“What do you want to burn?” Tara asked as she handed Jack strips of white paper.
He placed them on the kitchen table and said, “I don’t know. I feel stupid doing this.”
“Jack, the idea is to write all the bad things that have happened to us – all the things we want to put behind us – and burn them.” She smiled at him, lightly touching his shoulder.
“Hell, it’s not like it’s gonna change my luck.” Jack said. He waved his hands toward the ceiling, causing the paper to scatter.
“Sweetie, just give it a try for me – for us.” She said as she bent over to pick up the pieces of paper. “It’s symbolic. I think it will help give us a fresh start for next year. A positive state of mind might bring positive results.” Tara’s stomach quivered as she saw Jack pour a glass of Crown Royal over ice.
“Sure. Why the hell not. Guess it can’t hurt. You write ‘em down and let me know when you’re ready to blaze ‘em. I’m gonna relax and watch the game.”
Tara was beginning to regret not accepting an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party at the Eldridge Hotel, an annual event that she attended pre-Jack. She missed those times and wondered why she ever let that tradition slip away.
Well, it’s too late to go now. Just stick with your plan, girlfriend. Everything will be better next year. It’s got to be better than this year! Suck it up and follow through.
It wasn’t just the symbolism of this act that moved Tara. She had convinced herself that she could alter their karma by physically burning the bad events they had experienced, welcoming only good.
Tara walked into the living room and sat next to Jack. “Well, what do you want to purge? If you could eliminate anything that has happened to us, what would that be?”
Jack was flipping the channels, looking at the television. Without turning his gaze, his hand felt for Tara’s knee and patted it, “Whatever you want, babe. I trust you. Write whatever you want.”
Tara sighed and returned to the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of red wine from a box in the refrigerator and sat at the table, staring out the window. She gazed at the sleet illuminated by the alley floodlight.
It’s probably just as well we didn’t get out in this weather. I didn’t really want to go out anyway. Surely Jack will stay awake for the whole game. I just need to keep him up until midnight so we can do this.
Jack poured himself another glass of whiskey and sat beside her.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to blow you off. You know I’m not good at this kind of thing. I trust you to write it down for both of us.
You know what I’d want to write.” Jack hugged her. She could already smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Grab your wine and the papers and come watch the game with me,” Jack said.
Jack knew she couldn’t sit still watching a football game on television, but she was certain that she needed to stick close to him tonight if she wanted him to join her at midnight.
Tara and Jack rarely cuddled on the couch any more. Tonight, however, she thought she would give it a try. After all, it was New Year’s Eve. Most couples were out celebrating together, kissing at midnight, bringing in hopes and dreams for a new year.
She sat close to Jack with her left side touching his right. She consciously sat on that side, knowing he would be using his left hand to control the remote. Jack did not put his arm around her or his hand on her knee, as he had just moments before. She remembered how he used to wrap his arm around her shoulder or weave his fingers into hers. Not tonight. She wondered if they would ever have that tenderness again.
She cocked her head to look at Jack, “Honey…do you want to cuddle like we used to?”
“No, you go ahead and write down your purgings or whatever you called ‘em. I’m good.”
Well, there’s your answer. Dammit. Why do I even try? Tara pulled her body slightly away from Jack’s.
She picked up the pieces of paper and wrote down every awful thing she could think of that had happened to them; not just this year, but in all the years they had been together. Jack’s accident. Infertility. Cloe’s death. She tore two additional pieces of paper to add the rest. Tara covered everything she could think of except for one. Could she sneak that one in without Jack seeing? She shuddered when she imagined him finding it.
No, I can’t do it. Not yet. I want a baby. Besides, if we can adopt, I just know it will change him.
Tara picked up her book, The Bridges of Madison County, and read. Jack had several more drinks and passed out by 10:30. Tara left him to sleep on the couch while she gave herself a facial, took a bubble bath, and drank another glass of wine. After putting on some sweats and a heavy tee-shirt, she sat in bed and recorded all the words she had written on tiny slips of paper earlier in the evening, adding the one she had omitted.
At 11:45 she quietly walked downstairs. The familiar patterns returned. Wet underarms. Dry mouth. Erratic breathing. Quaking stomach. Her pulse beat faster. She could easily turn around and return to bed.
You are such a chicken shit! Go on. Wake him up. You NEED to do this for both of you! Think of the baby we could adopt.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and gently shook Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, honey, it’s almost midnight. I’ve got everything ready for us to burn our bad karma.”
Jack snorted and his body jerked toward the back of the couch. She shook him again, with a little more force. “Jack, it’s time. We need to do this, honey. Please get up.”
Each time she moved him, his snoring increased. He was out for the night. Tara knew if she wanted to do this, she was on her own.
Tears in her eyes, Tara grabbed her coat and put the strips of paper and a lighter in her pocket. She picked up an empty coffee can from the kitchen table before going out. As she opened the back door to the deck, she raised her head; eyes fixed on the sky, and smiled. Despite the freezing temperatures, she was warm inside. God had blessed her. There were stars in the sky and the moon was bright enough she did not even notice the floodlight. With a new resolve, Tara pulled one scrap of paper at a time from her jacket pocket. She read each entry out loud before putting a flame to it, and dropped them one at a time in the coffee tin, allowing one to die out before adding another. After the final piece had burned, she set the can on the ground, looked up at the sky and yelled ALCOHOLISM!
Cheri Byard has been an elementary school special education teacher for over 20 years. A painter, writer and poet, Cheri’s poems and essays have appeared in various publications including Awareness Magazine, Words-Myth Literary Journal, and the anthology Mentor’s Bouquet. She is currently at work on her first novel, from which “New Year’s Eve” is excerpted. Cheri resides in Kansas with her husband and young daughter.