by Tom Waltz
At 8:43 p.m., on December 31st, 1999, Candice “Candy” Martin started drinking. She uncorked one of the two bottles of her favorite White Zinfandel’which she’d lined up on the kitchen table’and topped off the first McDonald’s Super Size plastic cup she could get her hands on; not very fancy, sure, but she was alone, so screw formality. She cocked her head back and filled her mouth with the pinkish liquid, savoring its warm descent through her throat, into her chest and stomach. She knew it was a bad idea, drinking; she wasn’t a big drinker and was never very good at it when she did. But it had been a long night already, with a bad ending still waiting on the other side, so why not enjoy herself for the moment? Especially after what she’d just done.
Funny thing was, what she’d just done seemed to be fading out of memory. ‘Course, it was always that way with her: things coming in and out of focus, slipping away and then screaming back into view, usually when she least expected or wanted it. Right now, though, it seemed a good thing, the haziness, though she couldn’t imagine why. Or, more like it, she couldn’t remember why. What she did know was that the world was coming to an end tonight’that the animals with their slippery, lying tongues and dirty, groping fingers would be loosed on the world (on her) once again’and she was damned if she was going to be sober when it happened. All her life she’d been conscious during the pain, the abuse’ the violation. Not tonight. No, tonight she would numb herself first.
She smiled smugly, silently toasting her determined resolution with another long drink of the wine. She quietly belched into the back of her hand and thought of her nine-year-old daughter, whom she’d put to bed earlier, and smiled even more, satisfied that little Stephanie would be fine through the hell to come. Safe and sound.
Though she couldn’t really say why.
At 9:37 p.m., and two cups of wine later, Candy was beginning to feel drunk. She was sitting on the dark blue futon that served both as the couch and her bed in the living room of her small, one-bedroom apartment. She leaned her head back, eyes closed, third cup of wine resting on her lap, and listened to the sounds of the Bee Gees pleading from the stereo speakers.
“Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me’Somebody help me, yeah!”
She didn’t worry about disturbing Stephanie in the other room with the noise because that little girl always slept the sleep of the dead. She just wanted to soak in the music while she had the chance; all the electrical stuff in the house wouldn’t be working anymore in a few hours, after all. She took another gulp of the wine and her thoughts rolled to the phone call from her sister Tina earlier in the day.
“I don’t know why you are being so damn paranoid, Candy,” her sister had said. “All this talk about riots and banks failing and stuff, it’s just scare talk. The news guy said most things would be fine.” She paused for effect, a little dramatic habit of hers that Candy hated. “I really wish you wouldn’t buy into all this Y2K doomsday crap, you know,” Tina finally continued. “We’ve already missed spending Christmas with you guys. Now New Years, too?”
Candy was quiet, trying to control her irritation while contemplating what her sister had said. Maybe Tina was right, she wanted to admit. Maybe all the end of the world talk was a bunch of hot air and she was just being silly.
But Tina was always the lucky one, always had it easy’sunshine up her ass and protected from the day she was born and all, so how could she be worried about troubles yet to come? She’d never really had any of her own before.
Candy, on the other hand’now that was a different story. Troubles were her forte’. Not only had she come to expect them, she felt she could almost sense them, too. Yeah, maybe this Y2K thing was a bunch of baloney, but something inside wasn’t letting her believe that. Instead, she felt certain it was going to be bad’worse, even, then so many were predicting. She’d read about it, studied it, seemed to feel it all, deep down, this terrible end, building throughout her lifetime. Computers would fail, machines would break, society would crumble, and then they would come for her, the wild savage men off the streets’for her and Stephanie. Well, they could take her if they wanted, take her and do to her those things they always did. But they were not going to get Stephanie. No way.
She didn’t say this to her sister, though.
“I know, Tina,” she spoke into the phone. “It sucks not being around you guys during the holidays. It’s just’ well, I’ve got a bad feeling about things, you know? Probably just being stupid, but I’d feel safer staying here and keeping Steph inside and away from things until it all passes over. I hope it’s all nothing, but just in case”
“C’mon, Candy!” her sister huffed, cutting her off. “You know damn well that you would be just as safe here as there. We’re not planning on going out or anything. Just staying in and watching the ball drop on TV. Same thing you’ll probably be doing.” Her voice turned whiny. “Why don’t you guys just come over, okay? Mom and Dad’ll be here, and it’s not good for Steph to be away from her grandparents during this time.”
