Oscar Whiteford walked off the stage, not entirely displeased by the applause still sounding in the crisp December air. The mayor – a stocky, efficient woman loved by everyone – stepped forward to congratulate him on another fantastic New Year’s greeting.
Oscar accepted the paper cup of mulled wine one of the organisers handed him. His throat felt dry as it always did after giving a speech. After all the years of public speaking, he still felt like he had to raise his voice, microphone or not.
He strolled out of the tent where the evening’s next attractions were preparing to go on stage. The crowd outside had their eyes on the stage again. A comedian was preparing to deliver that year’s stand-up piece. Comedy was not Oscar’s cup of tea, but he was sorry to miss the mayor’s speech and even sorrier to miss the brass band performance right after the comic relief. It was his favourite type of music, and yet he missed the New Year’s Eve performance every year because the programme was always the same: Oscar read his greeting for the new year, then something funny came on, the band performed their piece, the mayor read his or her speech, and then the fireworks came on.
Oscar supervised the fireworks display went as planned. It was his duty as one of the organisers. Why a man who had made a living as a columnist was in charge of a fireworks display, he could not explain. It had just happened, the way things happened in life.
He waved at a few people he recognised in the crowd. Half the town had gathered in the square as it did every New Year’s Eve. The tradition was admirable and much loved by the townies as well as those in nearby villages. It was a wonderful place to live.
Yet, in his 54th year on planet Earth, Oscar had started to feel a restlessness. He tried to put it down to midlife crisis, and perhaps it was. He thought it had started 13 years previously when he had agreed to help with the New Year’s Extravaganza for the first time. It was supposed to be a one-off when some of the regulars had dropped off – some were sick, others had died, some wanted to retire. At first, it was a matter of writing his greeting and reading it, but then he had been roped into all manner of other things, such as the fireworks.
Then came the divorce. This was his tenth New Year’s Eve after his marriage fell apart. It had been over long before, but they had tried to stay together for the sake of their daughter, now a surly teenager.
The thought of Katie put a smile on his face. She could be difficult, but he loved her, and he knew his daughter loved him back, even if she was too cool to show it.
Recently though, he had started to feel lonely. He liked his alone time as much as the next man, but there was only so much one could take. At his age, being an only child and with his parents passed away, meant he had nobody to spend Christmas and New Year with. He had Katie for some of the time, but it wasn’t like the Christmases he had thought his adult life would consist of. He also was not much of a cook. Katie was happy to help – now there was a surprise – but Oscar felt it wasn’t his daughter’s duty.
He had considered getting a pet, and he had never thought he was the type. Not a dog – definitely not a dog. Dogs were too much hassle with the walking and the training and the playing. No, he wanted something easier to take care of. A cat might work. All cats wanted was food, somewhere to do their business and a warm place to sleep. He could do that, and he would have a soft animal to pet when the mood struck him. He might look like a Bond villain stroking a cat in front of the fireplace in his townhouse, but there would be nobody there to see him.
A new love would have been nice, but dating had moved on in the decades since he had married. It was all online now, speed dating and all kinds. Buying flowers and chocolates and holding doors open were all things of the past. He would probably appear old-fashioned, and what was worse, he would have preferred a younger girlfriend.
He wasn’t disillusioned – he wasn’t the sexy silver fox type like the George Clooneys of this world, but he took care of himself. He didn’t care about arm candy or a trophy wife although of course he would prefer a pretty woman. It was more that he didn’t find women his own age the least attractive or interesting. They dressed like grandmothers, which in fairness many of them were. He liked women who were sporty or casual – jeans and leggings, not frumpy dresses. He liked women to dress decently and shuddered at the thought of the skimpy pieces of fabric young women called clothes these days. Not that kind of trendy, but someone with a pleasant dress sense.
He reached the spot where the fireworks were being prepared. He nodded a greeting to the fire chief who was there with his crew overseeing the safety. They chatted about the fireworks for the display, which were much the same as any other year.
While Oscar watched the crew do their part, he listened to the sound of the trombones carried from stage. He was too far to appreciate the music, and it frustrated him.
