New Year’s Eve––you tell yourself––is both the brink and the beginning. You look across at him, at the night spread thin before you like a map, and you begin to see faint ripples of premonition. You follow familiar routes in your head, pathways and exits, shortcuts to the places you always end up.
Isn’t it time yet, you ask him.
Time for what?
I don’t know. Something.
You put your feet up and he turns the music up. You let any inspiration slip past you in the growing darkness. This is how it always is. Drink your wine, wait for the fireworks.
We were here last year, you say, weren’t we?
He shrugs his shoulders. I guess so.
You sigh, and bite down on your lip, creating a strange pain somewhere behind your ears. Your thoughts start to turn inwards: looking back on the year, how things changed but ended up in exactly the same place.
This is nice, you say, isn’t it.
This––just sitting here. With each other.
Yeah, he replies. It’s nice. He takes a gulp from his wine glass, smiling, or maybe grimacing, as he swallows.
You reach out your hand, but it won’t quite reach his. You try to move your chair closer, but it’s too heavy.
Can I sit on your lap?
If you like.
You get up, and he uncrosses his legs, arranging them in a peculiar way: straight and stiff like he’s in a school photo.
Don’t worry about it, you say, if it’s not going to be comfortable.
No, it’s fine. Really.
You sit down, and it’s not comfortable at all. You’re a ventriloquist’s dummy on his lap. You sit with your back to him, slotted together awkwardly like two pieces from different jigsaws. You remember how it used to be easier, nicer––how you could curl up in his arms and look at him, learn him.
He tries to tap his foot to the music, maybe to keep things casual, but it just makes it worse. You get off his lap and return to your chair. Then there’s silence, as his record ends with a little bumping noise.
Do you want some more music on, he asks.
You nearly say yes; you nearly leave the night to a string of albums you both know back to front, songs you don’t have to listen to because they’re already playing out in your head. You can’t remember either of you buying any new music all year.
You say, Why don’t we do something different?
You expect him to say Like what? but he doesn’t. He takes his time, and says, eventually, You don’t like what we’re doing? He looks surprisingly hurt as he says this, and you’re convinced for a moment that what you’re doing is wrong, that maybe tonight is meant to be the same as any other, and maybe it’s not a time for unnecessary celebration. But something makes you say: Let’s go up onto the roof and see the fireworks properly.
Then you realise it. You say: I want to see the fireworks start. I want to see them going up.
But we can see them fine from here. We always have.
It seems like every year we’re out here. All we see is the explosions above the fence.
What else do you want to see?
I want to see them going up. I want to . . . I want to anticipate. I want to not know what’s coming next.
He shakes his head. You’re drunk, he says, smiling. Come and sit on my lap again.
No, you say, I want to go and sit on the roof.
He laughs, which makes you angrier. It’s just one of your passing fads, he says. How about you pick the music?
It’s just that we do the same thing every year and nothing ever changes. Don’t you ever want a little change?
He looks at his watch. It’s about to go midnight, he says. Why don’t you just stay and watch the show with me? And then we’ll talk about things. Okay?
You watch him settle further into his chair, sinking further into a formless cushion of safety and familiarity. You set your wine glass down on the table between your chairs, and you leave him there. You walk through the house, up the stairs, without turning on any lights, to his studio, where you force open the French windows––unopened in God knows how long. You heave at the window until it finally gives way with a puff of dust and paint, and the evening breeze dances past your face. You step out onto the roof, treading and creaking across the rusted tin, the bolts digging into your big toe, the day’s accumulated heat coating your soles with warmth. You walk up to the peak, sweat snaking its way down your back. You lower yourself down to the other side of the roof, your legs sliding down until you’re sitting up, looking at the city skyline. It seems closer from up here, the lights more brilliant; the tall office buildings are shining wafer sheets.
And then the first explosion, the first firework of the New Year. You can see it bubbling low from between the buildings––scores of clattering green flares, sharp and gorgeous. Another set of blue stars umbrellas out soon after, followed by reds and yellows. Against the city lights they live, falling, fading, into a sea of smoke that bulges out luminously from the horizon. And then there’s a noise above you––a deep night-chewing boom––and you swing your head up quickly as the sky explodes in a vast white starburst. It fills all the sky, and it feels as if it’s just for you. You lean forward as the next one goes up, your heart swirling with the smoke spiral as it arcs towards the stars. Just as you think it’s gone too far––just as you think it’s about to topple over––it erupts in a shower of pink sparks, warm hands smoothing down around your head.
You hold your breath and watch the others go up: the high fireworks born into flowers––bright dandelions or weeping lilies; the long dazzling fingers of light that fizz and spit; the low spinning, floating crackers that carpet the air. The best part is the anticipation, the not knowing what’s coming next. The best part is where you are. It’s more than you’ve ever seen from behind the fence, the way you’ve watched it for so long.
And when the show is over, when the year has been born––when the final strands of smoke have cleared––it’s like you’ve finally seen the whole world.