First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
KINGS WHARF, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 7:20 A.M.
All things work out in the end and if they have not, it is not the end.
~ An Old Saying from India
The driver opened the door and Joann smiled and took a seat in the back of the taxi.
“St. Paul’s,” she said,
The driver nodded and smiled. The church was on the other end of the island and would take at least forty-five minutes to reach. Joann was carrying a small gold cross that her grandfather had given her as a child. He had served at St. Paul’s as a young priest. She had decided just a couple of weeks ago to return the cross to the church. She wasn’t completely sure why. She had just begun to feel that she should. This was strange for Joann because she seldom made decisions totally based on her feelings.
The winter sun felt warm on her skin. She closed her eyes and drank it in. She was tired. She had not slept well on the ship. On her first night aboard The Saint the sea had been rough, and last night . . . well, last night she had been awakened by . . . she wasn’t sure what had disrupted her sleep. When she woke up, she felt like her entire body was filled with some kind of energy. She was tossing and turning. Her thoughts raced. Her heart pounded. She was up for the rest of the night.
And this morning, she was once again filled with emotion. Her thoughts went back to a December a number of years ago, when she was forced by the Great Recession to close her store.
She remembered that afternoon well. It was cold and gray. Night was falling. She hated the dark. It came on early. The weather forecast was for rain, but it looked like snow to her. She often was open, but closed early on holidays. It was the last day of the year. Why she had bothered to open the store, she wasn’t completely sure. She’d always been open on New Year’s Eve for thirty years. She guessed she wanted today to be no different. But it would be.
Business was slow. It was to be expected. Children’s books and toys, people had had their fill of both by New Year’s Day. But that had always been okay. So, what if the last week of the year was slow? The sales of November and December had always been strong and carried her through, at least in the past that had been true. The holidays had brought people to the Old City. By New Year’s Eve, she could sigh a sigh of relief. She had survived another year. And that’s what it had felt like for the last few years. This year, like the two before, had not been good. Oh, the Old City had been filled with people like it always had, but they had bought less and they were searching for something different. They weren’t looking for a toy or a book for their child. They were looking to forget that these, like so many things, were things that they could no longer afford. So, they didn’t come into her shop. They went to the bars in the Old City. The bars seemed to many a good place to forget about the job they didn’t have or the mortgage payment they couldn’t make.
Joann had told herself things would get better. She had hoped. She had prayed they would. But they hadn’t. She had pulled through hard times before. There had been other recessions in ’01 and ’08. This wasn’t the first one she had had to weather. But each one had taken a little bit more out of her, both emotionally and financially, and it seemed that little bit had not been put back since the recovery. At least that’s what they had called it, when it came. That was certainly true of her savings, which were gone. A month before she had sold the last bit of stock she had left after the crash, the last of her inheritance from her mother who had died twelve years before.
Her attorney had told her to close the store before the New Year. She had just spoken with him that morning. A nice man, and competent, and giving good advice, she was sure, but he didn’t understand. The store had been her life, her dream. She had done it, lived it, breathed it, loved it. Few people she thought really understood how important it was to her. Her sister had understood and so had Lee. She and Lee had been together when she had opened the shop. But she had focused on her shop and he on his career, and they had eventually gone their separate ways. He had married. She had not. But life is strange, she thought. She had gotten a card, a Christmas card from him just the week before. Strange indeed. She hadn’t heard from him in years. He’d asked how she was. She replied immediately with a New Year’s card that wished him well and said that all was fine with her. But it wasn’t. How did he know? Or did he? She thought back to the life they had had before the shop.
Loud voices from the street outside filtered through the windows of her shop. She shook her head. This was not the time to think about the past. She had things to do before she . . . closed.
Her shop was empty. The last customer had left an hour earlier. She moved toward the door, but hesitated. She should close now before some drunk came in saying he was looking for a book for his kids. They usually never bought anything. They were just lonely and wanted company. Someone to talk to. She hadn’t minded in the past, but tonight — tonight was different.
She opened the front door of the store, took down the “Open” flag, and pulled the sandwich board in. She locked the door. She began straightening up the shelves. She put the receipts of the day away. She flipped on the vacuum and moved down the middle aisle. Her eyes began to fill with tears. She turned off the vacuum. She would finish it tomorrow. She would do the inventory tomorrow. She would finish it all tomorrow.
She put on her coat, tied her scarf tightly around her neck, and took one last look at her shop. The tears came again. She picked up her purse, turned off the light and closed the door. She stepped onto Market Street.
The wind off the bay was strong and cold. It was starting to snow.
Joann could remember it all. It was as if it were yesterday. She remembered that horrible winter. The cold and the snow. She followed her attorney’s advice and gave the keys to the bank and went home. She sat in front of the television as if she was paralyzed. Some days she forgot to eat. She applied for jobs, but there were no jobs. She filed for bankruptcy.
She looked out the window of the taxi. She had lost track of where they were. They had already passed Hamilton.
“Well,” she said to herself. She was trying to focus on the present, not the past. She thought to herself, Things did get better. The summer finally came. I finally found another job. Things turned around.
She leaned back again and closed her eyes, returning to her memories. “Yes, things were getting better. Things were turning around. She was remembering that Friday afternoon when she bought the lottery ticket. She had never won anything. She didn’t consider herself a lucky person. But she felt like doing something different that afternoon. The same feeling she now had about returning the gold cross. So, she bought the ticket.
The drawing was the next night. She tuned in to watch the news. She barely paid attention when they began to announce the winning numbers. But amazingly, her numbers came up. She became a millionaire. She finally came into money.
The taxi stopped. The driver got out and opened the door. Joann didn’t move.
“Miss?” the driver said. Joann began to fumble with her purse for the fare. She stepped out of the taxi and gave the driver a large tip.
“Thank you,” he said twice.
She looked up at the tower and at the clock and started up the steps to St. Paul’s.