Thirty to Midnight
Illustration by Jan Joshua Velasco
“I’m tired,” Sixteen said, reclining back on her purple velvet couch, “but I had a good run. No one can take that away from me.” She gestured over at the world, turning serenely on its axis in the corner of the room. “Not like those ungrateful bastards will say it out loud.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Seventeen nodded, adjusting the lamp on his side table. “Can you move your head? I’m not sure how I like the way this looks.” Sixteen wordlessly acknowledged, shifting her head over a few inches. “Better. I think I’ll keep it this way.” He was working on moving into the House of the Two Thousands while Sixteen was moving out. Multiple confusions had already occurred, but it was New Year’s Eve and the preparations were just wrapping up.
“Do what you want with the place,” Sixteen replied, gesticulating widely at the partly-full boxes and halfheartedly-placed furniture cluttering up what would soon be Seventeen’s living room. “I launched straight into decorating. Wanted to set myself apart. Make a name for myself! Now look what they call me. The Dumpster Fire.” She slumped her arm over the armrest and picked up the glass of rosé picking up condensation on the table. “Trust me, buddy. Lose the dumb scarf. Just ’cause your shift’s gonna be full of hipsters doesn’t mean you have to be one.”
“It’s not dumb,” Seventeen scoffed, but he didn’t need the look on Sixteen’s face or the defensiveness in his own voice to tell him he was lying. “… okay, maybe I’ll lose the scarf. We’ll see how the climate goes this year.”
“I still don’t know who broke the thermostat in this stupid house. Probably Seventy-Five,” Sixteen muttered. “Listen, kid.” Her sharp, exasperated tone made Seventeen notice the silver streaks threatening to permeate Sixteen’s copper-red hair and the wrinkles furrowing her brow. She’d aged a lot in one year. “I came into the job as chipper as you, yeah? Back when Fifteen handed over the keys. What a great year, Fifteen. Maybe I’ll take a page out of his book and retire to some nice beach somewhere.” She poured herself another glass of wine. “And look where that got me. ‘Oh, look, it’s 2016! The biggest laughingstock since— since, I dunno, sliced bread!’”
The old grandfather clock next to the kitchen doorway bonged. “Eleven-forty,” Seventeen said. “Feels like time’s getting slower, doesn’t it?”
“That’s exactly what they’re saying about me. Tell me my time can’t be up soon enough. Still doesn’t stop ‘em from saying, ‘the years are passing so fast!’, does it?” Sixteen hiccupped. “Listen, Sev. I’ll be honest with you here. You know what people remember about the last Sixteen?”
“Not much happened on his watch. He did go out with a bang, though. Three of them, actually. And a few poisoned cakes, if I recall correctly. And hypothermia! Poor Rasputin.”
“Oh my God, you are such a nerd. You know that story’s bullcrap, right?” Sixteen tipped the neck of her bottle against the mouth of her glass, but nothing came out. She gave a quick sigh of frustration, kicked her feet up on the table and crossed her arms behind her head. “Anyway, yeah. Friggin’ Rasputin. That’s all anyone can remember about 1916. The other guy at least had that ‘Year Without a Summer’ thing going for him.” Her eyes widened in a sudden moment of clarity. “We have got to get that stupid thermostat fixed. It’s probably still the one from the old house. Put that in your dumb planner for me.”
“They’d break it as soon as I got it installed,” Seventeen said, glancing in the direction of the world, “but sure. I’ll pencil it in. What were you saying about old 1916?”
“Right. Thanks—hic—for reminding me. The old man didn’t do much, y’know? No one remembers him. But at least they’ll remember me. For all the crap I didn’t do. Trump? Fifteen coulda stopped him, but nooooo. The dumb challenges? Blame the Nineties, they made these stupid Millennials. All the dead guys? I don’t make the world, I just run it! Then you do, then Eighteen comes in, and we all get our fair share of crap, but somehow I got the brunt of it. That’s a lot of weight on one girl’s shoulders.” Sixteen sat up. “I feel like I don’t deserve this.”
“Well,” Seventeen said, “it might help if you took a—”
“I’m sorry,” Sixteen blurted out, swiveling her neck and upper torso to look Seventeen in the eye. “I’m leaving you with a crap-sack of a world to fix up.” The clock struck again. Eleven-fifty.
“I might just break it further,” Seventeen lamented. “Don’t act like this is your fault. You just said it. We don’t make the world. We just run it.”
“Yeah,” Sixteen said, staring down at the carpet, saying more than she needed to without saying much at all.
“Anything else you wanted to get off your chest?” Seventeen asked. “Not much time left.”
“Nah,” she replied. “I think I’m ready.” Sixteen slung her bag over her shoulder and walked up to the world, still bobbing and turning in the corner.
“Where are you going from here?” said Seventeen, joining Sixteen by the globe to watch the world turn.
“I thought about bunking with Fifteen and Fourteen for a while,” Sixteen replied, “but nah. Figure it makes more sense for a crap year like me to strike out on my own. I think I’ll give Chicago a shot. Maybe Paris, if I’m feeling fancy.”
“For what it’s worth,” Seventeen said, “underneath all that crap was a lot of good times. I learned a lot from you.”
“You’re just saying that so you can blame me if your turn goes wrong,” Sixteen smirked. The first fireworks in the world went off, lighting up the sky over Samoa and reflecting in Sixteen and Seventeen’s eyes. The clock struck twelve. “Anyway, time to get out of here.”
“Hold on,” Seventeen said, holding up a pair of glasses of rosé. “One last drink.” Sixteen took hers and clinked it against Seventeen’s.
“Cheers,” they said together before downing their drinks in a few sips. Sixteen held her hand up against the earth. “Bye, Seventeen. Good luck.”
“Bye, Sixteen,” replied Seventeen. “Good job.” By the time he finished, she was gone.
He was right, Sixteen thought to herself as she stumbled into the world. Not perfect, but I had a good run.