What're You Doing New Years?

New Year's 1950, Billy remembers one spent in France.
 
 

By Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly
January 2001

Billy Nelson entered the front door and headed for the kitchen.  He stood in the doorway, watching the blonde. Her back was to him, and her hands on hips stance told him that she was irritated about something.  Dammit,"she said under her breath. She rooted through a collection of jars, tins, and bottles on the counter, and then she stretched up and began searching the top shelves of the cabinet.  Billy watched quietly, appreciating the way her hips moved beneath the rustling layers of petticoat.

He placed the small bag he carried on the green formica table, moved behind her, and drew his arms around her waist, burying his lips in her neck.  "That's gonna cost you a dime."

The woman gasped, and she jammed her elbow into his chest.  "I didn't say a word, and I'm not paying a penny...  Besides, I have a right to one little swear word.  Everyone is allowed one." She turned to face him, mixing spoon in hand.  Even the great Billy Nelson must have one."  She punctuated her words with a shake of the spoon, and a glob of half-mixed cheese ball dropped onto the front of his sweater.

"Nope.  Never have." He scooped up the sticky stuff on his forefinger and shoved it into his mouth.  "Hey, that's good.  Your mother's recipe?  As a matter of fact, you know that I don't swear.  You are the one with the potty mouth, my dear." She tapped him playfully on the nose with the spoon.

"You know, Evelyn, we still have a few minutes before the others get here." His hands were already unlatching the buckle on her wide patent belt.  We could..."

"Not on your life, buster."  She rapped his knuckles.  "I didn't spend all afternoon at the beauty shop getting my hair curled so that you could mess it up.  I have a cheese ball to finish.  Even if I don't have any Werchester... Wooster... Wester...? you know... that word I can't say."

Billy picked up a small brown bottle on the counter and smiled.  "Your Worcestershire."

She kissed him lightly on the cheek, then turned back to the bowl and began beating the mixture with renewed determination.  "And you are totally skirting the real issue.  Everyone has a word or two that they use when they get mad.  So don't tell me that you don't."

"I don't. You know that.  In the 3 years we've been married..."

"Almost four."

Billy nodded.  "Almost four.  Anyway, in all those years you've never once heard any of those words coming from my mouth.  I rest my case."

Evelyn Nelson jammed the spoon into the mixture and turned toward him.  "Not even during the war?  You just stood there and said 'Oh darn!  Those dirty Germans just shot me?'"

"As a matter of fact, no.  I didn't use those words.  But I didn't swear either.  I was a good boy."
f
"You are always a good boy." She pecked him on the lips and looked deep into his eyes.  "As a matter of fact, she tilted her head and looked up seductively through long lashes, "you are a very good boy, Billy Nelson." Her fingers wandered up the buttons of his cardigan, and she kissed him again, harder this time.  "You know, I have decided on my New Year's resolution for this year.  It has to be special, starting a new decade and all.  I'm going to stop smoking."  She waited for a reaction.  "Well, aren't you proud of me?"

"Sure," Billy mumbled, looking away.  "But you know how I feel about New Year's resolutions."

"I do know how you feel, but I don't exactly understand why.  You didn't used to feel like that, William Nelson.  I seem to remember New Year's about five years ago." She leaned into him, her lips close to his ear. "Let's see. That was '44.  You had no problem with making resolutions that night."

"As a matter of fact," he struggled to maintain a straight face, "I think I remember being, uh, forced to make one."

"Forced, my eye.  So exactly what happened that makes them such a big deal now?"

Billy squirmed under her relentless nibbling on his earlobe, but before he could respond, the doorbell rang.  "Damn." Evelyn sighed.

"Make that 20 cents,"Billy whispered as he patted her on the bottom.

"I'll get that." She pulled off the organza apron that covered her skirt and laid it across the back of a tall wooden chair.  Almost out the door, she stopped.  "Did you remember the wine?"  Billy's face was stricken.  "Billy, if you forgot the wine for the midnight toast, I'll..."

