This story is by Tiffany Araya and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This is what the world waited for all night. People traveled here from all parts of the Earth for this moment. There’s a nervous thrill to it, whether you’re braving the chill in Times Square or you’re overdressed in the living room of your own home. I look over at my Abuela, our matriarch occupying such a small space in the room. She is sitting up straight on the recliner, hands clasped in her lap. Everyone in the room is looking at the TV with wide eyes and smiles that hurt our cheeks. But, this party is not like the same one we had last year and every year since I could remember. We grasp for joy but the buzz in the air is different from any other time we’ve spent together. I stare blindly into the rainbow of the screen to keep myself from looking at Abuela. It’s thrilling, I repeat in my mind.
I think to myself: what are we excited about? We spend most days cursing the time for slipping away, but tonight we celebrate it. We eat to it, raise our glasses in its honor, and rush it to pass, cheering it on every hour, every minute, every second. We dressed up in praise. There is a smile plastered on nearly every face in the room. The tiny figures on TV are in a frenzy and we count out loud as if we, too, are outside in the cold packed tightly in the crowd with a million people. Abuela is motionless, save for the lava rumbling beneath the surface. I am not the only one who can tell. I’m trembling with a sickening mixture of anxiety and excitement.
The lights on the Christmas tree make my sequined shirt sparkle. I look as if I’m literally shining with glee. My mom smiles, too, pretending to play along, but I can tell that she’s watching Abuela in her peripheral. Then, we catch each other’s eyes from across the room. We’re both smiling because that’s tradition. Our faces are contorted in falsity as we anticipate the final seconds of the countdown. Everyone in the room looks at each other intently to ground us in this short-lived moment. Abuela keeps her eyes fixed on the TV.
I think back briefly to this time last year when my boyfriend and I kissed amongst thousands of strangers in a shower of confetti. His bladder, a few short seconds from rupturing, broke the spell immediately. I hope it’s like that for everyone, and not just us. The magic, like nearly everything in life, is temporary. The party ends and everyone is desperately in search of a bathroom. We can’t admire the kaleidoscope sky forever because time is on her own side. Eventually, all that glitters fades away.
This year will not be christened with a kiss. I invited my boyfriend’s family, but now I’m relieved they declined. This is nothing like the celebration I bragged about. Abuela’s eyes flicker from one lively face to another, but she is not inspired to smile. Everyone avoids her gaze. We are uncomfortable, though no one would dare to admit it.
An orchestra of voices rumbles all around us. Like gusts of wind, I hear the shouting swelling in and out of every window, every building erupting with commotion. We are creeping closer to the grand finale. Abuela scans the room, seeking empathy and when her eyes finally reach mine, I dodge them without thinking. If this moment is a red button, I pushed it.
Abuela’s rigid face and posture falter slightly. My mom finally drops the act, worry spreading across her face, starting at her mouth and breaking in her eyes. I take a hard look at the picture of my beautiful aunt hanging on the wall behind the Christmas tree, bracing myself for the next phase. Her picture smiles angelically at me and I look away.
The moment looms upon us now, all of us being forced to start over. There are years that feel like a breath of fresh air and others that feel like letting go, which I suspect is why this lump grows in my throat. And there are years that feel like the end.
I hop up and down, desperate to shake the apprehension. My mom edges closer to Abuela, trying to protect the peace.
There is a sudden explosion, happily ever after blown to pieces, as Abuela lets out a painful scream, throwing herself in a crumpled collapse in the direction of the Christmas tree.