Five Minutes To Midnight.

Five Minutes To Midnight.

A Story by CharlieO

This is something different for me. Not sure that it really worked.

             My keys jangle as they turn in the ignition, my engine reluctantly purrs, rather than roars, into life. This seems like a half-hearted effort on the cars part, as if it realises I am rousing it from slumber at an inappropriate hour. I offer him an apology with a stroke of the steering wheel. The car is definitely a he. It isn’t these seductive apologies that have decided his gender. His tendency towards disappointment-ridden silence suggests he must be a man.
            After this action I lean over to check the time. It’s 23.55 and the neon blue of the digits illuminate a small space of air surrounding it. Tonight, unusually, this light doesn’t seem unnatural. On an ordinary evening it would, but tonight is not an ordinary night.
            The bubble and froth of conversation comes foaming down the walls of the apartment building I have just left. Like champagne from a de-corked bottle the exchange of sounds escapes the windows. Letting my eyes focus on these big blank windows I transport myself back five minutes.
            The windows had stemmed up with all of those hot bodies with their hot breath. The clinking of champagne glasses, the clip of heels on hardwood flooring and the rattle of ice in metal cocktail mixers accompanied with the rooms oppressive heat was too much for me. Even peoples chatter seemed to heat the place. Like the material of my little black vintage number the room felt clingy. 
            I managed to work my way to the windows, big minimalist affairs, weaving through groups of chattering people. Having managed to open one to a crack I find myself thrilled by the chill of the wind. This caused the group of women to my right to shudder and move of like a flight of startled doves, puffing up their feathers and wiggle their bums.
I really didn’t care.
Unwrapping my fingers from the stem of my wine glass I moved them to the cold glass of the window.
Then came a change.
There was a burning sensation in my stomach that opposed the chill of my hand. As I wiggled my fingers I felt a tingle in my stomach, then an impression of a wheel turning with little sparks flying off in all directions through my body. These little sparks managed to reach my hand with its little drops of moisture dotted all over. Through the imprint of my hand I spotted my car and, barely conscious of my movements, I found myself floating towards the door, brushing past warm bodies and prickly arms. I viewed the party, in my mind at least, in fuzzy slow motion, like a paused DVD that has been set to rewind. This fuzziness, for want of some better description, was a welcome relief from the obtrusiveness of the party.
A slight detour to my own flat, to obtain protection against the harsh December weather, and I was on my way.
I am conscious of how my behaviour could appear, but I really don’t do New Years parties. Rather I don’t do them without family and this year I find myself miles from home. The party I have just deserted throw me into a troupe of strangers all linked by a social web I have thus far failed to get caught up in.
None of this really matters now that I have escaped. The party belongs to another world now.
In the absence of the noise, which would usually be assaulting the inside of my car, I can hear the gentle ticking on my indicator. This noise is surprisingly soothing. I allow myself to sit back within my chair the contours of my back shaping to achieve a more comfortable position.
The ticking is reassuring for another reason. It signals the certainty of my surroundings. To some extent it solidifies my plans, who I am to meet and when. The clocks neon blue lights now display 23.56. I have four more minutes.
Hitting my first set of traffic lights I have a few moments to ponder the party. I wonder if I have been missed yet. This seemed unlikely, the room was becoming so crowded as I left that people were literally stepping on each other’s toes.
Eying the clock again I see it has not altered. This action causes me to miss the change of the lights, but no one is here, there are no horns to beep at me. Instead I take a deep breath. Like the chill air at the party this breath controls me unconsciously, that tingling in my finger causes the wheel to turn left. As I breathe out I feel the air around me move giving me a little more space. The roads are practically empty all I can see is one set of red lights in the distance and some yellow headlights a little closer. This is not the time when people would be travelling. Somehow being trapped in this car when the outside is so quite and devoid of life seems wrong.
It’s 23.57 and I know now that I am heading for the sea. To the little park which borders the beach.
With no traffic I can be there in two minutes, if I stretch the speed limit a little, making sure to be careful of the packs of hunting drunks, they are all that can slow me down. I open my window, change gear and hit the accelerator letting the cold air play through my hair. The sound of my engine and the tyres making contact with road are again comforting. That wind continues to tease my curls. I don’t really care how I look, there is no one here for me to impress, people are in their homes, bars, clubs or just huddled in groups at those organised outdoor events.
There are a few more cars now as I bypass the town centre. I wonder who these people are and what they are doing in their cars at this hour. I question where they are driving. A gust of air brings in the taste of salt air. The sea is in sight now down a narrow street surrounded by houses. Are they to wondering why I am here, on this road at this time? What people are thinking about my actions or what those actions tell people about me are a constant worry of mine.
Then again there is no way the people in those cars could see me let alone judge me. They probably don’t give me a second thought; I am just another set of lights on the road. I think too much, or too much of others peoples opinions. I am one of those people who come across as either shy or stuck up, depending on the person making the judgement.