Billy strode over to her and lifted the bag he had left on the table.  "Worry, worry, worry.  The best Mogan David money can buy."

She grabbed the front of his sweater in mock fury and pulled him toward her.  "Billy, you didn't!  Please tell me you didn't.  Not with your boss coming."

"Ye of little faith.  I got a good wine.  What do you think I am?  An idiot?  Don't answer that."  He pulled the bottle halfway from the bag.  "Look here."  He showed her the label.  "Korbel.  Your favorite."

She reached up and kissed him lightly on the nose.  "I love you." Then she scurried off to answer the bell.

"Remember that tonight when it's only the two of us,"he called after her.  "Kids staying with Grandma O'Brien.  Heh, heh, heh," he rubbed his hands together.  "Just you wait, Evelyn Nelson.  I'll get you yet."

Billy straightened his sweater and opened the refrigerator door.  The light winked on, illuminating a magnificent display of food for the New Year's feast.  He patted his stomach as he lifted the foil domed over a tray and pulled out a thick slice of ham."

"Put the wine in to chill.  And stay out of the ham!"

"Yes, dear,"Billy called as he rolled the ham and jammed it into his mouth.

"I saw that!"  she called as she opened the door and greeted the first of their guests.  "Marva, you look lovely.  And this must be Jed.  Why, Jed, we've heard so much about you."

Billy pulled bottle out of the brown paper bag, dusted it with his hand, and pushed it into a silver bucket filled with ice.  Then he joined his wife and their guests in the living room.

*     *     *     *

Several hours later, Billy entered the kitchen and put another soiled plate in the sink.  Every counter was littered with trays of food, glasses, silverware, napkins, and other assorted party debris.  He pulled the blue foil cone off his head and tossed it next to a platter that held a few remaining deviled eggs.  Examining the leftovers, he plucked a small meatball from a chafing dish and popped it into his mouth.  "You outdid yourself, my dear," he muttered.  "Mag-nee-fee-co."

Pulling the wine bottle from the ice, Billy wrapped it in a towel.  Nestling it in the crook of his arm, he danced it around the room, singing to the strains of a new Helen Forrest recording that wafted in from the living room.  "Don't be a naughty baby." He twirled.   "Come to Mama, come to Mama do, my sweet embraceable..." he dipped low, "you. Ah, my little cabbage, you dance divinely."

With a final flourish, he danced over to the drawer next to the sink, and rummaging a moment, he located a corkscrew, plunged it into the plug, and began turning it.  "Billy, my man, I know what you are doing New Year's Eve. As soon as you get rid of all these people, cha cha cha." He stopped and chuckled, mimicking his wife.  "Everyone needs a swear word.  Even you, Billy Nelson.  I'll bet you swore in the war." He shook his head.  "What does she know about things?  About war?"

He heard the static from the radio as someone spun the dial.  "I thought Billy said that was the channel.  Nelson!" a man's voice shouted.  "What channel did you say Guy Lombardo would be on?"

"1450," Billy called back.  He hadn't thought about the war in a long time.  He tried his best not to.  Especially not on New Year's.  New Year's was supposed to be a happy time.  Supposed to be.  "What does she know?"  He repeated.  "She wasn't there.  How could she know what it was like?"  It was a part of himself he'd never been able to share with her... and probably never would.  That night at the beginning of 1945.
 

*     *     *     *     *

The night should have been dark, but the sky had suddenly cleared, and the moonlight reflecting on the new snow made it seem almost like day.  Billy Nelson congratulated himself at his good fortune.  Hidden at the edges of the drooping pine, he had a clear field of vision but would be hard to spot by the enemy as long as he were quiet.  Unlikely that Germans would be lurking about under these conditions anyhow.  Should be an uneventful hour and a half. He pulled his collar tighter around his neck and hugged his rifle closer to him.  Glancing quickly at his watch for the umpteenth time, he found himself thinking about the squad back at the cottage where they were bivouacked.  They were, if not comfortable, at least warm.  And they weren't alone.  To Billy, it was being alone in the cold night that was hardest.  The fact that it was New Year's Eve only made him feel lonelier.  He blew on his numbing fingertips.  Then a stick cracked behind the soldier.  The M-1 whipped into position, and Billy spun around, his finger tense on the trigger.

