Good Luck, Kid
John W. Smithwick
He looked old and tired, beaten, even though he wasn’t a year old. Time can do that when your life’s work is just 366 days and every day is seemingly worse than the last. The fact that it was also Leap Year with its extra day just added to his misery.
He started the year young, fresh. A baby. It was all new and he wanted to experience it all. His enthusiasm was greeted the first day with fanfare and celebration. Promises of a better world echoed the world over. He was welcomed everywhere he went. He was the symbol and the hope of good times yet to come.
But he was warned when he left home that this welcoming would not last. He was told that man will gradually slide back into old habits. What he needed to do was to give them reason to look forward to tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow. He tried. Oh how he tried but something bad happened. 2020 happened.
There were still five days left until midnight but he had already given up. Christmas had always represented the year’s high note. Santa, family visits and Christmas cheer. Hallmark cards and snow angels. It was supposed to be time of joyful anticipation for the New Year and Baby 2021 and all the promise he represented. At midnight, he was to follow tradition and graciously open the door for the arrival of Baby 2021. Then he was to step back into the shadows and join the other old men and their memories of years past. He had so looked forward to that. But this year, Christmas was the final and most painful disappointment and it broke him.
People were told to stay home because of the virus. Yet, politicians visited beauty salons. They were told not to visit for the holidays. But lawmakers traveled out of state for Thanksgiving. Beaches and parks were closed, except for state governors. Tickets were issued and fines paid just because people wanted to dine outside and breathe the fresh air. Added to this was the rancor of possibly the most hateful and distrustful national election witnessed by this generation. Tweets took the place of fact, editorials were mistaken for news reports. Civility became a sign of weakness. Compromise became a foreign word. Rioting became the norm and protecting one’s personal property a crime. No one had ever given up. No one had ever quit early. But he did. On day 361 he stopped caring and went home.
He found himself standing on a dark and empty street. Along one side of the road was what could generously be described as the most plain of red brick walls. Possibly ten feet high, there was a door and small window every few feet. In each door, about chest high, was a small pane of opaque glass. Behind him, on the other side of the street was… nothing, Nothing in the literal sense. There were no buildings, no trees, no background, no depth. Just total darkness. It was as if the street marked the edge of the world. He thought it was strange that he never noticed it when he first stepped outside this morning. Perhaps it only became visible as the day was ending. Or perhaps it was merely a sad reflection of his failed task. Truthfully, he didn’t care. The only thing that mattered to him was the door in front of him with 2020 etched in the glass. It was the same door he opened in the morning to greet the new year, and now it will be the door he closes to end his day.
He approached the door and touched the pane of glass. He allowed his fingertips to gently trace the date. 2020 was his year. It was his time to bring hope and promise to the world. His one time to shine, and he failed. The year that started so promisingly will now be remembered as his failure.
He looked at the door to his left. 2021 was etched in its glass and a pale glow of light danced in its window. He knew that Baby 2021 was being prepared for his entry into the world. This light would grow brighter with the approach of the new year. When the clock struck midnight, that door would open and Baby 2021 would emerge. The world would again celebrate and again reality would eventually set in. Virus, politics, hunger, distrust, separation. 2020’s broken spirit did not allow him to imagine anything else.
He then looked to the right, down the long row of doors with their etched dates. 2019 was closest, then 2018, 2017 and so one. The doors nearest him had the brightest lights. The further he looked the fainter the light until, eventually, blackness. At that point no memories remained of those years. Everyone who welcomed those years and celebrated new beginnings were dead. What they hoped for, what they expected, gone. 2020 took some solace in that fact. At some point in time, memories of 2020 will be lost and with it, the last glimmer of light, his pain, extinguished.
He turned the door nob of 2020. But before he entered, he looked again at 2021. A sadness came to him. “Good luck, kid,” he said. “You’re going to need it.”
John W. Smithwick is a writer living in Florida.