One Last Chance.
I am Joe’s Conscience.
I am agitated. I keep moving. Also, I am annoying. Not annoyed, annoying. I won’t stop making Joe frustrated and upset.
I am Joe’s conscience.
A countdown to the New Year has already begun; another thing to look forward to, to meet, and then to forget. I won’t let him forget.
Dr Joe Cooper doesn’t know why it matters, why people celebrate it, why people even care. Isn’t time just an illusion, anyway?
It is 11:45 pm.
A different voice inside his head tells him that, but not me. Never me.
He is, of course, alone; his wife left him early February, took his car, took his children, took his dignity.
But that doesn’t matter, right? All that matters in life is your success.
He has just come home from the hospital. His job is tiring. He does well.
He is successful, he earns money, he saves lives.
But who saves him? He doesn’t want to think about that.
Instead, he focuses on the eerie glow on the horizon.
It is 11:46 pm.
Is that the future; the New Year, waiting at the edge of the world?
It gets brighter. He wonders if God has a sense of humour; making the future look bright when Dr Cooper has already seen his brightest days pass.
I disagree with him about that. But that thought never seems to leave him.
Sometimes I keep him awake at night. I make him relive those things he said to his wife. I make him imagine how he could have done it better.
If only he had said sorry. If only he had apologised.
There was nothing he could do.
He lies to himself a lot. His family used to think it was because he was always trying to cheer up other people. Always delivering the bad news.
Another minute passes on the clock.
It is 11:57 pm.
It’s dark and he wishes the sky would just swallow him up, out of his apartment, out of the pain.
December 31st is half crossed-out on the calendar.
January 1st is untouched.
The light on the horizon has flooded the sky, but it isn’t sunlight.
It is white, it is empty, and it is blinding. He knows he should look away.
He doesn’t.
Light is everywhere, it penetrates the darkness of the apartment and it seems to hum in his bones like a rumbling machine.
It is 11:58 pm.
For a moment, Dr Cooper hesitates.
He feels like he should do something; walk away from the bright glow and focus on something less damaging to his pupils.
He doesn’t.
It seems almost as if the sounds of the city have been dulled like nothing really exists except Dr Cooper and the light in his eyes.
He glances at the clock.
It is 11:59 pm.
There is only light.
Joseph Cooper.
An elevator opens in front of me, and a scene folds out exactly how it has done for years in my memory, again and again. But this time, it’s real.
My apartment door waits in front of me. From here, I can already hear the frantic urges of my wife as she gathers the children’s suitcases and directs them towards the exit.
“Hurry up, he’ll be home any second. I want to be gone before he gets here.”
I hear those words echo in my mind again and again. I know them by heart.
The door opens and she steps out, hair messy, cheeks red.
She looks at me and her eyes go wide.
I know what will happen next; she’ll tear up, and I’ll say her name, but she’ll push past me into the elevator that is still open. I won’t go after her; I’ll stay standing in shock, watching as the toddler waves in my direction.
She will be gone, the year will pass, and I will stand in my apartment on New Year’s eve, wondering why I am hurting.
I won’t let that happen.
I can’t.
I say her name, and she pushes past me.
So I say her name again. The elevator begins to close and I reach my hand out to stop it. She’s sobbing.
“Please,” I say, “Don’t leave. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
The kids are crying, too. I don’t think they understand. They’re too young.
But they’re crying, anyway; because mommy and daddy are crying.
“Please,” I repeat, taking her hand, “I know it’s hard, but we can work through this. We can do better. I can do better. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
She rests her head on my shoulder and sobs some more. I hold her tightly and feel hot tears in my eyes.
“Okay,” she whispers, “But that’s all you get. One last chance.”
I am content. I keep sighing. Also, I am encouraging. Not encouraged, encouraging. I won’t stop making Joe happy and thankful.
I am Joe’s conscience.
A countdown to the New Year has already begun; another thing to look forward to, to meet, and then to remember.
He’ll remember this New Year’s eve by the family photograph he just took.
Joe Cooper smiles at his family, from his seat on the slightly-worn couch. He’s been home most of the day, preparing for the night’s festivities.
He isn’t a doctor, but that’s okay. He left his job to make time for his family. They keep him in their hearts and their arms. They look at the clock.
It is 11:59 pm, December 31st.
The perfect ending to the year. A loud cheer erupts through the cozy suburban house. The dogs in the backyard are barking and playing.
The children squeeze their father tight.
Joe just scored a kiss from the Mrs.
It is 12:00 pm, January 1st.
The perfect beginning.
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