It was January 1st, an hour after midnight and Josephine was beginning to feel anxious. She didn’t know what was bothering her exactly, but the feeling was steadily creeping in, making her fingers dance on the table. She reached for a cool champagne glass to steady herself and took a sip. A popular k-pop song started playing in the background, and a flock of excited girls ran to the dance floor to perform some kind of elaborate routine. She could hear people laughing and singing. The party was a success. She should be happy. She organized it.
In fact, her whole year was a success. She changed jobs in February and got promoted in just a few months. She took a Spanish language class and was already prepping for the B2 level exam. She lost five pounds. She even managed to hit her reading challenge this year with thirty books.
She sighed and took out a thick, pink calendar from her purse. A yellowed, ragged piece of paper was stuck between the December pages. She took it out. Over the last twelve months, she moved this piece of paper from one purse to another, stack it on the fridge in times of crisis, and used it as a bookmark in the few books she still read in paperback form. It was her New Year resolution list. She wrote it a year ago, like she always did, every year since she turned thirteen. Each year the list was different, but her determination was the same. Not counting a few lofty, unrealistic goals from her teenage years, she always managed to succeed at every resolution she wrote down.
The paper was folded in half. She opened it, and quickly scanned the list, written in the neat handwriting she was so proud of.
- Change jobs
- Learn Spanish
- Lose 5 pounds
- Read more than last year (at least 25 books!)
She supposed she should cross out everything to make it official. She leaned down to get a pen from her purse. Just as she was rummaging through the pockets a loud THUD startled her and she looked up to find her brother Jacob sitting himself down next to her. A pint of beer was already on the table. Some of the liquid spilled on the counter.
“Jesus, Jacob. Don’t scare me like that,” she huffed irritated and noticed the spillage. “Do you have to be such a slob?” she added, even more irritated, and angrily picked out a few napkins from the dispenser. She wiped the counter in one quick and efficient stroke.
“Relax, it was just a few drops,” he said lazily, and then squinted his eyes at her. He must have had a few of these pints already. “Why are you so nervous anyway? It’s a party.”
“I’m not nervous!” came a quick answer. A little too quick.
Jacob chuckled. “Sure, whatever.”
Josephine didn’t know what to say. Jacob was two years older than her, but sometimes she felt like she was the older one. He changed his major at university twice and then dropped out in the last year. He never got a steady job and made money as a freelance copywriter, sometimes barely scraping by. He didn’t even own a wallet, he just carried all of his stuff in jean’s pockets and lost his keys constantly. She was the one who had her life all figured out.
They sat for a minute listening to the song before she managed to break the silence between them. “I was just about to cross out everything from my New Year’s list,” she said.
“Oh,” he exclaimed, genuinely interested. “What did you have for this year?”
She started reading the list out loud. “Change jobs.”
“That went smoothly didn’t it?” Jacob asked cheerfully. “Though I’m not sure why you even wanted to change jobs, you seemed really happy at the old one.”
“I thought-,” Josephine hesitated for a second. “I thought I should be making more money at this point of life,” she said almost mechanically as if she were reading out instructions from a manual.
“Well, more money is usually the right idea,” he snickered and Josephine felt a stab of panic. Was it the right idea? She did love her old job.
Jacob took a big gulp of beer. “What else have you got there?”
Josephine returned to her list. “Learn Spanish,” she read.
“Say something in Spanish!”
“And to you as well,” he retorted immediately and then laughed. “Wait, didn’t you want to learn German when you were in primary?” he remembered suddenly.
“Yeah, but Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world.”
“Are you always so practical?”
Josephine tried to answer with a smug smile but couldn’t quite muster it. She thought of the German song about balloons that she loved as a child and how she danced to it in front of the mirror in the corridor of their old house. Didn’t Jacob dance with her at some point?
“What’s next?’ he asked.
“Lose five pounds.”
“Right, mom was always pestering you about that,” Jacob commented in a surprisingly somber tone.
Their mom was always nagging her about her weight, every time she visited her. Sometimes Josephine cried afterward. Her BMI was fine. She had no health problems. She just liked to eat cake every once in a while. There was a sudden a prickling sensation in the corners of her eyes. She had too much champagne.
“The last one is about reading. At least 25 books this year.” Josephine said quickly.
“That’s a lot!” Jacob was surprised. “I didn’t read much this year,” he admitted. “Recommend me something. Which one was the best?”
Josephine did a quick review of the thirty books. She realized with a surprise that she didn’t remember many of them. She was often so tired when she sat down reading.
“I would have to check my GoodReads list.” She dodged the question.
“Do you have a list for everything?” Jacob laughed.
Josephine laughed with him, but then she took a glance at her thick, pink calendar and opened it. It was filled with her neat, small writing. There were to-do lists for all the months, most of the weeks, and even some specific day lists. All crossed out, as she completed one task after another throughout the year.
She should feel proud about this, but instead, she felt the familiar stab of panic. This was her life. All perfect and organized. Mechanical. Did she even stop to think for one moment in the last twelve months if she was doing what she really wanted?
Jacob shook her from her reverie.
“Are you making a new list?” he asked hesitantly.
It took all of Josephine's willpower not to burst out crying right there and then.
“No,” she choked out. “I need peace and quiet for that.”
Jacob stared at her and took a sip of beer. She knew she didn’t fool him, but she still hoped he won’t press the subject further.
“You want to burn the list?” he asked suddenly.
“We can burn the diary too if you want.”
“It’s a calendar,” she corrected him.
“It will burn all the same,” he countered.
Josephine took two deep breaths.
“Where would you burn it?” she inquired seriously.
“There is a closed drawing room in the hotel, they have a fireplace there,” he explained. “It should be burning.”
Josephine finished her champagne in one big gulp. She put the calendar and the list in her purse.
Jacob stood up and they both made their exit from the hotel’s bar. He then led her upstairs to a closed room that indeed had a fireplace and it was indeed burning.
Josephine could still hear the muffled sounds of music from the dance floor, but the room was surprisingly peaceful. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and laid her purse on one of the armchairs standing next to the fireplace. She took out the diary and the list. Jacob sat nonchalantly on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Josephine opened the calendar. She did a quick check to make sure she didn’t write any important information in it, like someone’s phone number, and then she just chugged it into the fire unceremoniously. It didn’t catch fire the moment it landed, it was engulfed in flames after a few seconds. She giggled and stared into the fire.
“Didn’t you want to make some kind of speech or something?” she heard Jacob say.
“I’m not going to make a speech for a calendar,” she said stiffly.
“Still practical I see.”
Josephine smiled. She regretted they didn’t take any alcohol with them. The list was still in her hand. She looked at it again. This piece of paper dictated her life for the last twelve months. And it was her who made it her master. It deserved to burn, and she deserved to be free of it. She sat on the floor in front of the fireplace and threw the list into the flames with a flick of the wrist. It was gone in seconds.
“So what now?” asked Jacob. “You’re going to make another one?”
Josephine smiled, still staring at the flames. She couldn’t even see the list anymore, but the remnants of her calendar were still visible. She felt a pleasant warmth on her face.
“No.” She answered. “I have a new New Year’s resolution. No more lists.”