This Past December 30th

The Artful Mind

This Past December 30th . . .

. . . at ten p.m. I called my brother Herby to wish him a happy New Year. It was a day early but I was working the following day and going out New Year’s Eve.

“You’re early,” he snarled. “Why do you always call early?”

I didn’t remember ever calling him early before. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I’m not going to be around tomorrow so I thought I’d call tonight.”

“You always do that. Why don’t you just call on New Year’s Day? Two years ago you even called two days early on my birthday. What’s with you?” Herby asked.

“Two years ago I was going away on a trip so I called before I left, and what does that have to do with New Year’s? I wanted to see what you guys were up to tomorrow and wish you all a happy and a healthy.”

Herby said, “You could have called on New Year’s Day and asked what we did and wish us a happy and a healthy then.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked. “What’s the big deal?”

“I’ll tell you the difference, you schmuck,” my brother said. “Calling early doesn’t count. You wasted a call.”

How could I argue with that logic, I thought. “Well, now that I’ve called, tell me, what are you guys up to tomorrow night?”

“Same as usual.”

“Oh,” I said not daring to tell him that I didn’t know what the usual was. “Well have a good time.”

“If it’s the same as usual, how the hell can we have a good time?” Herb said not hiding his disgust. “What is wrong with you? I’ll bet that you don’t even remember what our usual New Year’s Eve is.”

Sticking pins in dolls, drowning cute little cuddly kittens, tripping old ladies, beating your wife and kids . . . these are things I thought but wisely didn’t say. “OK, I’ll bite. What’s your usual?”

“See,” he said in his haughty tone. “What did I tell you. For ten years we do the same thing and you can’t remember. You’re like that drug commercial where they fry the egg and call it your brain. Did you model for that?”

I knew that the phone company was working on video phones, but I really wanted them to perfect the “reach out and grab somebody phone.”

“Well, whatever,” I said. “How’s everything else going?”

“Are you crazy or what?” Herby barked. “It’s almost New Year’s Eve — how can it be going?”

“Herb, give my best to Betty and the kids and be well.”

“You don’t remember, do you?” I could feel his smirk twisting around the phone wires until it got to my ear. “Every year we go to the video store and each of us picks out a movie and then we each select our favorite take-out food and we go home and eat and watch the four movies.”

“Sounds great,” I tell him. “So what’s so bad?”

“Compare it to what you are doing, and you tell me,” he said meanly.

My bride and I were going to the movies and for pizza afterwards with two other couples—no big deal. So I told Herby that we were invited along with other major contributors to the Senator’s campaign to join them in a limo caravan that left New Haven en route to the Met, where there was to be a gala thank-you New Year’s bash.

“You don’t even like the opera,” he said.

“That’s the Metropolitan Museum—The Rockefeller Wing,” I told him. “Peter Duchin and his orchestra will be playing, and it’s being catered by The Four Seasons Restaurant.”

“It sounds like your kind of hoity-toity night. I’d expect Peter Duchin to play that kind of gig. Are you staying in New York?”

“Yes, we all get minisuites at The Plaza. It’s part of the invite.”

“You’re such a lucky bastard,” he says.

“Not so,” I tell him. “I have to rent a tux, and Elaine has to buy a new dress for the gala and another outfit for brunch the next day.”

“That’s really tough shit,” he says.

“Take care,” I tell him.

“Are you stupid or what?” he asks. “It’s almost New Year’s Eve. How the hell can I take care?”

I really didn’t want to continue this, but in order to end it I had to jump in, so I did. “What are you talking about?”

“While you’re playing your posh posh—chichi—fa la la night, I’ll be sitting here worrying.”

“That’s nice of you, but don’t worry about us. We’ll be OK,” I tell him.

“I’m not talking about you, you buffoon. I’m talking about me. Every New Year’s Eve for the past four or five years something bad has happened, and I’ve been sitting home all week just waiting for this year’s bad news to come and ruin my good time.”

Not wanting to be told how dumb I am or to be lectured again, I choose not to ask about the previous year’s misfortunes, but I can’t help myself from saying, “Let me get this straight. You are and have been and will be just sitting around waiting for something bad to happen? Is that right?”

“Of course. What am I supposed to do?”

“Why don’t you just go about your business and if something bad is going to happen, it will happen whether you are waiting or not, asleep or awake, working or staying at home.”

“You don’t understand,” he says. “This is too cerebral for you.”

“How long do you go on waiting?”

“Just until dinner,” he says. “If nothing happens by then, I just quit worrying and get on with things.”

That makes sense, I tell him, thinking that he should be in restraints.

“Why don’t you eat early and get it over with so you can enjoy your night?” I ask.

“You don’t understand anything,” he says, not bothering to hide his venom. “That’s not how it’s done.”

“Right. Gotta go. Happy New Year,” I say quickly.

“Yeah. Happy New Year to you, too. Thanks for calling,” my brother says. “Have a happy and a healthy.”

The Artful Mind

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