"I'll do better this year." I say the words to myself in the gas station mirror, the cracks and scratches into it distorting the image of my face. It is a simple resolution, the same one I made last year. Yet here I am, dying my hair and changing my clothes in a gas station bathroom needing to get anywhere but here. I don't know that grand larceny counts as doing better. I don’t know that dying my hair and changing my clothes and trying to get as far away from here as possible to avoid spending my foreseeable future in an iron cell counts as doing better.
Someone has scrawled on the wall in black sharpie the words You fucked up. I almost laugh at that, if only they knew. And yet, I still make that resolution, I’ll do better this year.
It is the same resolution I have made since the tenth grade when Harriet Brown had asked me what my resolution was at midnight. It was the same resolution I had heard Donnie Flaco make the year before. It was easy to keep that resolution when you were Donnie Flaco, it didn’t need a whole lot of improvement for Donnie Flaco to do better, he was already the roughest kid I knew in an already disastrously rough neighbourhood. Maybe that is the trick, maybe the biggest and baddest of us have it all worked out, if you are starting at the bottom there is nowhere to go but up. Bonnie and Clyde just had to be a little bit better to keep a resolution like that one, Al Capone could have cut out the murder and still made a vast improvement. Donnie Flaco just had to leave the gun behind when he robbed the convenience stores on the main street and he had improved from last year. Maybe that is the trick, you have to hit the bottom to ever rise to the top. Maybe it is us, those somewhere in the middle, that have it the hardest, not bad enough to rise and not good enough to already be there.
Maybe these are just the excuses I give myself while staring in the cracked mirror of that gas station bathroom.
Maybe better is just a relative term, I had made that same promise to the universe at midnight last year. It was my resolution for the turning of the Earth, for that day of beginning that we had marked on a calendar so long ago and proclaimed was the day we could change, we could reinvent ourselves. That one day of the year that everything could be possible, that the future could be a blank slate on which we could write whatever we wanted. It was not Harriet Brown but Lucy I had made that promise with last year, meaning every word of it.
Better for us was a relative term.
We had discovered a long time ago that working a con or robbing a museum paid far better than an office job and we had built ourselves a life within a realm of crime. A world that we were oh so good at, the police didn’t know our names, didn’t know our faces, things were simply there and then they weren’t. But better was our exit plan, we had grown tired of looking over our shoulders, of wondering when justice would come crashing through our door, better was our plan to get out, to be there and then simply gone like all those things we had stolen over the years. We had rules, no guns, no violence, never be as bad as Donnie Flaco. We had kept these rules in mind when planning our grand crescendo, our great exit from this world of crime we had created.
Our plans led to Europe, to a house on the Riviera and a New Year’s Eve under the Eiffel Tower, to new names and new beginnings. That was our better. All we needed was that one last score, that one last play, we had planned it to perfection, thought of every variable. Every variable except our fence being arrested the same day and telling the police that he could tell them exactly when a Monet was being stolen from a private collector down town to reduce his prison sentence. Every variable except our faces then being known to them, leading New York’s finest straight to the storage unit we had rented and kept our other scores in. Every variable except for the fact that we were now flagged at airports, that our apartment overlooking Central Park was crawling with police. Every variable except we chose the wrong snake to trust in the bag of venomous reptiles we knew in this glittering underworld. Fate can really stand in the way of better like that. Better that was going to be that house on the Riviera and that New Years Eve under the Eiffel Tower, better that did not involve dying out hair in a gas station bathroom.
They say that crime doesn’t pay but that is the trick of it, crime pays far too well until it doesn’t. The view from the top of the mountain is so alluring that you never think you will be the one to fall, the rush of that life too exhilarating to imagine that you will ever tire of it. We had fallen into that trap. A sparkling spider's web that you fool yourself into believing you will never be truly stuck in.
We had reached the top and now were rapidly falling right back to the bottom. Maybe that is the only place we can rise from.
There is an alarm on my phone as the clock strikes midnight, I glance at it and then silence it, that alarm was meant to be the signal that we had made it, the proof that we were where we were supposed to be, the opening theme song on better. There is a text that comes through as well, the phone lighting up as it does. Lucy is waiting for me in the truck. We need to move, we can’t stay here, someone will find us here. I glance again at that cracked mirror. How many betters have been promised into it?
I sigh, tucking the phone into my jeans and pulling a hat low over my face and I leave that little gas station bathroom. The place is empty at this time of night, the floor looking long since swept, the lights flickering over the shelves of cheese puffs and candy bars. The attendant ignores me, watching the New Year’s celebrations in Time Square on his phone, the cheers of those party goers can be heard through the speakers. That ever alluring promise of a blank slate, of one day where any future is meant to be possible. I leave the gas station and climb into the truck next to Lucy. I smile at her, her hair, like mine, is different, her hood pulled up but when she smiles it is exactly the same. That smile that could light up a city in a blackout, that smile that could con a con artist, that would make you follow her to the ends of the Earth. That smile I fell for without a hope, without a want for rescue. She puts a hand on the back of my neck and holds my gaze.
“It may not be Paris.” She says quietly. “But Happy New Year.”
And it may not be Paris, but I realise in that moment that I would rather be in a parking lot in a run down gas station with no certain future with her than alone on the French Riviera. And if there is no certain future then maybe anything is still possible, maybe that is the magic of New Year, I smile, lean my forehead against hers and whisper quietly. “We’ll do better this year.”