"Billy," the voice whispered.  The pine branches to his rear swayed and a tall figure stumbled into view.  "It's me.  Littlejohn."

"Man, Littlejohn, I almost blew your head off."  He lowered the rifle and turned his attention back to the trees in front where the enemy might be.  "What're you doing here?  You should be back with the rest of the squad, not traipsing all over the countryside trying to get yourself killed."

The soldier dropped onto the ground beside Billy.  "I brought you this."  He held out a metal cup, and Billy took it.  "Sorry it isn't hot any more.  It was when I left."  Littlejohn propped his rifle against his shoulder and sat looking off into the distance.  Light snow had begun to fall again.
 

"It's just fine, Littlejohn.  Thanks," " Billy said, as he gulped the cool coffee.  "Is that the scarf your mom sent you for Christmas?"

"Yeah.  Ma made it herself."  He stuck a finger through a small hole in it.  "She's good at making cake, but she's not really much of a knitter."

"Well, it's the thought that counts.  And it keeps you warm."

Littlejohn watched Billy shiver, and he began untying it.  "If you wanna borrow it, you can.  It doesn't look like much, but it's real warm."

"Gee, thanks." Billy took the scarf gratefully and wound it around his neck.  "Thanks for everything."

Littlejohn nodded and grinned.  Then for a time the two sat quietly.  Finally, the older man broke the silence.  "Anything moving?"

Billy shook his head.

"That's good."  Littlejohn's breath puffed out in front of him.

"Can you believe it's almost 1945?   Another..." Billy checked his watch, "25 minutes.  What's everybody doing back there?"

"Well, Sarge is sleeping.  That's what three straight nights of patrols will do for you.  Most of the guys are playing poker." Littlejohn's mouth turned up in a lopsided grin.  "That new guy, Maretti, is cleaning them out.  Doc acts bored stiff.  He musta arranged his supplies a hundred times.  And Caje is right..." he pointed over to the left, "there, on the other side of those rocks."

"Not the most exciting New Year's eve, huh?"

They were silent again.

Littlejohn blew into his hands. "So, have you decided on your New Year's resolution?"

"Gee. I hadn't even thought about it. You know, every New Year's at home there were two things you just had to do.  Make a resolution and stand on the front porch beating on pots and pans at the stroke of midnight."

"Pots and pans, huh?"  Littlejohn nodded quietly, remembering his Uncle Ed driving up and down the lane to the farm, laying on his horn and whooping until he was hoarse.  Funny how the small things seemed more important so far from home.

"Littlejohn?"

"Yeah?"

"I've been thinking."

"That could be dangerous, Billy."

"'m serious.  A year ago, I was just a dumb kid celebrating New Year's with my girl.  Now look at me.  Do you know how many man I've killed?"  Billy maintained his watch on the area surrounding them.  "Well, it's a lot.  And I don't even think about it any more.  How could I just go around killing and not feeling a thing?  I mean, ... isn't a man supposed to feel bad or something?"

Littlejohn pondered the younger man's words a moment.  "We're just supposed to do what we have to.  I don't think we're supposed to think about it."

"Well, I've decided that for my New Year's resolution, I'm not going to kill.  At least I'm not gonna make my first act of the New Year be to kill another person."

The two men sat silent for a while.  Littlejohn looked at his watch and then at Billy.  "You got 15 minutes till midnight.  Then an hour till Kirby relieves you.  Then sack time, and if you're lucky a day of rest.  My thinking is that you've got it made.  Heck, the Krauts aren't gonna do anything till this weather breaks.  Only a fool would be out on a night like this."

