On the TV the countdown had begun. He took up his glass and paced himself, silently counting the seconds as he moved towards the gate, timing himself to arrive there on the stroke of midnight. The street was empty, bleak beneath the streetlights stretching in each direction. Not a soul to be seen.
As his mental countdown reached zero, there was the crackle of illegal fireworks from a couple of streets away to the North, and a burst of rockets leapt into the night scattering stars of red, blue and green. Muffled sounds of distant revelry reassured him that life still existed on the planet.
This is it, he told himself. It is a New Year, already a few seconds old, unfolding inexorably into the future.

It seemed only yesterday that he had performed his ritual for last year, and the year before-even the year before that. And how had he filled the intervening time? For one shocking moment, he couldn’t recall a thing. Twenty years ago he hadn’t been alone. The ritual had started years before that. They would always wait up on New Year’s Eve. Together they would walk to the gate, the streets empty then too, and toast the future, their future. For sixteen years he had observed the occasion alone.
Now he drank a toast to past memories.
“To absent friends!” he cried.
Far in the distance, a car hooted.

© Copyright H.St V.Beechey 2004