She was eighteen and the flat was cold and hazy. She sat cross legged on the bed and lit up again. Four grimy walls that shuddered as the trains passed through beneath. A steel framed bed and an unpacked suitcase. Shoes, dirty laundry, strewn at the door.
The music and merriment from revellers next door drifted up the hallway, under her door and clung to the smoke that engulfed her. She sniggered. You’re pathetic, she told herself.
She lay back on the bed. The mattress springs stabbed her back. Glanced at the radio on the floor beside her. 23:27. The final hour of 1973 and she’d spent it painting her toe nails and scrubbing the grime off the kitchen sink in her new studio apartment that was not new. Before that she had spent far too long tuning the radio. Commentary occasionally broke the static, but it was all in French. Beyond her comprehension.
She wasted the next 10 minutes blowing smoke rings, watching them grow and fad. And thinking. What the fuck am I even doing here? She shivered and pulled on her jacket.
She’d been in Paris barely a week. She knew not a soul and possessed no plan. The plane ticket was cheap on Christmas day, so she packed up and set off. One way. Her CV boasted of touch typing and calligraphy skills. But no one was looking to hire in the last week of the year.
The parties next door were rampant by now. A glass shattered and people cheered and jeered. Others broke out in song. Fireworks crackled in the distance.
The radio flashed 23:47 prompting her to sit up, get up and go to the fridge. It was bare, bar the bottle of champaign she’d bought at the airport. To celebrate my arrival. She rinsed out a chipped mug, wedged the bottle between her thighs and tried to coax the cork free. It refused to edge out.
“Oh come on,” she cried aloud, “Come on!”
Clock flashes 23:53. She twists, pushes, pulls at the cork. Urges it, wills it, curses it. Hot now she whips off her jacket.
23:55. She thuds it onto the bench, lengthwise. Bottleneck in one hand, cork in the other. Unscrewing. Bloody thing.
23:59. TEN, NINE, EIGHT.
The countdown booms through the walls and with one last furious tug the cork slips free and the bottle spins out of control on the bench top. Champaign jets across the walls, across her body, and pours onto the floor. The bottle smashes on the ground, bringing the mug down with it.
THREE, TWO, ONE.
She collapses on her knees onto chunks of glass and her tears combine with the fizzing liquid that’s soaking into her jeans and socks. She’s swallowed by the singing and well-wishing and cheering that is so close and so far. And she weeps.
She goes back to a time, just a week ago, when she had been sitting at a full table, with a full heart and too much red wine. The whole gang was there. They had eaten tapas in Soho and laughed at things that weren’t even funny. Like the waiters name. They danced at a bar where there was no dance floor and said teary, drunken farewells at the end of it all. They promised to visit her.
Back in the Paris flat she was still on her knees and her eyes were still red. But she was grinning.
She scrounged around in her suitcase, digging deep for a pencil, a pen, a piece of paper. On the back of a crumpled receipt she scrawled a list. A list of all the things she smiled about.
Drinking red wine with friends.
Awaiting a visitor.
Hot, fresh French bread at every corner.
She wrote and wrote until the page was full and the radio flashed 01:01. And then with soggy jeans and a kitchen that smelt of stale alcohol, she slumped into bed and slept. She had a big year ahead of her.