Chapter Two: Manchester, New Hampshire

A light snow was falling on downtown Manchester, New Hampshire. A clock on the nearby bank showed the temperature was -3° Celsius. Steve was bundled up against the wind.

The crowd that had assembled on the city square joined in the annual chant, screaming “Ten!” in unison, directed by an electronic billboard flashing the numeral “10” in large figures and “23:59:50” in smaller ones.

“Nine!” they screamed. Some people blew noisemakers, others just screamed.

“Eight!…Seven!…Six!…Five…Four!…Three!” Bright rockets launched from a barge in the Merrimack River.

“Two!…One!” the chant continued.

Then the figure “1” disappeared and the smaller display changed to “00:00:00”.

“Happy new year!” everybody screamed. Fireworks illuminated the night sky, their blasts making the ground shake detectably beneath people’s feet. Strobe lights and lasers added to the colorful display.

It was another New Year’s Day in Manchester, but this time, it was different, thanks to Operation U.S.A. Freedom. Yes, there were cops on hand, but there were fewer unjust laws, and the cops refrained from enforcing most of them.

Steve Johnson finished his beer and tossed the bottle into a trash barrel. Then he recognized a classmate from Manchester South High School.

“Hey, Steve! Don’t forget, we have school tomorrow.” Rick said.

“No we don’t! Tomorrow’s a holiday!” Steve replied.

“No!” Rick cried. “It is now the first of January. Therefore, tomorrow is January second.”

The band played Auld Lang Syne and couples young and old slowly danced to the strains. Neither Steve nor Rick had anybody with whom to dance.

A few minutes passed as people screamed and howled. Then people wandered into nearby taxis or taverns, depending on whether they wanted to go home right away or later. Some of the nearby cars could only be identified as taxis by the hand-made signs taped to the insides of the rear windows. These belonged to their respective drivers, who were out to make money on this night. Taxi medallions were still technically required, but the regulation was not being enforced.

“A lot of cabbage tonight.” Steve told Rick.

“What do you mean? I don’t see any cabbage.” Rick wondered.

“Well, Rick, when you pack your bags, that’s baggage, right?” Steve explained.

“Yes, that’s right.” Rick agreed.

“And if you break something, that’s breakage, right?” Steve continued.

“Yes, that’s right.” Rick agreed again.

“And then when you take a cab, that’s cabbage.” Steve said. “See you in school tomorrow.”

A nearby stranger joined in. “Did you hear about those high school kids who tried to order beers from the flight attendant on TWA flight 800?”

Steve said, “No. What happened?”

The stranger replied, “They got shot down.”

Steve covered his mouth to suppress his laughter. Rick observed, “That joke is too sick to laugh at, and too funny not to.”

Rick got into a cab owned by one of the licensed taxi firms. Steve walked away.

It was after a few blocks that Steve saw Yesenia Martínez sitting in a doorway. He recognized her from biology class.

“Yesenia, are you okay?” Steve asked.

At first, Yesenia did not respond. Then she slowly looked up and said, “Oh, Steve! Happy new year!” Her voice was slurred.

“I don’t think you’re gonna make it home okay.” Steve said.

“It’s cold out here.” Yesenia observed. She stood up, and Steve caught her as she started to fall back down.

“What do you say we go now?” Steve suggested.

“Sure. Let’s go. It’s cold out. Happy new year!” Yesenia agreed.

Steve led Yesenia to a nearby car displaying hand-made “Taxi” signs, and helped her inside. Then he gave the driver his own address.

When the taxi arrived at the apartment house where Steve lived, he helped Yesenia get out. Then he led her inside, and upstairs, where he unlocked the door and led her to a second-floor apartment. “My mother and father are in Concord tonight, visiting relatives.” he told her as he led her into the living room. “Have a seat. I’ll open the sleep-sofa into a bed, and you can sleep here in the living room tonight.”

“Thank you, Steve. You’re a real sweetheart.” Yesenia told him.

Steve helped Yesenia get onto the mattress. Then he helped her remove her shoes. “It’s -3° outside, Yesenia. It’s 22° in here. You’re much better off in here. I’ll get you a blanket.”

“You’re a real darling.” Yesenia said.

Steve then went into his bedroom to get some sleep. He set the alarm clock for 8:00.


Copyright © 2004 Tom Alciere