NINETIES KID • by Ashleigh Rajala

I have a vivid memory of New Year 1990. It takes place on the top floor of a suburban home in Fleetwood. My younger sister passed out hours before and had been laid to rest in some distant bedroom. Me and a boy whose name I don’t remember were playing with his Lite Brite when one of our fathers called us into the living room. “Ball’s about to drop!” shouted the father. We didn’t respond, focused as we were on the Lite Brite.

I was wearing fleece pajamas, printed with something pink and girlie, with built-in feet and a zip up the front. A onesie, they’d later call it. I liked it because it was the only time I ever had one of those and it somehow felt special, like for once I actually had the kind of pajamas kids were supposed to have. Which kids, I dunno. The ones in cartoons, perhaps.

When my mother poked her head in half a minute later and said with that tone of urgency of hers, “Come in. It’s the beginning of a new decade,” the boy and I were obliged to follow. It seemed underwhelming, I remember: this scene before us as we ventured into the living room. Both sets of parents — plus one childless, unmarried couple: awkward as they clung to these dying friendships — were just sitting around the living room, staring at the television, muttering occasionally.

Empty beer cans sat on the coffee table in a way that made me nervous. I was scared to even touch the table and just wanted to go back to the Lite Brite. But I already knew the adults would never let us. We had to endure this just as they did. They all had that same wall-eyed expression, like the party ended hours earlier but but they’d been unable to leave.

I did not even want to go near my mother. She hadn’t shifted her stare from Dick Clark and her smile was too forced. She wasn’t my mother when she looked like that. She was the other woman who tried too hard to please people. She was on one side of thirty, then. Dad was on the other. They still remembered when nights like this were not… like this.

The boy and I squeezed ourselves onto the floor, clutching our knees. We sat and stared alongside the adults. I wasn’t sure at that age what it was they had to be so sad about but somehow I felt it too and I suspect the boy did as well. We were all a little too silent.

A new decade began, but another ended. Yes, another ended.

Ashleigh Rajala is an award-winning writer whose work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including Room, Redwing, Quarter Castle, and Crab Fat. She lives in Surrey BC on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.

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