Finally, Littlejohn heaved himself off the ground and crouched beside the younger man.  "Guess I'd better get back. Sarge'll skin me if he wakes up and finds me still gone.  He only gave me five minutes.  Guess I'm a little late.  Maybe my resolution should be to always follow orders, and not get Sarge mad at me. Happy New Year."

Billy chuckled under his breath as he scanned the darkness.  "Happy New Year, Littlejohn.  See you in a while." He handed the empty cup back to his friend.  "Get the coffee hot, in about an hour, I'm gonna need it."

The stars were stretched overhead in the clear, cold sky.  Billy looked up and picked out the familiar shape of Orion.  "There's Aldeberan, and Betelgeuse, Rigel." He pointed with his forefinger.  "Thank you very much, Mr. Thomas,"he whispered to himself, remembering the pudgy science teacher.

Returning his attention back to the area of his watch, he stretched out his cramping legs as best he could and tried to work the kinks out of his back.  He was tired of sitting.  Tired of watching the darkness.  Tired of being tired.  He thought of his last New Year's, before he was shipped overseas.  At the stroke of midnight, it seemed like every reveler in town was standing on his front porch listening to the others up and down the street.  Except for him and Evelyn.  They were in the back seat of Muggy's beat-up Chevy, necking.

Billy lifted his head up over the edge of the seat.  "Man, I can't see a thing through the windows.  They got all steamed up somehow."  He swiped a circle in the moist film and looked out.

"Happy New Year, Sweetie."  The girl reached up and pulled the young soldier to her, pressing her lips to his.  "Have you made your resolution yet?"

"Me?  No.  Not yet.  I guess maybe I should make a resolution not to get killed."

"Don't you dare even talk about getting killed, Billy Nelson." She looked at him horrified.

"OK.  I promise not to talk about that."  His words seemed to placate her.

"I made mine," she said between eager kisses.

"Huh?"

"I made my New Year's resolution.  It is to remain pure for you, Billy.  I'm not going to date anyone else while you are gone.  No other man's lips are going to touch mine.  Are you going to make the same resolution?"

Billy didn't answer, but kept kissing her.

Evelyn pushed him away and sat up.

"Hey, what's wrong?"  Billy tried to resume his affectionate attack.

The girl folded her arms and refused to have anything to do with him.  "You mean to tell me that I am going to remain chaste for you, and you, you can't even promise the same?  How could you, Billy?"  Her eyes moistened.

"Gosh, Evelyn.  Of course, I will.  You know how I feel about you."  He locked his lips on her neck.

"A New Year's resolution is a sacred promise, you know."

"A sacred promise."

"You have to keep a New Year's resolution."

"Sure.  You have to keep a New Year's resolution.  Oh, Baby."

Billy smiled at the memory.  A year later and here he was in France.  Freezing to death and making resolutions.  "I wonder if Evelyn has made a resolution."  Somehow, he didn't think it involved him if she had.  He hadn't heard from her in months.

It was blessedly quiet except for the gentle sound of the snow falling.  The Krauts were probably down the road.  They would be as cold as he was, and they probably were hunkered down somewhere warm.  Maybe they were making their own resolutions.  Sacred promises, Evelyn had called them.  Tonight, in one hour and a few minutes, he'd be off watch and in his bed.  A resolution kept.

Billy shivered as the wind kicked up a bit.  Snow swirled along the ground.  He glanced at this watch.  Midnight.  "Happy New Year's," he whispered to himself.  "Yea rah."

The shadows deepened as the moon slid behind a bank of clouds.  Billy caught a slight movement nearby.  Possibly that muskrat or whatever he'd seen before Littlejohn had arrived.  The animal was probably still out scrounging food.  The soldier's eyes bore into the darkness, trying to catch sight of the furry shadow.  There it was again.  Barely discernable, but there, nonetheless.  Billy squinted, and his blood froze.  Right in front of him, crouching in the darkness, the white-clad figure of a man.  The shape of the helmet left no doubt as to which side the soldier fought on.

The German seemed to look straight at Billy, and Billy was sure that he had been spotted.  But the enemy soldier looked away.  The American lifted his rifle slowly, keeping his eyes on the German the whole time.