Candy cringed. The mere mention of her father always did that to her, and including her precious daughter in the same sentence with that’ that man’ made it worse. Stephanie was getting big, developing physically earlier than most girls’just like Candy herself once had’and Candy wasn’t about to have her baby around him just so he could become that thing again, that touchy, creepy, awful thing he had become to Candy all those years ago.
No goddamn way.
Stephanie was all she had left’her everything’and no one was ever going to harm her. Ever. Just as her memories always had, people had come and gone from Candy’s life, moving in and out with perverse randomness. But not Stephanie. She was the one constant, the one joy, and no matter what it took, Candy would protect her, just as she had secretly protected Tina once upon a time.
No matter what it took.
And, besides, what the hell did Tina know about what was best for her daughter? She didn’t even have kids of her own. ‘Course, what did Tina know about a lot things? Maybe if she knew more, she might be a little more worried about the millennium than she was.
And about’ him.
But Candy wouldn’t wish that kind of knowledge on anybody, especially her little sister. Her mind was made up. She spoke calmly.
“I can’t, Tina. I just can’t. I’m sorry. But Easter time, I promise: we’ll get together. Please understand.”
Tina didn’t understand. “I don’t get it,” she stated flatly. “I just don’t get it. If you ask me, I think this is all about your divorce, how strange you’ve been lately. But, whatever’do whatever you want. I just hope this doesn’t spoil it for Steph. A kid really does need to be around family, you know.”
Not all family, they don’t, Candy thought. Not all.
Tina continued: “Well, happy New Year anyways. We’ll miss you.”
“Us, too,” Candy replied. “Bye, Tina.” She hung up the phone.
If you only knew, little sis. If you only knew.
At 10:28 p.m., Candy was most definitely shit-faced, sitting on the floor in front of her old hope chest, fumbling through pictures from the past. She was crying’big, wet, drunken tears.
Baby pictures of Stephanie. Wasn’t she cute then, in her Pooh Bear outfit? And Grandma Stevens holding her old dog Percy. Candy had loved them both, her grandma and the dog. So much, so long ago. She took another drink. Oh, and here’s me in high school, in the marching band. God, I used to be so musical. She looked at each photo for a second then dropped them individually to the floor. And’ and’ shit. A picture of her ex-husband John, holding a rainbow trout he’d caught one summer. Look at ‘im’ smiling that fucking smile of his. I thought I got rid of all these.
She stood up clumsily, the picture in one hand, the half full cup of wine teetering in the other, and stumbled into the kitchen for a re-fill. She nearly emptied the second bottle into her cup, spilling a good amount onto the counter top at the same time. She drank some more, holding the photo up in front of her as she did.
I remember that fish, she thought. Cooked it good. Delicious’but, geez, it smelled. She looked at John’s face. It all stunk.
She wanted to tear the picture up, shred it into little pieces. Fillet it, she laughed to herself. But she couldn’t. John’s smile always did have that kind of control over her.
She remembered telling Stephanie about monsters once. Monsters didn’t hide under your bed or in your closet. No, real monsters sneaked into your bed in the middle of the night, wanting to cuddle, wanting to touch things they weren’t supposed to touch, wanting to’ to’ “love” they called it. Then, after, they told you to lie, to hide ugly secrets, to keep quiet or’ or’
She sipped at the wine, dribbling some on to her chin, and stared bleary-eyed at the picture of John.
Other monsters make you feel special, she thought. Make you think you aren’t bad for what you’ve done. Make you believe. Then they take off with the first bimbo secretary with a short skirt and big tits who spreads her legs and’
She dropped the picture and cup to the floor and began sobbing’so hard it hurt.
At 11:06 p.m., Candy sat on the floor in front of her television set, watching Dick Clark host a party for New Years revelers in Time’s Square through barely open eyes. She’d abandoned the McDonald’s cup and was now holding the second wine bottle in her hand. It was empty. She’d finished it off.
“Fffuggin’ people doan even know whas comin’,” she slurred to the TV screen. “Doan even know.” She tried to take another drink from the bottle, realized it was empty, plopped it to the floor.
“Is all gonna end tonight,” she continued. “End, end, end. Me’ you,” she pointed at herself, at the television, “all gonna die. Stupid computerssss. Is all gonna break down. Break down.” She grew quiet, staring at the screen, her head bobbing drunkenly on her neck.
