”
I wondered what he could possibly know about human natcha. But he seemed to. Maybe his bluesy eyes knew the secrets of life and death whilst I was walled up in cans of overpriced fizzy belch cans.
“Did they arrest him?” I asked casually, knowing the wink and the answer.
“They took ‘im away.”
He had piled some change and bus tickets on to the counter and some of it was wet. I found myself looking at the sky which was fuzzy with unfortunate cloud.
“So, this is a bit shit, innit?” He looked at me with some degree of sopping clarity.
“What is? The Mi-, the bloke being arrested?”
“No, you, YOU!” He gibbered a finger at my slatted face just in case I didn’t know who he meant. “You’re doing err…this”
“Yeh, what the chuff is that all about.” It wasn’t a question. “Tell you if I was your boss, you’d be over the pub with us. Tell me where he is and I’ll tell ‘im”
“He’s at home, I think” I said hoisting an eyebrow and looking my most macho sophisticated whilst accepting globulous payment from a piss artist. There was a seashell in the handful he gave me, but I didn’t mention it. The right money was there at least. On receiving his cigarettes, he seemed to forget my plight and wandered away, meandering in the thunderous end. Although I thought I heard him say as he shook his head..
“Tell you, if I was ‘is boss”. And I watched him go as he seemed to dive horizontally back in to the pub.
I spent the next half hour counting how many girls had gone in to the pub wearing pink. Why do they all wear pink on New Year? As if you are going to forget they are girls when their boobs are pushed to breaking point in to the air. They all went for the cutesy thing on that night. I wished that I found them interesting. I wished I had something in common with them. But cutesy, sweet and darling was nowhere near what I wanted out of, well anything really. I’m not sure I wanted anything out of anything. Oh yes, love and purpose and we are back to that so soon are we? I think I was getting philosophical. You can’t help it when Tommy Boytoy is raving in your ear about making next year a great one and kissing that special someone at midnight. I wanted to switch the radio off, but I knew it would mean making noise myself and my throat was hurting from not smoking. I left it on.
And then, salavation. A customer. I know, another one. And it was only ten to eleven now. Ten to ten to ten to, my mind clicked with her heels as she arms-folded skittered in to my kingdom. Covered in fluff and spangles and lipgloss and not that drunk and not that eighteen either. And hallo, princess, I’m sure Daddy got you a pony. I giggled to myself and shook my head at the impropriety. I could see them coming from so far away. So very far away and they always went back there.
“Sumfing funnay?” The child whinnied at me.
“How can I help you?” My tone was bore hummish, but I was looking. Human natcha innit?
“I need a big bag of sweets, we’re playin’ pass the juicy fruit”
Now what does one say to that?
“Ok, anything specific?”
“Spasss? What? Just anything, as long as it’s big enough to pass around.”
Oh yeh? And how do 17-year-old girls get to do innuendoes these days? In my day, which was only 7 or 8 years ago, they just giggled and sat in the corner, much like me. I’m sure once upon a time I was romantic and tousled. Now I’m just sour like the crappy sweets I plan on giving this nauseating bloomer. That’ll make her nice and unpopular with the other kids.
“Here we are.” I said and splashed a big bag of suck your face in sugars at her. She touched my fingers as she fingered the plastic bag away from me.
“Hmm,” she turned the bag over in her underaged hands and I knew she had taken no notice of what they were. She handed me a whole pound. “Aren’t your fingers thin?” She said, turning in a swish of bouncy hair and sparkles, not waiting for her change.
Yeh, look, I thought, raising the middle one at her as she trotted off across the road. Alcopops are the work of the devil. Or the dirty old man. It’s hard not to look. It’s just, you know, some of us have the good minty fresh grace not to touch and if we do, then we apologise like giants who trod on the model village. And touching with skinny fingers, well, who even knows you’ve done it?
It was coming now. That moment that everyone all over the world waits for. Even though it happens at different times as you pop countries. There could have been so much beauty in the world right at that moment and people were choosing to gather in sweaty bands on the street in open skips poking each other to remember the words of some song that pre-dates the alcopop. What do they really care about, these people? Are they wanting to bond? Are they hoping to make the crash that will enable them to live through the rest of the year? I have never known. It’s not just another date like some people say. It isn’t. There is something special that happens. And I know that even from my pit of jade. You know, you could feel lonely on New Year, but think of me. I’m the loneliest of the lonely. Not even The Big O can touch me.
