A New Years Story by Virginia Diaz
Eva had always dreaded New Year’s because it felt like loss. Even more than her birthday, she felt as if she aged the whole of the year in that last day- December 31st- The End- Finality- Close the book and put it away on the shelf along with all its predecessors- Done.
It had been easier as a child. She had mostly slept through it back then. Her teen years had made it pretty crappy, though- there were parties and dates and happy kisses at midnight. Except, she tended not to be that happy at midnight- she tended to cry. Four boyfriends had broken up with her over it by the time she was twenty-five years old. Okay- maybe she did provoke them a little. It had to be hard to keep wanting to be with someone who wouldn’t go out, wouldn’t celebrate, wouldn’t even kiss you on one of the best party nights of the year (and then got mad at you for trying to cheer her up). Believe it or not, angry, crying, crazy chick was not a good look on Eva.
And, here is was again- New Year’s Eve of her thirtieth year- old enough to be past this ridiculous phobia- to be past indulging in this bout of seasonal craziness- old enough to know better by now. But, here she was, lying in bed at (she glanced over at the glowing digital display from her alarm clock that was counting up or maybe down the last hours of the year) 8:37 p.m. She was lying in bed at 8:37 p.m. hoping to go back to the comfortable bliss that she had enjoyed in her childhood of sleeping through her doom. She was wide awake and shivering- despite the flannel nightgown, two quilts and her furnace being turned up higher than both global warming and her empty bank account should have allowed. She’d gotten up to check the thermostat twice already. Then again, maybe she wasn’t quite as wide awake as she thought, since she could hear them- the dream voices in her head. They were arguing.
“I don’t think she’s going to do well. She feels it too much,” a harsh male voice said.
“Ah- you’re too far from your year,” another, warmer, also-a-man’s voice countered. “I still feel the switchover day strongly, too.”
“That is because your generation is not as tough as mine is- as any of us old-timers are,” the gruff voice returned.
“And you want her to be tough? Compassion is what makes the job go well. It makes for a peaceful year.”
“Bah- too much compassion makes them soft- a world of whiney little brats.”
“Shh- she is listening.”
“Nah- she can’t hear yet, not until midnight.”
“Shh- yes she can. I could hear for days ahead. It comes of feeling it so much.”
“Bah- you’re touched in the head.”
“Still, you do have other tasks that need your attention,” the warmer voice hinted.
“That I do. Good luck with breaking this one in, Ace,” the gruff voice offered, but he didn’t seem all that sincere.
“We’ll be fine thanks.”
Eva felt something heavy lift away, but there was still something- no, someone there. And he was humming Auld Lang Syne. Usually, Eva hated that song, but the deep, warm baritone humming it tonight was soothing. She fell all the way asleep between one chorus and the next.
Eva awoke in a flash of pain and loss, knowledge and bitterness, joy and bliss, but as she cried out from it all, a soft hand settled on her cheek and another rubbed small circles on her back. The warm voice from her dream was humming again, giving her something to concentrate on- pulling her up to the surface from the images and the feelings and the sounds that were surrounding her- drowning her.
After a time, she realized that she was crying- weeping- bawling so hard that breathing hurt and her face would be covered in tears and snot if it weren’t pressed hard up against a warm, damp, cotton-covered shoulder. She sat up and looked at the person attached to the shoulder. In the wane light cast by her alarm clock, she could see that it was a strange man. She hopped up and out of her bed, but her legs failed her, her entire being too distracted by the concept of WAR- she suddenly knew war in such harsh and intimate detail- pain and loss and stupid, stupid choices- all of which were so wrong. Someone caught her as she slumped down, preventing her from injury.
It was after midnight, she could feel it without bothering to look at the clock. A new year always felt raw and open until she settled into it. It usually took until late February before the decaying feeling of the end of the old year fully left her, replaced by the burgeoning growth of the blossoming spring. She was back on the bed and someone was saying, “Okay. It’s okay. Just lay back down a minute. I’ve got you,” and it was the same warm baritone from her dream. He was sitting next to her, warmth radiating off him with comforting strength. He was here to keep her safe- she knew it with the same surety that she knew that the next year had dawned.
