Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy New Year by Dorothy Davies

Happy New Year
Dorothy Davies

The moon peeked out from behind the thick cloud and shone down on the crowds, ant like, lemming like, pouring from every side street and road into the vast square.  The lions looked down disdainfully at the people gathered at their feet, flashes popped and cameras whirred madly, gathering the pictures of crazy people cavorting in freezing cold fountains on this the last night of the old year.

Bruce Garvey pulled his scarf a little closer round his throat and turned his collar up against the coldness of the night.  Despite the crowds it was a bitter night and the people in the fountains were asking for some kind of chill, or even pneumonia.  Bruce re-adjusted the wire-rimmed glasses on his thin nose and shivered.  He didn’t know what had possessed him to come here and join these crazy people, but he was there, drawn magnetically, hypnotically to where the shouting and cheering people were; was he hoping perhaps that some of their joyful glee would rub off on him?

He looked down at his digital watch. 11.49.  Would this year never end?  Would it always be December in his life?  He stood for a moment, standing gloved hand on the metal barricades, surveying his life.  No job, no wife, no income, no prospects, and soon, probably, no home, if the Council had their way and pulled down his apartment block.  Nothing to live for, nothing to look forward to, just the emptiness of the coming year.

So what, in the name of Heaven, was he doing here with all these madly celebrating people?  Hoping like them that the New Year would bring a change of fortune, a glimmer of hope at the end of the very long dark tunnel?

A mass of people surged forward and Bruce found himself carried along with them into the centre of the square, standing crushed against the tree barrier, the brilliant lights hurting his eyes.  He took off his glasses and peered myopically at them, mopping his pale forehead and weak blue eyes with his handkerchief before resettling the glasses firmly on his nose again.  He looked around.

There wasn’t much to see.  He had become surrounded by people taller than himself, which was most of them, heads of every colour and hair style, curly and straight, thick heads and balding heads and over them all, an impenetrable blanket of solid sound, the combined voices of thousands of people all shouting different slogans and songs at the same time and at the same volume.  Bruce pulled his arm up in front of his face.  11.57. Not long now, if there was a chance to slip away once the chimes had sounded, then he would, slide down a dark back alley and find his way through to his shabby home, which right now seemed like a haven of warmth and silence. 

The noise grew louder, with only three minutes of a year left in which to live and love, lie and cheat, and whatever else people did before the Old Year ended and the New Year came in, carrying with it the same despondencies as the Old Year had, only dressed in a different number.

Over the tops of the heads Bruce could see the flashing blue lights of the fire engines, standing by, waiting patiently.  Someone trod heavily on his foot and he swore at the departing back fighting its way through the crush.

11.59. A tenseness permeated the crowd, a sense of anticipation, voices subdued a little, waiting for the moment when the clock would strike and they could shout even louder and harder and longer than they had all evening.

11.59 and nothing happened.  The clock had apparently stopped.  A ripple ran through the gathered thousands, wonderment, bewilderment, astonishment and anger. The New Year had to come in, there was no hope for the world if the New Year refused to arrive.

Slowly at first, gathering momentum as it moved, the vast crowd started toward Whitehall, an unstoppable solid phalanx of human bodies.  As they moved, the crowd rolled and changed, created waves and rhythms, like a vast tidal wave leaping the banks of the Thames and flooding into Parliament Street.  At the foot of Big Ben the leaders of the flood stood looking up at the huge lit faces, which stubbornly showed 11.59 and appeared to have no intention of ever moving.  As the great snake of humanity coiled round on itself, voices began to be heard above the roar of the sound of voices, bodies and feet on the move, voices which called for destruction for total annihilation of the clock which had refused to bring in their New Year.

Break it down - tear it apart -throw the bricks into the river - in the middle of the crowd stood Bruce Garvey, alone, afraid and white faced, hearing his own voice add to the ringing shouts of the others around him, wondering at himself. He pushed forward, carefully, apologetically, side-stepping elbows and fists, his emaciated body sliding easily between the press of people until to his surprise he found himself at the head of the crowd and at the foot of the clock, so stubbornly stuck in time.

He grabbed the arm of a man towering above him, black beard bristling fiercely in the cold night air, the bitter cutting winds sweeping up the Thames and into their rapidly chilling bodies.

“I’m going up there” he heard himself say and wondered again at his temerity. “I’ll make the damned thing show midnight!”

“Good on yer, mate!” a huge hand clapped his back and he stumbled, another hand steadied him.  “This man’s going up there!” bellowed the giant through the blackness of his beard and the night.  “He’s going to make it midnight!”

The cheer which rent itself from half a million throats tore the night apart and the tower seemed to shudder with the impact. Bruce had committed himself and his temporary courageous insanity flooded out through the worn soles of his shoes, but he was committed and hands were pushing him toward the tower base.

Bruce found himself standing on the platform at the back of the face.  Nothing made sense to him; he could not remember how he had got there, why he was there, what this incredible machinery was.  He opened the door and looked down at the seething mass of people swaying backwards and forwards.  The roar went up from the waiting multitude and he staggered back. The clock.  He was here to change the hands of the clock, how in the name of all that was holy and sacred could he do that?

Temporary insanity took over again, a part of his mind shutting down the rest of his logical sane thinking, propelling him to feats he would never have contemplated in normal mundane life.  He reached out and grabbed the large hand with both of his bony hands, clinging for his life to the enormous piece of metal.  The shriek of sirens disturbed him and he looked down, police cars were everywhere, remote controlled toys, surrounding the crowd, loudhailers shouting inanities into the coldness.  Nothing mattered up here, on this eyrie he had found.  All he had to do was reach over and grab the other hand and pull them together. Then the chimes would ring out and the New Year would have arrived.  Reach out, reach out and grab the other hand.  But Bruce’s arms were just not long enough, he just couldn’t reach, try as he might and the strain on his other arm was intense.  He also realised with a shock he wasn’t going to get back into the doorway either, he’d swung himself out on the hand and he’d never get back.

Bruce looked down.  Time had no meaning for him now, his arms were almost lifeless, his fingers numb.  Below him the crowd was dispersing, under the shouted orders of the uniformed soldier ants, marshalling, directing, pushing, clearing away the people.  Vaguely he could hear someone directing him to hold on, help was coming, they’d get him down, but Bruce knew it would be too late, that if there was no New Year there was not much point in being rescued.

The fingers slipped a little as their life ebbed out down his arms and into the screaming muscles of his shoulders.  He thought for a long moment of the shabby flat he called home, the radio waiting for him, left talking to an empty room in a subdued voice, the half bottle of Scotch he’d bought to celebrate with – celebrate! There was nothing to celebrate, the New Year refused to come and he had been unable to drag it in by its coat tails.

His sigh was lost in the wind that blew across the Thames and carried with it the sound of sirens and orders, the same sirens that drowned out his scream as he fell towards the silent empty cold waiting pavement.

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