I refuse to make resolutions this New Year’s. Why should I? There are twenty-six minutes to midnight and nothing inspiring me to endure them. All that awaits me on the other side of midnight is a new day in a new year. It's an empty promise. I have nothing to celebrate. How can it matter when I have no one to kiss after the countdown?
Those bastard doctors lied to me. They gave me hope. They flaunted their statistics and pumped me so full of survival stories, I almost forgot Nadia had cancer at all.
I had every reason to trust them. People survive cancer all the time. I've seen people given six months left to live stretch it out to ten, eleven years. They run marathons, climb mountains—how could Nadia not pull through? She was never athletic, but she had spirit. And heart. And hazel eyes I could see the rest of my life in.
I still believed we had a chance. The doctors sold me on a false promise that Nadia would see the new year. The doctors failed me. They failed us both. The standard of deviation has never been so cruel. December 31st stole my wife from me. She missed the new year by mere hours. Some cosmic joke. I’m all out of good humour.
I left my car in the hospital parking lot and walked home alone. Forty-seven blocks; praying to a god I don’t believe in to send a drunk driver my way and end my life. No such luck. I made it safely to our home, to sit alone on our couch, where her cat had been scratching at the fabric for hours. I’ve never been so alone in my life.
Circumstances were so different last New Year’s Eve. This couch, this whole apartment was full of people. We hosted parties back then, before the cancer. We were vibrant women leading vibrant lives. We made resolutions.
Last year Nadia's New Year's resolution had been to brush up on French. She always staggered through the butchered remnants of her college days, forever vowing to become fluent. Now she never will. We knew nothing last year, at twenty-six minutes to midnight then; her cancer already secretly spreading.
We'll have no anniversaries in Paris. No more New Year's Eve parties. No more nursing each other’s hangovers together on New Year's Day.
Nadia is dead.
I've repeated it so many times in my head, the thought consumes me now. My wife is dead. Our life together has ended. I can't imagine ringing in another year, not without her. I refuse to. And I refuse to make the resolutions that make the promise of a new year worthwhile. Not when our old traditions no longer hold meaning. There's no point in New Year's resolutions when I have no resolve to live.
I’ve made up my mind. I can no more ask for death by drunk driver than I can wait for cancer I don’t have to claim me too. I will have to end my life myself. Tonight.
With twenty-four minutes to midnight, I begin to formulate a plan. Something quick, something private—no need to traumatize the neighbours. I simply want to close the book. End of story, end of life. This is where the authoress leaves you.
I am pondering a list of methods when my wife’s devious calico, Marguerite, jumps off the dining room table. Graceless as ever, she lands on the hardwood flooring with a thud. She’s always been a loud and clumsy thing. I can hardly remember the days before she owned the place. She used to be timid. She was impossibly malnourished once; the runt of the litter of five helpless kittens by the side of the road. Nadia held a peculiar fascination for the little pity project and nurtured her with special determination.
We found homes for the other four, but Marguerite was ours to keep. Nadia adored her. It was too late for me to talk her out of it. Nadia's mission in life was to lavish the creature. I know Marguerite has been missing her beloved keeper. She's grown thin in Nadia's absence.
It’s partially my fault. She's become something of an afterthought in the weeks since Nadia's been in the hospital. I may be the worst lesbian in the world, but I hate cats. The week that Marguerite's siblings lived with us was torture. I couldn’t get used to them: a brood of mewing demons, chasing one another under furniture, leaping onto tables, climbing the curtains. It was a fluffy inferno.
With twenty-one minutes to midnight, I watch my wife's surrogate daughter stalk gingerly into the kitchen. She stretches with gusto before her purple food bowl. It is the colour of royalty. One of Nadia's loving touches, of course. This creature wants for nothing. Or, she didn't. I am a poor substitute for her real owner.
Marguerite sniffs at the meat. She regards it with more curiosity than contempt but remains undoubtedly displeased. It takes me no time to realize what I've done wrong. I've brought home the tuna flavour again. Nadia's told me hundreds of times; I should remember this by now. Marguerite will eat salmon and whitefish to her heart's content but she'd rather starve herself than eat the tuna.
She whimpers at her bowl. This is the same pathetic display that had won Nadia over in the first place. My wife laid the milk out for the newly rescued kittens and shrieked as the four larger ones would trample Marguerite in their frenzy. She would lift the helpless creature to safety, nuzzling her singing lullabies in mangled French, feeding her in isolation.
Over the next few days, Marguerite's competition was weeded out, sent on to better homes until there was nothing but a single spoiled princess, curling up between us in our bed. I bought her a brand new cushion. She only uses it for naps. Four years later, she still spends every night in our bed.
With seventeen minutes to midnight, I rise from the couch, abandoning my suicidal ideation for a moment, to find some salmon filets. I can't let Nadia's child starve. She will never forgive me. When I reunite with her this evening, I will never hear the end of it. It's the least I can do—a small gesture for the cat I never wanted. I'm not the only one who lost Nadia tonight.
I search the kitchen cabinets to no avail. The only cat food in the house is loathsome tuna. I have made a grave mistake. It will not easily be undone.
Marguerite must sense my efforts to satisfy her picky palette. She pushes her grey and orange head against my leg. It is a tender nudge, full of affection she's never shown for me before. I wonder if she's picked up on Nadia's scent. That essence will likely cling to me for days. Possibly weeks. To my clothes, anyway; I do not intend to outlive my obligation to this cat.
When the pet store opens in the morning, I will make my final voyage to the outside world. I will walk because I left my car at the hospital. It will make no difference. I only need to buy one thing; a single can of cat food. Marguerite will have a feast before I join her mother in death.
With eleven minutes to midnight, Marguerite purrs gently against my leg. She knows my heart is softening for her, if only for a moment. Some great sense of solidarity overcomes me as I feel compelled to scratch her head. She looks up at me, receiving my touch. My fingernails stroke against the fur between her ears. Her vibration grows louder. She wants me to pick her up, to cuddle her. I don't think I have it in me to go that far.
I simply pat Marguerite on the head and retire for the evening. She meows after me, pacing in front of her bowl. Tomorrow I will go to the pet store. Marguerite will get her salmon and I will be allowed to die.
Two-hundred and forty-six minutes after midnight, I am awoken—not by morning light but by a warm weight on my arm. My skin, dampened with sweat, feels the grey and white fur of Marguerite's belly pressed selfishly against me. I recognize and resent the sensation. Without opening my eyes, I ask the animal what she thinks she's doing.
She does not answer.
My eyelids peel open gently; reluctantly. Marguerite stares back at me in the dark. She is fearless, her striped tail brushing languidly behind her. I am transfixed. I never wanted this cat. I never wanted her to get so comfortable in this bed. Now I'm grateful that she has.
She blinks and for a moment, I see Nadia's eyes. They were never far off Marguerite’s own shade but there is no mistaking the difference. The hazel orbs possess my soul. Marguerite blinks at me—deeply, slowly, and full of purpose. I understand.
I apologize to Marguerite and kiss her head. I am sorry to think I could leave her alone. Sorry to believe the promise of a new year could be empty. This year is the blank page for a new adventure, like the rest of my life, like my appreciation for Marguerite.
She is a piece of my wife that gets to live on with me. I have to protect that piece; and our time together. Maybe I can never have Nadia back. Maybe things will never be the same. Maybe that's okay.
I refuse to make a resolution this year. That’s what we would do before. This year, I will start a new tradition. I make Nadia a promise. If I can keep that promise for the rest of this new year, and all the new years to come, that's how she lives on with me, after midnight.