With all the Christmas decorations packed away the house looked bare, but fresh. A sign of new beginnings. A New Year on the horizon. The week between Christmas and New Year is a no man’s land, an alternative universe. A land where even wandering spirits daren’t venture.
I got home from work early, ready for a glass of wine or two.
“Why don’t we go down to the Stagecoach?” I said to my reclusive husband. “Let’s see the New Year in with friends.”
“Sure if you want, I’ve cooked so lets eat and go down later.”
Shocked at both the meal and the prospect of seeing the New Year with friends I poured another glass of wine. He’d cooked Italian, Risotto with Shrimp. It was delicious. We switched on the television and watched the fireworks over the London Eye as England drifted into the New Year seven hours ahead of us. It put me in the mood to celebrate so I fixed my make-up, changed my clothes and was ready to go.
The Stagecoach was less than a five-minute drive, but it was too cold to walk. We were greeted by smiling familiar faces and found two seats at the bar. “You staying until midnight?” Bonnie asked.
“Maybe, but I doubt it. Not sure if I can keep Les here that long.”
She laughed, she knew us both too well. I could talk for hours, Les, not so much.
“Well there’s a free ride home tonight if you have too much to drink, I’ll put your name on the list just in case.”
Les found someone to talk to and I chatted to anyone and everyone. I was a bit of celebrity to the locals because I had a British accent and was a writer. It made me feel quite famous, even though I wasn’t. In one of the booths in the far corner of the bar, an old man sat alone. Although this was my local I hadn’t seen him before. I felt sorry for him. Awful to be lonely on New Years Eve.
“Hey Bonnie, who’s the old guy in the corner? He looks miserable?”
Bonnie knew who I was talking about without looking in his direction.
“He’s called Bret, he comes here every New Year and gets stone drunk. Been coming in for 20 years or more, long before I started working here.”
“Why does he drink alone?”
“Don’t know the whole story, but his daughter died one New Years Eve, complications of child-birth. Kept her pregnancy a secret because she was only 17. Gave birth in a barn and never recovered.”
I felt cold, my voice was no more than a whisper, “Was the barn close to here?”
“Yes, up off the road you live in. Simpson’s barn.”
Trying to stop my hands from shaking I swallowed the contents of my glass in one gulp.
“Are you okay?” Bonnie asked.
I ignored her, “Did the baby survive?”
She filled up my glass, “No one knows, they never found it. Betty Simpson found the girl lying in a pool of her own blood. She’d been dead a couple of days.”
“Oh God how sad.”
I looked across to the old guy sitting alone drinking. He threw some cash on the table and got up to leave. He staggered barely able to walk.
“Bonnie, make him ride home with your driver, don’t let him drive.”
“No need, he lives at the bottom of your road, he walks.” The old guy brushed my arm as he left. A jolt of energy coursed through my body and I saw the face of the young girl I’d seen in the barn. I know he felt it too. He glanced at me as though he’d just woken up, and then quickly looked away.
I knew I’d see him again though.