Third Prize


Paper ClocksRowsell_Janelle

by Janelle Rowsell
 




It’s late. Too late to be outside in the snow, wearing nothing but a T-shirt, pyjama shorts, and rain boots three sizes too big. It’s New Year’s Eve, and the three of us are high on the excitement of being together, as well as all those energy drinks we’ve been chugging instead of alcohol. We run through the tire tracks left in the snow, giggling and whooping. The cold nips at our noses but we’re too engulfed in our happiness to care. Then she stops, so I stop, too. I ask her what’s the matter, and she announces that she has to pee. Her sister tells her it’s too late to go back, that we have to ring in the new year out here, the three of us together. She complains that she’s about to pee herself, so her sister tells her to go in a trash can chained to the bus stop marker. She says no, that it’s too public, and her sister snaps at her to just go in the bus shelter. We follow her through the snow and clamber behind the safety of see-through sealed walls. It’s too dark to see anything, I remind her when she’s fussing, and then she slips her shorts down to her ankles and squats in the corner. We all burst into laughter, because we never thought she’d do it. We never thought that she would take a leak in the bus shelter. But she is, and it all seems so juvenile and almost criminal, and that adds to our giddy buzz.

When she finishes, she stands up and we throw fresh snow on the yellow snow. I ask her what time it is, and she takes out her phone. It’s 11:55, five minutes until the new year.

Five minutes until everything will change.

We start heading back, all three of us walking backwards so our footprints make it look like we were walking forwards. Our arms are wrapped around ourselves, hugging the warmth back into our bodies. Her sister starts to sing a song at the top of her lungs, and then she starts, and I just giggle and smile at them. Snow is beginning to fall and it looks like little stars dancing to the earth.

Three minutes until things will change.

We’re back in front of their house. I can see her sister’s bedroom light shining through the sheet of plastic hanging behind the window to keep out the cold. We try to be as quiet as possible outside, even though we’re squealing and laughing. Their parents are inside, maybe asleep, but probably not. They might be trying to fix their marriage by spending the night together, or maybe they’re not even talking. We don’t care in the moment, but we will later in the year, maybe five or six months from now, when he tells his wife that he’s going to leave her. We will care a year after he leaves, when he goes away to get married in a foreign country, forgetting his children.

One minute until things start changing.

The three of us hold hands. We start counting down the seconds, shouting. It’s cold and we’re shaking in our boots, but we’re not tired. We’re not even happy or excited. There is no word to describe the way we feel in that moment, because we feel so much bigger than ourselves. We feel like the three of us standing there together can do anything, be anything. We’re giggling and hopping around to keep ourselves warm, and I am very conscious of how warm and soft her thumb feels as she rubs it against mine.

Thirty seconds.

At this point, we’re looking up at the sky. We’re looking at the blanket of stars that has cloaked the sky, unaware that this is one of the last times we will do this together. We think that our promise to each other of doing this every single year together for the rest of our lives will be kept. We don’t know that it won’t stick, that words are just words that some people say only to hear their own voice.

Ten seconds.

We’re shouting now, the three of our voices a chorus of hoarse screams. It’s in these next ten seconds that we don’t really want the year to end, when we realize that there are only ten seconds left of the year we’re in. We don’t look at each other, just close our eyes and escape to our own mind palaces, our heads thrown back as we take turns yelling. Her sister shouts five, she shouts four, I shout three, her sister yells two, we all shout one.

And then it’s gone. Everything is about to change.

We start laughing and shouting and we hear fireworks down the street. We cup our hands around our mouths and cheer with the fireworks. We hug each other and grab handfuls of snow to throw into the air like confetti. We shout stupid lines from our favourite television shows and there are tears trickling from the corners of our eyes, we’re laughing so hysterically. We sometimes have to remind ourselves to breathe in our minute of celebration, and when we do, we realize that we’re breathing in new air. It’s fantastic.