But I’m still living and that night I was still working. I saw the shivers eeking themselves out on to the street in front of the pub, glowing slugs in their trembling hands. And I saw couples together. Families even. It was gruesome. I told myself that I was jealous and confused. I think I was. It was so cold and I kicked my fan heater to blast and stared dully at them all as they smiled and froze. I looked at the lit and empty station with its pumps standing advertising. I looked at the little criss cross barriers that blocked cars from coming in, but like I say, who would be driving right? I looked at the barriers and I realised I had put them there and that I had done that every day for many years of my life and I looked back to the green glow of happiness holding itself together and holding each others hands.
I always saw them coming, but I didn’t see her. I heard someone yell “TEN!” and I realised that I was not alone. She was there in a big wholesome coat and startled hair. She looked at me through the grille and I looked back at her.
Then they all yelled “NINE!”
I had always thought and mused and self-sympathised on myself being the loneliest person in the whole world and when I saw a huddled heap of woman standing at my window, I knew I had elevated myself to a level I could not possibly attain whilst this person existed. She had grey eyes too and they were beaten and broken and collapsed.
“EIGHT!” It was louder now and they were almost screaming. There was laughter in there too. Why did they have to be so frickin' happy? Why couldn’t they all just go and live in Narnia? I could hear them wheedling away at the big night, but I didn’t see them anymore. She stood in the way. And she was holding herself like all the other girls did, her arms wrapped right around herself in the big coat, but at least they had the right to be cold in their Winter bikinis.
I couldn’t even ask what she wanted.
“SEVEN!” There was so much urgency now, I could feel them wanting to yell about six before a second had elapsed. So much tinsel pleasure. So much plastic joy. So much love and purpose. No it wasn’t love and purpose. That over there that I had avoided for so many years could not be the thing I was wanting. It just couldn’t be. I still stared back at this girl and I knew my mouth had fallen embarrassingly open. If all the stoners in all the world had come and asked me for “reality” at that moment, I could have given them her. There was reality like a wet leaf in the middle of Bing Crosby’s whites.
“SIX!” Someone had gotten carried away and shouted five at this point. And someone had dropped their trousers. I knew this because I could hear the aching screams of the old dear who celebrated with sherry.
I still looked at her and watched her fall apart on the forecourt. It was a dreadful physical sensation. I hadn’t felt the open wetness of the man splitting his head or felt the fumes off the money counting drunkard or joined in the excitement of a little girl and the impending craze of her first beardy kiss. But I felt this girl and she felt me, through a grille, through midnight.
“FIVE!” Some people had stopped shouting and started kissing. And at this point, the lonely girl put her gloved hand flat on the window next to my face. And I saw quartz in her paintless face. Time ticking by, all life not flashing, sidling away.
“FOUR!” They were too excited by now and the numbers were coming quicker and quicker and quicker and I didn’t know what was going on.
“THREE!” I felt tickers stream and unspool in my head and glasses chink and unbearable noise, always this unbearable noise and just her hand flat on the window. Her bottom lip was shaking and looked like it had been bitten.
“TWO!” Two.Why always this number? Like being two people will help you get through life. Or a moment. Or a midnight.
“ONE!” HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” And they all screamed like breakage.
Her hand was still on the window and she breathed so that the glass steamed up. Her other hand rabidly hit it a second later undoing her breath. She smeared away the fog and looked at me again.
“I wanted,” She said through the grille “To speak to someone at midnight.”
I didn’t speak. I just looked.
She took her gloves off and slid them under the window to me.
“Love and purpose,” she said. “Hide your hands”.
And she went away. Her hair didn’t bounce. It sagged with her dragging heart and she was gone and I didn’t know in which direction.
© Tessa Foley December 2010
Tessa Foley MA is a writer living in the eternal glamour of Portsmouth
Golf Ball Head
I'm only my mother's girl right now. I stretch and yawn and I'm patted every morning and I grow a little more eyelid every day. It took more than my mother to make me. It took more than her hostessing skills and my father's casual donations to make me and I know this because I can hear her talking.
More Life Moments