Austin was still inside the Falafel shop taking a whiz.
Outside in the doorway, Lily and Mona huddled, their backs to the crowd surging by in party hats, blaring noise-makers. Their cigarettes were joined at the tip forming a perfect V. The wheel of the lighter was hot under Lily’s thumb as Mona hands cupped the fluttering orange flame. Lily loved the feel of Mona’s body, the egg shape of her mouth sucking on the butt. She tried to imagine what Mona’s lips were going to feel like at midnight when they all promised to kiss. Would it melt in her mouth like gelatin or kiss back with the firm pulp of some sweet fruit?
A couple trying to get into the shop glared at the girls for blocking the door. They didn’t seem to appreciate the smoke either and the woman waved her hand in front of her face as she squeezed by, even managing a cough, while her boyfriend gave Lily the once over. Lily felt the heat of his wretched misplaced longing which he tried to mask behind a hateful grin. But it was too late. She’d seen it and he knew, rendering him more wretched and he slipped through the door, defeated. It was all powerful and insane and Lily started to laugh, collapsing into the cushion of Mona’s body and almost spilling the can lodged in the crook of her arm.
When Austin appeared, he had a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and his fly was open.
“Hey, dude, keep that thing in its cage,” said Mona.
Austin gazed down at his groin, perplexed by the mechanics of his zipper. Mona swore and reaching over zipped him up. He pulled the cigarette from her lips to get a light.
They slipped into the crowd moving towards City Hall for the lights and fireworks show, allowing the current of bodies to pull them along like logs adrift on a dark slow moving river. Alongside, a parade of stilt-walkers glided by in billowing satin gowns. Jugglers balanced balls flying high above them in the air. They passed through a block strung with Chinese lanterns, momentarily bathing faces in pastel moonbeams.
A gust of wind blew open Lily’s coat and she wished she could freeze solid like one of the ice sculptures they’d passed on display. Then, everything she felt at that moment would also freeze. Wouldn’t it? Her happiness, her high, this feeling of invisibility with its strange heaviness, the expectation salted with fear, and the pain—this wonderful pain like a pestle crushing hot seeds into the mortar of her heart. She felt happy, loved. She clung to Mona whose lips were almost purple now with the cold and Lily thought of dark, ripe plums.
“Hey, isn’t that Mona mom?” said Austin, nudging her shoulder.
“Shit!” said Mona and ducked behind Lily. “Where?”
“Relax,” said Lily. “He’s just messing with you.”
Mona punched him in the back. “Asshole.”
“And what are you hiding behind me for?” said Lily. “I’m supposed to be at your house, remember? If it was your mom, we’d both be busted.”
Suddenly, Lily felt sad, thinking about Mona’s mother whom they’d watched earlier getting all dolled up for some guy that she’d never even met before. Who goes on a blind date on New Year’s Eve anyway? thought Lily. Not even her own mother had ever pulled a lame stunt like that.
The tips of Lily’s long hair glittered gold, which she’d frosted herself with a kit from the drugstore. They licked at her face and neck and the sensation reminded her of Matt who’d dumped her before the Christmas break for Kelly Morris but hadn’t the balls to tell her. Instead, the news had made its way to Lily like venom from a snake bite, poisoning those around her before reaching the heart. She knew they all thought she’d gotten what she deserved, seeing how she’d done the same thing to Danny Leahy a couple month before when she’d left him for Matt.
It was all powerful…insane...Lily felt her stomach burning from the rye they’d put in their drinks. Over the crowd, an enormous skeletal puppet head floated by. It had a black beret and a tiny painted on French mustache. It turned and looked straight through her as though she had no soul. Someone brushed by, whispering her name.
When they reached City Hall, Lily took Mona’s hand, and with Austin following, penetrated the crowd. She was a mole, burrowing itself into the centre of the earth. She had no idea how near or far that was, but when she came to a spot where she felt a comforting depth, she knew she was there.
A red spotlight swept back and forth over the crowd. Powerful beams of multi-coloured lights flashed across the sky, pulsing and dancing to movie theme songs. Lily felt the music inside her chest, pounding, trying to get out. As soon as the last rays crisscrossed the sky, the first set of fireworks erupted from the ground. Three flares shot heavenward and exploded in giant mushroom caps. A round of small bursts rocketed through the sky, filling the black dome with fiery chrysanthemums. After a few minutes of steady explosions, the heavens quieted.
From the stage, a gong was struck. Its echo sounded so sad and lonely to Lily and she felt a void expanding inside her, threatening to swallow her whole. As time counted down, vanishing into the smoke, Lily grew small, helpless—uncertain of what the universe would do. Could it stop? What if suddenly everything ceased to exist? Would the cosmos open to reveal the face of God?
Then, it was over. A blip. A dud. Nothing more. The moment was gone. But around her, the crowd had gone crazy and everyone was cheering. Lily turned, seeking consolation and saw Mona locking lips with Austin. She felt herself sliding down, down into the bowels of the earth.
Lily despised them both. But mostly, she despised the universe, which in its first brief new moments had already disappointed her. A black moth from the debris descended on Lily’s shoulder. It was still warm and disintegrated between her fingers when she tried to touch it, leaving them smelling of gunpowder.