Perhaps next year, he would resign from the organiser duties. He could write the greeting and let someone else read it if they really had to have it, or he could pre-record it and it could be played on a screen. He could fly to Hawaii or somewhere else that was warm instead of this miserable near-zero temperature. Perhaps there, he could find a nice girl, someone who would be happy with a simple life in his townhouse with a cat or two. He didn’t want more kids – he was too old for that.
He just wanted love.
* * *
Rose Lewis polished her tenor horn with a gloved hand. She would have to remove her proper gloves for playing and deal with fingerless gloves, but for now, she was determined to keep her fingers warm for as long as she could. If her fingers were frozen, she couldn’t play her part, and she didn’t want to let the band down.
The crowd outside applauded enthusiastically. That was Oscar Whiteford’s greeting done with. She wished that for once, she could watch his greeting live instead of catching a recording of it online, but it was the same every year and had been every year since she had first started performing with the band 12 years earlier. She had been the youngest member of the band at the time, only 25, but the line-up had changed over the years, and she no longer held the title of junior member.
She had always loved Oscar Whiteford’s columns. He came across as a man who had his values in order and his head screwed on right. He was also quite attractive. She would have preferred an older man, but those the dating sites threw at her creeped her out. She wasn’t going to be someone’s trophy wife. She wanted someone equal to her, someone who wanted company. Youngest of seven and the only girl in her family, Rose was not bothered about having kids. She had 11 nieces and nephews, and that was quite enough. Perhaps another cat or a few, but she needed a bigger place first. Her studio apartment was no place for more rescue cats.
She tried to refocus her thoughts on her part, memorising once again the notes, the melodies and timings, but her mind drifted.
She liked gentlemen, like those aristocratic heroes in the historical romance novels she loved. Helping her into her coat, surprising her with a single red rose, writing her a poem – all these simple things that modern men no longer seemed capable of. She was all for equality and didn’t mind paying her share of a restaurant bill, but the men she had dated in recent years all seemed so full of themselves and able to think of little else except themselves. The most romantic gesture one of her recent dates had done for her was call roadside assistance when her car tyre had been as flat as the earth according to conspiracy theorists – just like her phone battery. The man had done nothing to assist with the spare tyre, and nor could he have in his designer jeans and boots.
“Two minutes!” the band’s leader shouted.
Rose pulled off her gloves, took the fingerless replacement pair out of her coat pocket and got ready.
The performance went by in a blur. The audience applauded them enthusiastically like they did every year.
When they came off stage, the mayor praised their performance – like she did every year. The band members clapped each other on the back, all in a triumphant mood. Rose declined the offer of a cup of mulled wine. She glanced at her watch.
She only had a few minutes to make it to her apartment.
She put her instrument away, wished the band members near her a happy new year and hurried out of the tent. She took the long way around the spectators watching the stage, passing the crew of firefighters and organisers setting up the fireworks display that was the bane of her life every New Year’s Eve.
Once she was clear of hordes of people, she took off at a light sprint. All that running she did came in handy when she only had minutes to spare.
She flew up the stairs into her apartment, turned the lights on, hurried over to the television and switched it on, yanking the volume up loud. It didn’t matter what was on – this looked like an action movie – as long as it drowned out the noise outside.
She picked up Mindy, her black rescue cat, and walked around her small place to close the blinds. If Mindy couldn’t see or hear the fireworks, she might remain calm. It was the only remedy Rose had found.
Perhaps, one of these years, she could book Mindy into a cattery in the countryside for New Year’s Eve. She could stay and watch the mayor’s speech and perhaps enjoy the fireworks without worrying about her best friend in life. Or maybe they could go off somewhere together, pack her old car with a spare tyre, tools and everything they needed for a few days, spend New Year’s Day watching Ben-Hur or Titanic or one of those other movies that were so long she normally didn’t have time to watch them. Maybe she could go somewhere she could meet a wonderful man, like those romantic heroes that appeared in all Christmas movies and seemed to not exist in real life.
Maybe one of these New Year’s Eves, she was going to break her tradition of 12 years and not play tenor horn with the band, instead enjoying Whiteford’s greeting and the stand-up comedy that wasn’t funny, watch the brass band from the audience’s point of view instead of experiencing it from the stage, hear what the mayor had to say although the speech had been word-for-word the same for decades, and then watch the fireworks display without worrying about Mindy.
Perhaps, one day, she would have a romantic hero of her own to do it with.