We’ll go inside later in a fit of giggles. We’ll march up the stairs as quietly as we can and continue what we were doing before. We’ll drink the rest of the energy drinks until we think we’ll burst. We’ll make each other laugh so hard we’ll pee ourselves. Then we’ll clean up and crawl beneath the covers of her sister’s bed, snuggling up next to each other for warmth. We’ll start talking about the things we want to happen this year, the things we don’t want. We’ll share our fears and secrets, letting them float around in the darkness above our heads. I’ll keep some things to myself, like the fact that I like the way her arm is wrapped around me, keeping me warm, and they’ll do the same. We’ll listen to the sounds of their neighbours celebrating with their fireworks and noisemakers, and we’ll all let the sounds lull our eyelids closed. We’ll all dream of the future that won’t happen, and I’ll get up the next morning at twilight because she’s crying. I’ll listen to her whisper and cry, and I’ll rub tiny circles on her back. She’ll smile at me and tell me she loves me like a sister, and I’ll smile back and tell her that I wish she were my sister. I won’t know that I’ll regret this later in the year.

Everything is changing now.

When my parents pick me up the next day, I don’t know that this will be the last supper I’ll have at her house in a long, long time. I don’t know that as I pack my stuff to leave, with her sitting on her bed and painting her toenails, this will be the last time I bring a sleepover bag to her house. As we parade down the stairs like a herd of elephants, I don’t know that this will be the last time I see this house, touch these walls, slide across this floor. As she and her father and mother wave me off from the doorway, I don’t know that this is the last time I will see her parents together, the last time I see her smiling a genuine smile. As I get in my parents’ car for the hour-long drive home, I stare out the window watching as the green door of their house gets smaller and smaller, and I don’t know my childhood memories are being ripped from me.

Things are changing.

Winter later turns to spring, and spring to summer, and we won’t see each other in person during this time. We’ll call each other sometimes, which I find tedious, but she’ll insist on talking on the phone instead of texting. I’ll get annoyed and start making up lies why I can’t come to the phone, and she’ll tell me she’s too tired to text me, and then we’ll stop communicating altogether. I’ll log onto a social networking site and see that she has a boyfriend now, a boy who broke her heart but she kept lusting after. She won’t know that in two years, when I’m in the tenth grade and she’s in the eleventh, she’ll start getting so drunk that she won’t remember screwing her boyfriend when she wakes up the next morning. She won’t know that I’ll be watching her life unfold on a screen through pixels and numbers, my heart breaking every time she doesn’t call me or text me or message me back.

It all changes too quickly.

Ninth grade will turn to tenth grade. I’ll start the year trying to get over eating disorders, and learning to love myself. I won’t know that she’s trying to do the same. She’ll come over to my house, my mother’s orders, and her sister will come, too. We’ll sit on my bed in silence, none of us knowing what to say. She’ll keep looking at her phone every time her boyfriend sends her a message, and she won’t know that it hurts every time she does. Her sister will try to break the ice by asking me to turn on some music, which I’ll do, and she’ll compliment my taste. Her sister will ask me if I know a certain band, and I’ll say yes and think that she should know the answer because she introduced me to the band long ago. We’ll spend the day in a blur and then nighttime will be pulled over our eyes. She’ll sleep on a mattress on the floor, because that’s what she’ll want, and her sister will sleep on the other mattress on the floor. I’ll lie in my bed, but I won’t sleep because it will be cold and I’ll be distracted by her hushed voice as she talks to her boyfriend on her cellphone. I’ll blink away tears and I won’t fall asleep until the sun peeks over the roofs of the houses in the neighborhood.

I’ll keep secrets from her, even though we promised long ago to tell each other everything. She’ll reveal things to me slowly and scarcely, because she won’t talk to me much anymore. I won’t tell her about my first kiss, one that really mattered and made my heart flutter, because I figure she won’t care. She won’t tell me about the piercings she’ll get, or the number of times she’ll get drunk, or about the time she stopped yelling at her boyfriend for smoking weed and started joining her boyfriend in smoking weed. I’ll ask for her advice with relationships, and she’ll give me a half-hearted answer. I won’t tell her that I’m happy without her. She won’t tell me that she’s happy without me. We won’t tell each other that we’re both happy for each other.

She won’t know that I’m writing this. I won’t tell her that this is about her. I wonder if she’s thinking about me as often as I’m thinking about her. I wonder if she remembers that New Year’s Eve before everything changed. That’s the thing about time: once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back. It only keeps on changing.
 

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