"There's nothing here for you, Kraut," Billy thought.  "Just turn around and go back where you came from.  I'm not going to kill you.  It's not your night to die."

The German suddenly whipped his head to the side, away from Billy.  Something to the Kraut's right had attracted him.  Then Billy heard it too.  A soft cough from the flank where Caje was on guard duty.

"Ignore it.  That wasn't anything you'd be interested in.  Just turn around and get out of here."  Billy searched the landscape for other Germans, but he seemed to be alone.  One soldier figuring the lines might be soft.  The guards a little lax, what with the cold and the New Year.  He might be after a prisoner.  Caje might be over there at that moment looking in another direction and not even suspecting what was creeping up in the dark.  Billy couldn't let that happen.

The German hesitated.  Perhaps he really didn't want to fight tonight any more than Billy did.  Then the Kraut lowered himself flat to the snowy ground, and, laying his rifle in the crook of his elbows, began crawling forward, toward Caje.

Billy brought his rifle up to firing position, his finger resting on the trigger.  He watched the German move several feet and then stop.  It was possible he was just there to check out the terrain.  That done, he'd turn around and leave.  Billy had no intention of impeding him in any way.  As long as he just went back to his own lines.

The enemy soldier looked around. Then he actually turned and started moving in the opposite direction.  "Yes," Billy let out his breath.  But the German soldier stopped again and looked back toward the right.  Once more he began a slow crawl in Caje's direction.

Billy's tongue snaked out and wet his lips.  His eyes were glued on the soldier who crept across the ground.  Billy's gloved hands tensed on his rifle.  He could feel his thumb against his cheek, and he quickly used it to swipe the sweat that sheeted his upper lip in spite of the cold.  His body trembled as he peered down the sight, keeping a bead on the German.

"Stop where you are!" his mind screamed silently.   But the kraut slithered forward on knees and elbows, weapon cradled in his arms.  "Stop there.  Not another inch closer.  I don't want to kill you.  Can't kill you.  Don't you understand?"

The German slung his weapon on his shoulder, reached to his waist, and pulled something from his belt.  Billy imagined he could see the cold steel blade.  "Go back!  Not tonight.  Tonight I don't want to kill.  Don't want the first thing I do in the New Year be to kill you.  Don't make me!"

The enemy soldier was moving steadily toward Caje's position.  Billy could almost hear the ticking of his watch as it counted off the first few minutes past the midnight hour.   His finger tightened on the trigger, and a single bullet burst from the rifle.  A moment later, the head of the German soldier exploded in a shower of tissue and bone and blood.  And a hot tear shattered instantly as it plashed down onto the icy barrel of the M-1.

"Damn you," Billy screamed aloud.  "Damn you to hell!"
 

*     *     *     *     *

Another noisemaker popped with a loud bang in the living room.

"Billy Nelson!  You owe me a..."  Evelyn hurried through the kitchen doorway to claim victory, but her words caught in her throat.  Her husband was on his knees on the floor.  He limply held the opened bottle across his legs, its contents spilling across his thighs.

"Damn you!  Damn you to hell," he repeated as tears washed down his face.  He loosened his grip on the bottle, and it rolled across the floor, leaving a red trail on the linoleum.

Evelyn fell onto her knees beside her husband and pulled his head into her chest.  "Shh, shh," she quieted him over and over.  "My God, Billy.  What is wrong?"

The grandfather clock in the hallway clanged the hour, and voices sang in the living room.  "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?."

"1950," Evelyn said softly as she kissed the top of his head.  "Happy New Year, honey."

"And never brought to mind?."

Billy ran the back of his fist under his wet nose and looked up at his wife.  "Evelyn, I, ...the war..."

"For auld lang syne, my friend, for auld lang syne.  We'll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne."

She looked deeply into the sadness of his eyes.  "You never wanted to talk about the war." Her voice broke.

"I, I couldn't.  I need to tell you."