I pause for thought, this knowledge, brought about by the freedom of the wind and the drive suggests my decision to leave the party may have been a little rash. My preoccupation with people’s opinions may have made that room seem stuffier than it actually was.
It’s 23.58.
And I have two minutes.                     
The smell of the sea is growing a little stronger. It is that salty taste which sticks to ones tongue and lips. I start to think that I can taste it, but maybe that’s just expectation beginning to layer that flavour on my lips. I run my tongue along the top of my lip and it just touches the corners and bottom of my mouth. I am still none the wiser.
I’m down the end of that narrow street now; little tributaries run off on each side and bundles of houses form at the end of them. Each one of those houses contains a little bunch of lives and stories and no two are the same. How many people are still awake waiting to see in the New Year? I like to imagine a little girl, similar to how I used to be. She is too young her parents feel to see in the New Year or too young to understand or appreciate the significance of the evening. She waits, alone, for the magic moment, the alignment of those little neon noughts will most certainly bring. It’s like some beautiful magician sneaking in to show her a whole world of new wonders.
Clearly I am not so different from that little girl. It’s somewhat reassuring to think that there is some continuity between that younger me and me now, driving to wherever, searching for that same magician and his magic.
This continuity characterises New Year. In that magic moment, when those zeros appear, when the fireworks go off, the confetti flies and people hug, kiss and shout there is continuity. Is there a remembrance of the sensations of New Years previous? As people attempt to shed the past year, or years, are they attempting to re-create that continuity? Is that continuity being re-experienced?
I wonder if this is why New Years resolutions have a tendency to repeat themselves.
All of these thoughts are a little jumbled in my mind.
New Years resolutions are really odd things. We make them whilst we bask in the hope of the Christmas period, but they are soon dashed by that 9’oclock Monday morning feel of mid January. Those resolutions get boxed up; labelled ‘Xmas decorations’ stored in the loft to be brought out and hung up the same time next year.
That thought is far too glum its New Year after all.
I am running out of time to find a space to find my own celebration.
Perhaps I should make a resolution to be more positive – perhaps I should take less flights of fancy and remain rooted in the corner of the stuffy party packed with people rooted firmly in reality. However if I did that I would never have any more resolutions like this one. Chicken and egg.
The houses to my left and right become larger and move further apart, with lawns stretching further from the pavement, the windows become bigger and brighter as if the people are happier in those houses, does their money make them like that or is it all of that space those big houses contain?
I’m speeding now to make it to my destination on time. The movement of my foot causes an ache as tendons stretch.
I am involved in the action of chasing the pools of white streetlight, counting them down before I reach the end of the road. The sea is in sight at 23.59.
My car, rather than myself, steers into a parking slot. I start to feel that familiar New Year expectation. The gobstopper ball in the throat and then the big black bowling ball in my stomach. These are the tell tale signs. This isn’t the negative seconds before an interview kind of expectation. It is more positive than that. It is more the sensation one experiences when presented with a thick slab of chocolate cake, the sound as a knife parts the icing, its that wide eyed, pupils dilating and finger twitching kind of feeling.
It’s the icing on the cake.
Cuddling the buddle of my blanket from my backseat I appreciate the cold and quite of this moment of this meeting place. This is ominous given the time. I realise that I have no idea what time it is. As if on cue the group to my right, obscured by some trees a little way off, are hushed, and sound which passes like Chinese whispers through the pack.
‘It’s almost time.’
A short burst of activity, rustling of papers, bare feet on leafs and the brushing of winter coats and thick winter materials.
I have to begrudge their interruption of my private New Years celebration. This park should be big enough for all of us. This cannot be my own celebration if I am forced to share it. Even with the December wind and cloudless sky the clammy feeling of the party returns.
I plonk myself unceremoniously down on my blanket realising that my moment has gone. That gorgeous chocolate cake has been removed, taken from under my nose, for bad behaviour.
 I am being to become dour again. It is New Years. I shouldn’t begrudge them their happiness just because it differs from my own.
The giggles and individual voices chiming in together sound better from this distance than they did at the party. It could almost be the clamour and chatter of birdsong given where the sound is escaping.
I lie down and settle into a comfortable position, my hands behind my head. I am readying myself.
With this new position my expectation changes in an instant, it gains a kind of clarity, which was lacking. I lie like a woman waiting for her long absence lover.
Pressing my eyes closed I brace myself for his return. How will he smell, look, taste? Will he arrive with the winter wind? Like knocks on the door the final three seconds come. And I prepare myself for him.
And with the winter wind the New Year comes in. The lover I have been waiting for pushes open the door and with him comes the fireworks. I let the chilling winter wind plays over me like a lovers icy fingers.
That big black ball in my stomach which expectation dumped within me begins to shrink and then disappear. I’ve gone back to that moment at the party, the icy sensation and the fireworks in my belly. Only now it is different.
 I am watching the fireworks above me shooting up into the air, climbing they reach higher and higher into the midnight air until they reach their destination. With a bang they explode into a rainbow of beautiful colours. Like a magician opening his box of tricks solely to me.