She sat up slowly, her eyes still closed, her face squinched up against the pain she knew was just held back by his presence. She took a shaky breath, forced her eyes open and asked, “Who are you?” Her words came out breathy and meek.
“Evan, Evan Langson. Nice to meet you,” he said, shifting away from her just a bit, as if worried that he might be making her uncomfortable.
“Oh- yes. Nice to meet you, as well, I guess. Uh- how did you- I mean, you are the same Evan from my-” she stopped trying to speak, unsure how to not sound crazy asking if he was the same man she’d seen and heard in her dreams for the last few years.
“Your what? Where do you think you know me from?”
“My, my dreams- wow, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” she said, almost laughing out of nervousness.
“Not so much as you might think. The line between Linear Time and Eternal Time is easier for us to feel than it is for humans. Details bleed through.”
“Oh.” Eva shifted closer to him, missing the earlier proximity. “Wait- humans?”
“Yes. Maybe you should have a glass of water or something to eat.” He pulled something small and crinkly from his pocket and held it out to her in the still darkened room. “Peppermint? They are wonderful for the nausea. I lived on them during the worst days of my year.”
And, just the thought of the little red and white swirled candy perked her up. “Yes, please.” She unwrapped it and quickly popped it into her mouth. After a moment of savoring the candy, she asked again, “Uh- humans? I’m human, you know,” she told him, but eh moment she did, she wondered if it was the truth.
“Ah well, yes you are, but also, no you aren’t. You, my dear, are a Yearling, as am I. We are born of human mothers and fathers, but there is something not quite human added to the mix.” He unwrapped himself a peppermint, too.
“Yearling?” she said the word more to test it out in her mouth than to question the rightness of the name. Yes, she could feel it. She was a Yearling. But what did that mean (except that she was not quite human- which frankly, made so much sense to her).
“So, yes.” He pulled a stack of file cards from his other pocket. “So, there is this whole speech I’m meant to use to explain everything.” He shuffled his cards. “Okay, yes. Here we go. You are a Yearling, a mythical being born into a human family and living as one of them until your year arrives. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is your year, Eva. I am another Yearling- my year was five years ago, now. I’m meant to be a mentor of a sort, to help you in managing the responsibilities of your year, and of course, to answer any questions you might have.” He looked up from his cards. “Do you have any questions?”
“Well, no. Yes- I, I do, but I’m not sure how to make them into sensical questions. What- what do I have to do?” she finally managed to ask.
“Mostly? Try to be happy,” he answered. “Or at least calm. Most importantly, don’t panic. Panicking is really not good.”
“Okay. No panicking, got it.”
“No, I mean it. You remember the Great Chicago Fire? That was caused by a panic attack over a singed pinky finger, no lie.”
“Okay, I understand. I panic and bad things happen. But what- how is that how it is?”
“Well, all of your moods- your health, you life in general influence the world this year. You have good stuff happen, you deal well with any bad stuff, and the world gets a good year. But, you have a bad year or you, you know, panic, and things go poorly.” He shoved the file cards back into his pocket. “So, there it is.”
“Yes, I guess it is,” she agreed. It really did make perfect sense of her life.
“Oh- do you feel that?” he asked, pointing vaguely off to the left.
She looked in that direction and tried to feel it, but there were too many things- too much knowledge when she reached out for something. It all jumbled up. “What? The thing in Sweden?”
“No, that will be fine. The Swedes hardly ever cause trouble anymore- all that sunshine. No, I meant Eastern Europe. There’s not enough wheat- the crops are failing.”
She thought about Russia and Georgia and all the –Stan countries. There it was, now she could feel it. “What do I do?” she asked not panicking- breathing slow and regular even as she wracked her brain.
“Pancakes,” he stated shortly.
“Uh- I can’t make pancakes for half a continent.”
“No, silly. Just for us. You eat well and the world does, too.” She gave him a disbelieving look. “I promise, it works,” he reassured her. She put her feet into her slippers and pulled on a sweater so that no one would die of exposure in Northern Canada, had another peppermint to prevent an outbreak of influenza in the south of France, and remembered to lock up her apartment to prevent a crime wave in Sri Lanka.
Then, they went in search of a pancake house that was open after midnight on New Year’s.
“We’re going to have a good year if it’s the last thing I do,” thought Eva, smiling.