Flash fiction: “Auld Lang Syne”

She was late again. She always was.

Eric lined up the bottles on the table and began picking at the soggy labels. Marianne had never been one for promptness. She often joked that she’d be lucky to make it to her own funeral before the burial. When had he stopped finding that charming?

The bar was their local, close enough to their apartment that they could walk there and then stagger back after a few too many. They’d met just over at the corner table, when she’d bumped into his elbow and spilled his beer all over the floor. She’d wanted to stop and apologize, of course, but she’d been on her way to the restroom and couldn’t afford the detour. By the time she’s emerged again, he already had a fresh pint and more than a few napkins. He’d just have to stay long enough for her to buy him another. It was the least she could do.

Five years didn’t make that much of a difference, but it felt terrifying to think of starting over. Eric knew that he had to say goodbye before it turned to six. Maybe the next time wouldn’t be a mistake. He was well into his thirties already. He couldn’t afford to waste time like this.

If only she showed up.

The crowd was already growing thick for New Year’s Eve. Reduced price cocktails and party favors had lured in people off the street when the bar was usually a hiding place for locals and regulars. Eric felt awkward occupying his booth alone, but at least he had the copy of his empty bottles, standing guard like glass soldiers over his broken heart.

When she walked in, she didn’t seem to notice him. The jukebox was her target, feeding a couple of dollars into the device to let the subdued sound of The Band battle with the din of the newly inebriated. “The Weight” had been their song since watching Easy Rider on their second date. The lyrics had always seemed so meaningful.

Suddenly he didn’t want to be there. The bathroom would provide shelter, or maybe the street. HE could avoid her entirely, say goodbye tomorrow. But the point of tonight would be for this year to end and the next to be free of her. He wanted to start again, and this was the only way.

She found his table easily. Of course she did. This was their table. This was the place they always sat, where they ate and drank and argued and sighed into one another. Each year they ended and began in this very spot, and he straightened his tie as he anticipated their annual tradition.

Maybe next year.


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