Auld Lang Syne

He wasn’t a mean man. The lack of emotion that everyone saw in him, was just that. He no longer felt anything much about anything at all. And that made him distant, appear standoffish.

He sat staring at the screen. They would drop the ball in Times Square soon. It was nearing midnight there, but not here in Hawai‘i. There were still five hours to go.

This week, as a kind of pre-New Year’s resolution, he’d cleaned out the garage. As with many people who have garages, there’d been no room in his for cars. So much stuff had piled up over the years, that he’d finally ordered a Roll-Offs Hawai‘i dumpster bin, had them drop it on his driveway to fill up. Then they’d haul everything away.

There’d been lots of sorting to do, separating the keeper stuff from the toss-it stuff. Oddly, he’d found another weedwhacker. He could only remember buying the one he used now. Was the old one broken? He poured in a little gas-oil mixture, and after a few pulls on the cord, the engine came to life. It seemed perfectly good. But he had the one he used as well. It confused him. Oh well, he’d keep both. If one died, he’d have a backup. You never knew when you might need a backup. It paid to be prepared.

There were boxes and boxes of things. It seemed like the more he tossed, the more there were. Like some kind of miserable magic. None of the boxes were labeled. He’d given a cursory glance at some of the contents, but more than anything he wanted to place cleared out and looking orderly again. So with less and less examining of contents, he carried box after box to the dumpster, tossed them in, and thought nothing more of it.

And then he’d run across a box that he looked into by chance. It was loaded with fireworks. Old, musty-smelling fireworks. All kinds. An entire box of them.

Although he’d long ago stopped setting off any kind of fireworks, he wanted to take a further look at the contents, so he set the box aside. He wondered what he’d bought, and more curiously, why he hadn’t used them.

After the ball dropped in Times Square, he got up and went out into his now very orderly garage. He could park his old Camry inside now, not that it needed protection anymore. Rusty, the paint shot, it looked like a car that should have been traded in or maybe even junked, long ago. Still, it was nice to be able to park it inside, off the street. That seemed very orderly as well.

He unfolded a beach chair, set it up facing the street, and brought over the box of fireworks. One by one he pulled out the packages. There were sparklers and Roman candles, firecrackers, shooting fountains, ground spinners, and even a few smoke bombs.

All of them sat laid out in front of him. All of them looked and smelled moldy and mildewed. He’d brought a lighter with him. Just to try them.

Peewee firecrackers had always been his favorite. That the whole pack was so compact, could fit nicely in your hand, and still made a good bit of powerful noise, he always thought had been pretty cool.

He tore the package side down, and pulling out the tip of the wound fuses, he held the lighter flame to them. It flickered around the fuses, but there was nothing. Not even a wisp of smoke. How disappointing. He felt so tired, instantly lost interest in the fireworks.

Dropping the babies in the box, he got up, carried it to the dumpster, and tossed it in. For whatever reason he’d kept them and never set them off, it didn’t matter anymore. There was no fun in the prospect of actually finding something that was still good. In fact, he couldn’t stand to look at that box anymore.

He opened his eyes. The ball was about to drop in Times Square.

Shaking his head, he got out of his rocker and went to the garage. His new Nissan Leaf sat shiny and well-protected in the very orderly, very clean garage. His garage was always kept in impeccable condition.

Going to the storage shelf area, he took down the box labeled “Alan’s fireworks.” It was an old, stained, beat-up box, nearly falling apart after all these years. Laying it on his workbench he opened it up. They were all still there, neatly arranged, but old, and moldy smelling.

His son, Alan, had brought them over that time. Left them with him the day before New Year’s Eve so long ago.

“We’ll have a great time with all of these,” Allan had said. “The kids will love it.”

It would be one heck of a New Year’s Eve celebration. He loved to play fireworks with his son and his grandchildren.

Placing the box back on the shelf, he went to the door, shut off the light, and returned to his rocking chair. The ball had already dropped in Times Square, but he didn’t care. His focus was on the family photo above the TV.

It was a group shot, he, his wife, his son and daughter-in-law, and his two grandchildren. It was a family Christmas photo, the last one they took, that last Christmas before his son had brought over the box of fireworks.

He closed his eyes, tried to picture them all, not as they looked in the photo, but as they’d looked in real life. But it had been too long ago now. He could just barely remember even his wife’s face anymore, although she’d passed away several years after that holiday season.

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