Kage Baker was always resolutely cheerful on New Year’s Eve.
She was by no means one of those folks who is always urging everyone to look on the bright side of life. Momma called her “my unhappy little pine tree” for her entire life. She disliked cheerleading of any sort, and usually expressed the opinion – when she expressed any at all, which was rare – that something dark was sure to happen. She seemed to feel that public optimism was jejeune, naif; even rather vulgar.
Kage could be outright dour.
And yet, at heart, she was a practical and even cheerful person. “Well, no help for it,” she’d comment, after having gotten the cursing and wailing at some disaster out of her system. “What we need is a plan!” And she’d make one. At least one. And she’d stick to them, too, until the problem was solved. Once she had that plan in hand, she was resolute, brave and happy.
New Year’s Eve was a holiday so full of promise, redemption and symbolic hope – Kage couldn’t resist. There was all day, every day, each and every year for snivelling and regrets: the New Year was the perfect place to practice optimism for at least one day, and try to make it count. And that was Kage’s intent.
So we always celebrated. Usually at home, and fairly quietly – she was practical, after all, and it’s just not very safe out there on New Year’s Eve. Even living in a tiny town on the mainly uninhabited coast of California was not secure – we were also a tourist town, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s was one of the big times. We got 50,000 people crammed into our 7 square miles of town then; you couldn’t walk to the ice cream parlour without seeing a drunk fall in the gutter, or glance out the kitchen window without seeing someone’s turkey launched skyward from a back yard deep fryer. Good times, Dear Readers.
We went out to dinner sometimes – unfashionably early. We were often the first patrons in a restaurant; sometimes the only ones for the duration of our ladylike celebrations. One year, while on our way home – still wearing the modestly filigreed paper tiaras we had donned for the occasion – we were delayed while we helped a lady out of the street. Where she happened to by lying at the time … She was wearing real diamonds, a leopard-skin coat, stiletto heels in damascened silk: and she was paralytic drunk, at a mere 7 PM in the evening. We hauled her up, handed her off to the likewise reeling gent in the tailored suit who was waiting for her, and gave them a push toward the restaurant we had just left.
“Did you tip well?” asked Kage as they went off at a barely coordinated 4-legged stagger.
“Yep,” said I.
“Good. ‘Cause we’re not doing the staff any favours with that pair.”
We went home singing temperance hymns.
Then we’d watch the end of the day-long Twilight Zone marathon (where the best classics get aired), and ultimately Rockin’ New Year’s Eve In Times Square with Casey Kasem – not quite his head in a jar, poor man, but increasingly shakey as the years wore on. Kage would have been sad to lose him at last, as we did this year – but I’m glad she missed the Grand Grimoire tragi-comedy of his death and much-delayed burial. We watched the old familiar spectacle even in her last year (I stayed at the hospital with her – no one was chasing me out any more by that time), though we missed ritual the trip down to the sea.
It was always Kage’s custom, in Pismo – which is where her entire public career took place – to go to the shore on New Year’s Eve, and re-dedicate herself to her Muse and the gods of writing. She’d fling off her coat, kick off her shoes – this woman who never even went barefoot in the house! – and wade into the winter waves to mark her oath. I held things, especially my pocket flask, so I could revive her with blood-warm single malt* when she walked back out of the midnight Pacific …
And Kage, who complained of hypothermia when the temperature dipped below 70, would emerge blue and laughing and shooting off sparks from her hair, except at the end where her braid hung below her waist and was usually white with foam. That yearly bargain with the Unseen Powers (except she saw them) always left her exultant.
We always had a Happy New Year. We always made the same resolution, which was To Survive! That last time, we even had champagne I’d smuggled in to the hospital.
That’s probably your job, now, she commented on the last day of 2009.
I don’t know how, I muttered.
Don’t worry, I’ll leave instructions, Kage said cheerfully.
Oh, screw you! was my witty and classic response, and we both laughed like maniacs. But as I left to head home, she said, sleepily and contentedly, Shall I believe ? … and I turned and assured her that I would follow all her instruction, I really would: though they’d be unnecessary.
I was almost home – I stopped to walk down the cold sands and throw her promise to the waves – before my lagging brain filled in what Kage had really meant:
Shall I believe that unsubstantial Death is amourous?
Well. She always did like lean men, did Kage. And I’ve come to rather depend on that bony gentleman’s legendary courtesy, and hope she was taken into Eternity with a bow and a courtly flourish. It was just the sort of good ending she would have expected.
So – a Happy New Year’s Eve, Dear Readers. And a happy year to come, and may there always be something to light your view of the future with joy – no matter how dim it looks. May all be glad for you.
*Where did you think she got that phrase, Dear Readers, of the whiskey the arms merchant shares with Alec? Experience!