“‘Cept for you, Dicky-boy. You’ll be okay. Nothin’ can stop Dick Clark!”
She started to laugh. Loud. Louder. So loud it hurt.
At 11:59 p.m. and fifty-three seconds, Candy passed out in front of the TV.
“Come and get me,” is what she said before she fell over, beating the Time’s Square ball to the ground.
At 6:38 a.m., on January 1st, 2000, Candy’s phone began to ring. Still half drunk and lying face down on the living room floor, she wasn’t quite sure what the sound was at first. Whatever it was, though, it sure as hell was blasting her brains to mush. She squeezed her eyes tightly together, but the sound didn’t go away. She tried to move, but her head was thumping way too violently and her mouth was one big shit-flavored cotton ball and the sound that wouldn’t quit was’ was’
Was the phone!
Candy automatically had her body up and to the phone before the hung over part of her could get there. When it finally caught up with her, it went straight for her head and stomach, spinning both in circles, and she had to take a couple deep, vomit-controlling breaths before she answered. Still feeling sick, but able to talk, Candy picked up the phone.
“Hullo,” she said, dry-throated and whispery.
It was Tina, so loud that Candy had to pull the phone away from her ear. From arm’s length she could hear her sister finish her greeting: “Happy New Year!” Candy slowly brought the phone back to her ear.
“Um’ thanks, Tina,” she responded, feeling confused and out of place. “Same’ same to you.” She paused. “Hey, what’ what time is it?”
“Six forty, sleepy head! I was going to call you later, but couldn’t wait. You know me: I love ‘I told you so’s’.”
“Huh?” Candy felt fuzzy-brained. “What do you mea’?”
“Y2K, dummy!” her sister chimed in. “I told you everything would be fine. See! Even your phone still works.” She giggled on the other end. “And you thought it was all going to stop working today, and riots and stuff. Honestly, Candy.”
Tina giggled some more and the sound of it twisted at Candy’s gut as she slowly looked around her apartment. It was true: everything was still working. From where she sat Candy could see the microwave clock displaying a bright green “6:42”. The TV was on, some morning show celebrating the millennium. The VCR clock was wrong’blinking “12:00″‘but that was always the case. There was no doubt the table lamp next to the futon was functioning; her hung over eyes were nearly blinded by its brightness. And, the front door was locked’secure. Nobody had tried to sneak in. To cuddle her. To “love” her. To’
Something was wrong about all of it.
“Candy’ you still there?” Tina asked. Candy barely heard her now.
“Um’ yeah,” she said, suddenly feeling very awake’ very sober.
Something was dead wrong.
Tina continued: “Well, I know it’s early and I probably woke you up and all, but I just had to let you know that the world was still here. Anyway, call me later when you’re feeling more awake. Everyone here says ‘Happy New Year’. Dad says to give Stephanie a big kiss from all of us, okay?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Well, gotta run. Talk to you later. Bye!”
“Bye,” Candy answered. And then, to herself, as she hung up the phone: “Stephanie!”
She ran to her daughter’s room, her eyes wide, her heart pounding. She flung open the door, burst in, moved toward the bed. Stopped.
On the bed’ sickly pale face. Blue, swollen lips. Staring’ staring at the ceiling. The pillow’ next to her head. Her baby’s head.
Her beautiful baby.
And suddenly, the thing she’d done, the thing she’d forgotten, came slicing back into focus, into memory, as it always did. In her mind she heard her own words’ her own protective words the night before as she held the pillow down’ tight’ tighter:
“Only me, honey. They’ll only get me. I’ll never let them have you. You’ll never know their ‘love’. The monsters won’t hurt you’
At 7:00 a.m., Candice “Candy” Martin found herself in the kitchen. How she had gotten there, she couldn’t recall. ‘Course, it was always like that with her: things coming in and out of focus. She leaned on the counter, thinking, when she heard the automatic coffee maker start up. Right on time. As always. Funny thing was, she hadn’t loaded its filter with fresh coffee the night before because’ because’
Because you never thought it would work today, a voice in her head reminded her.
Candy watched the coffee maker pour steaming, clear water into the coffeepot. It was working like a charm.
She began to scream’a tortured, shrieking scream.
So loud, it hurt.
‘ 1999 Tom Waltz