It is December 31, five o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m riding the elevator up to the annual Office New Year’s Party. I know a few things about what the party will be like. The food will be good. The cafeteria cook is not involved in any of the cooking. She is just serving, as she does every year for this one particular meal. She doesn’t appear to be resentful. I guess she just has to swallow her feelings, like we have to do the meals that she cooks the rest of the year. The drink will be plentiful and ever flowing. I’ve already booked a taxi for 12:20. The loud-talking and laughing drunks will be numerous, but relatively harmless, although they will spill a bit. The gossip doing the rounds about fellow employees will be interesting. I’ve often wondered what people say about me, a single man at 34 with no romantic prospects in sight. I do get a few predatory looks from some of the women at the party that I pretend not to see. I think that they are just joking with me.
The bosses will make long boring speeches. But most of us know that it is wise to look at them as if what they are saying is profound or original, not what they say every year – word for word, joke for joke.
I am a big fan of the predictable. No one knows that there are only three different choices for what I will have for dinner: chicken wings, hot but not suicidal, hamburgers with lettuce, tomatoes and mustard, occasionally a pickle, but nothing else and pork chops smothered with apple sauce, and accompanied by mashed potatoes. They have a regular circuit in a regular order. Today’s dinner will move my dinner schedule back one day.
My holidays are always in the last two weeks of August, and I always stay in the same cabin by Eagle Lake, where I sit on an old deck chair to watch the waterfowl. I think that next year will be my fifteenth anniversary of such a vacation.
People are well aware of my predictability. Already, as we go to sit down for the meal, one of the early-to-be-drunk guys walks up to me, and with an already laughing audience of his friends, asks me the question: “Say, Carol didn’t you wear that jacket, pants and shirt last year? And maybe the year before that, and the ones before that as well?” He doesn’t wait for an answer because he knows that he is right. He just turns around and exits laughing, as do his good buddies. I don’t say anything because I too know that he is right. And I don’t respond with what I’m thinking. “Say weren’t you this piss-tank drunk by this time last year, and the years before that as well?”
The Meal and What Follows Immediately Afterwards
The meal is great, although I wouldn’t add turkey to my regular round of meals. I sit with the people who share my office, and we all catch up with the lives of those who have had major events since the last New Years Office Party: engagement, marriage, birth of a child or a grandchild, purchase of a new car, or a visit to a country to which they had previously not travelled. I, of course, have nothing to add to that part of the conversation, other than making sounds and facial expressions of approval.
I have had a few drinks, and am feeling very comfortable. All is going as expected, as it should be. When the meal has ended, and people’s retirements, hiring, promotions and the like have been toasted, I proceed to what I do ever year at that point. I go for a smoke. I will be joined by the others who do so every year in the elevator as we go to the top floor, and up the short flight of stairs to the roof of the building.
Will We Meet Again
I wonder as I approach the elevator whether I will see HER this year. There is always this woman, around my age, who I don’t see at any other time of the year, and whose name I have forgotten. To be honest, I will admit to looking forward to seeing her here this one time of the year, every year, as she lights up my rarely used imagination with the fire of possibilities that haven’t happened, and probably will not ever.
When the elevator door opens at her floor, she enters. As soon as I see her I remember her name. – Milly. I look at her and smile. She smiles back. Neither of us says anything. We are in an elevator crowded with nicotine addicts going out for a smoke. No form of conversation seems appropriate to me, and apparently to her either..
The elevator door opens at the top floor. We eagerly get out, head for the small series of steps, and go out to the roof. There is snow on the roof, and the wind is blowing cold. It has been a harsh winter.
Emboldened by her smile, I follow Milly out to some kind of brick structure where we will be protected from the wind when we smoke. She isn’t wearing much clothing, so she heads over there more quickly than I do in my relatively thick jacket and warm pants.
In her hurried pace and her far from sensible shoes, she slips on a patch of ice covered by snow. I realize quickly that not only is she going to fall, but she is going to fall way, way down, over the edge of the roof of this 34-storey building.
I don’t really think about what I should do. It is more that I respond impulsively by diving towards her, and grabbing her around the waist. This maneuver, while rather hasty, still works. We fall together onto the roof, not over the edge.
We lay together for a while, each of us breathing heavily, and holding each other tightly. Then she said, “You know Carl, I didn’t ever think you make a move on me, and yet we’ve known each other for years. A few seconds later, both of us are laughing like it was a good joke.
Not one usually for telling jokes, I have to reply with “Well, I never thought that you would ever fall for me. That’s why.”
And that’s the beginning of how one day a year became every day of the year. And my meals have changed, as has my summer vacation.