However, none of these little things matter because he is taking my hand and leading me on into the New Year.  

© 2008 CharlieO

Author's Note

Just let me know what you think. Constructive criticism would be great.

My Review

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You shouldn't worry about whether or not this worked. Not that it will necessarily stop you from doing so, but there really is no need.

This is fantastic.

You've got a great balance between the harsh neon reality of the time, with its inevitable sense of urgency, and the flow and ebb of the thoughts of your narrator. Her voice (unless a man happens to be wearing a slinky vintage dress, which would be remarkably surreal for the reality of this) shows off fantastically your ability to conjure little scenes -- her imagination changing the reality of the situation to suit the simile used to describe it. I am especially fond of the champagne section.

Unless I just missed 23:57, I like how the time progresses as a background to the thoughts and actions. The subtle shift in rhythm this causes helps to heighten the sensation of time's passing, and moves away from a possible thought that it is the action that drives time.

There is a fantastic element of self-realisation, especially when your protagonist actively suppresses the bad thoughts that clash with the celebratory time of year. I like it when a stream of consciousness does that.

It's taken me so long to actually read this, after having seen hints and slow builds for a while now. When I started it, I couldn't actually stop. I'm glad I waited all this time to see the finished piece.

This could do with a couple of minor edits, to clean up a couple of spelling mistakes, and possibly to clean up the flow of certain sentences. But these are very minor edits.

This really is fantastic.

Well done you!

(One part of me is confused though: is the lover real, or merely another metaphor?)

Posted 11 Years Ago

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Added on August 19, 2008



Southampton, United Kingdom

Hello there, I'm have been on this site for a couple of months now.I have just started writing again having gotten bogged down in work for my university course (English Literature at Southampton Uni).. more..

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