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New Year's Eve in the City
New York City wears an extraordinary scent tonight—a peculiar medley of smoke, sweat, and sickeningly sweet alcohol. The air is lit by a crescent moon and flashing neon billboards—it’s damp with expectation, with aspiration; and with the threat of imminent rain. But the blue-black sky isn’t clouded—it shows promise still for a brilliant, sanguine concrete dawn.
The streets of New York City are a nightclub tonight, a nightclub kept alive by sirens and screeching breaks, honking and music from Times Square. No one’s asleep tonight—young men and women salsa down the sidewalks and spill onto the roads in front of police officers and street vendors, into the alleyways and out of the underground subway staircases. Their excited, anxious, slightly slurred voices whisper and squeal, they scream and chortle—there are so many voices that comprehensible language is inaudible. These million tones, emotions, energies—they dovetail into a harmonious cacophony.
That singular orchestra—it drowns away the music from my battered guitar. I watch my own fingers snap mechanically at the fraying strings, but I have to crane my neck and tilt my head towards the body of the instrument in order to hear the melody. Suddenly, my cheek is exposed to a sliver of white hot pain—flinching backwards into the wall behind me, I rub the tender flesh and discover in my closed fingers a broken segment of my guitar’s E string. With a long, deep breath, I lift the threadbare strap over my shoulder and place the shapely thing back into its empty guitar case.
Overtop the tall, dull, dusty read buildings, I can see it—the tip of the tall metal pole and that illuminated, spike-studded ball it carries—it shimmers like a thousand diamonds in a the light of a sunrise. I press my back against the building wall behind me and watch it flash its iridescent colors. I may be one of few, but I’m not the only one alone tonight.
Pressed between the five-foot interstice that separates two equally mundane concrete buildings, I brush the dust off of my face, off of my exposed arms and feet. Its ten days into winter, but the air is still only crisp with mild cold—it barely bites my skin. Without taking my eyes off the sky, I begin to brush away the crinkles in my dress. Over the din of the surroundings, I can almost hear the white taffeta rustle as I smooth my hand over the fitted, beaded bodice, as I shake out the pleats that run from my hips to my ankles. I raise my hand to my hair—the tiara still clings to my frazzled curls, but the flowery gauze attached to it this morning has been lost to the teaming streets.
The tip of the ball flashes its rainbow. My throat constricts. All at once, my face is warmed by a stream of silent tears.
Grudgingly, I lower my dampened gaze several feet, till it falls upon a window two stories from the ground. It glows orange from the light within, muffled by the blinds that shield the apartment from the public eye. Suddenly, the blinds are lifted, and a shaft of light escapes from the window and lands in a rectangular box around me.
Green eyes and sharp nose, he wears a crumpled tuxedo and a hollow countenance. He struggles with the window pane for a moment, and then slides it open. My breathing quickens, I open my mouth, but I’m incapable of making a sound. Shakily, he raises a cigarette to his lips, and then a lighter—and then his eyes squeeze shut, his body grows stiff and tense, and he thrusts away both cigarette and lighter with an aggressive fervor. They land with a soft clamor on the filthy pavement opposite to me. His eyes fall. In a moment, they connect with mine.
First, his face contorts—his eyebrows furrow and he squints his eyes, his lips part and his head tilts, ever so slightly. And then his jaw falls open—he presses his hands against the windowpane and for a moment, for a moment I catch the right corner of his mouth slide upwards, I catch a glimpse of straight white. And then it’s too much—I roll out of the beam and back into the shadows, crashing into my guitar case. For a moment he stands alone in the frame of the lighted window. And then he’s gone.
Slowly, I lift myself back up, swallowing large gulps of the dank, near-midnight air until my breathing loses its sharp edge and scrambling speed, until I can no longer feel my pulse jump from my heart to my throat in a portion of a second. Crawling back into the shaft light, I tilt my head back up to the sky—only to watch the glistening orb disappear behind the silhouette of the apartment building in front of me. The countdown has begun.
20, 19, 18… I hear, chanted in unison, boisterously, poignantly, from Times Square.
I jump to my feet. My heel catches the hem of my dress and rips off a swatch of fabric as the adrenaline returning to my veins instantaneously—I turn my head towards the call. It’s him, carrying a hopeful yet melancholy expression, a bottle, and two glasses. I stiffen as he ambles towards me.
16, 15, 14…
“You don’t have to start out this New Year alone, too.” Cautiously, he comes close enough for me to see the moisture that coats his olive colored eyes. “I can’t let you.” He uncorks the bottle with his teeth and fills each crystal glass with an amber liquid. Placing the bottle on the ground, he takes my hand and unfurls my fist, wrapping my fingers around one of the glasses.
11, 10, 9…the chant crescendos into a deafening cheer as it breaks into the final ten seconds.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, inaudibly at first, and then—“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
7, 6, 5…
He shakes his head, bringing a slender finger in front of my lips. “Forget about it.”
4, 3, 2…
He raises his glass and presses it against mine. “Here’s to starting over,” he says.
And all at once, the city explodes with the potential, the possibility, the power of his toast.