by Anton Wills-Eve

<a href=””>Stroke of Midnight</a>

I went to bed early last night, so here’s an old one !

                                      MY MIDNIGHT STROKE

    This story of a New Year revel takes me back many moons to the thirty first of December when I was seventeen and a half and left to my own devices at the year’s close for the first time in my life. My grandmother was on a world tour, my father on business in America, my sister staying with two school friends and my mother in hospital feeling very cut up after some serious surgical intervention. Being Scottish mama insisted one should always usher in the new year. So, true to family tradition, at around eight pm that evening I set out around the cinemas of our capital city to find myself an usherette.

    An usherette, in the Britain in which I grew up, was the girl in the cinema with a torch who showed you to your seat if you arrived in the middle of a film. During various intermissions she would double up as the popcorn and ice cream seller. If you went to a really posh cinema in London’s West End a quite superior harpy would take your coat and hang it up for you, but such luxuries were seldom found in the suburbs. I lived in a very rich suburb, but this largesse did not extend to palaces of black and white screens and giggling back row couples. The Odeon was a popular place for cuddles in the back row stalls and I felt sure I would be able to find an usherette to my liking. My sole aim was to take her somewhere for a midnight drink after the last film and keep up the family tradition.

As luck would have it the main film that weekend was Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds in ‘The Tender Trap’. Are any of you old enough to remember this run of the mill musical? It followed the previous week’s showing of ‘White Christmas’, you know Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen making the ultimate Christmas film of all time. What we had to put up with when we were young! But back to my nocturnal pursuits. As I bought my ticket and entered the cinema the usherette came up to me to light my way to a seat when she saw who I was. Have you ever stiffled an exclamation of joyous surprise just as Frank and Debbie were about to embrace? It goes like this.

    “My God, Anton!”


    I, sotto voce, “Kate! But you’re far too young to do this when there may be X rated films on!”

    “Oh,”shshshsh, “Sorry! Thanks, but I can easily look old enough when I have to!”

   “Not twenty one you can’t!”

   “Look, do you want to park your Arkansas or shall I call the manager and have you thrown out?”       Totally muffled guffaws from both parties. I slid into the very back row just two seats along as the first five were empty. I also skillfully switched off Kate’s torch. Then I whispered in her ear as I pulled her into the seat next to me,

   “I bet they paid you before the last house and this is just a one week holiday job. The manager will probably even have gone to a party by now. They never get full houses on New Year’s Eve. Am I right?” She nodded.

   “Then, my sweet, you have just gone off duty and when this rubbish ends in twenty minutes we needn’t wait for the newsreel and ads we can just leave.”

    “Oh, can we? And what makes you think I .. oh,..oh… no stop it. Well, I suppose it is New Year. …mmm…..okay you win. Where shall we go?”

    An arm slid round her shoulders and I snatched a kiss on her neck while starting to whisper…”Back to my place. I have 37 empty rooms. The family are all away. We can tell your mum we’re at a party.”

    “Can we? Some cheek! ….oh,oh… yes,… whose party, Anton? She knows your mum’s ill. Is your elder sister throwing a bash?” I smiled.

    “No, she’s round at Linda’s for the night, but I feel too Garboesque to join anyone. Well not including you if you are all alone at such a time. So sad.”

   “Don’t do that!… We’d better go now while I can still sneak out without being seen. Come on, Romeo. I never imagined tonight would be such fun. Have you brought your car?”

   “No, dad’s Jaguar. He won’t mind he’s in New York. Also if I’m driving I have to behave myself in the car.”

  “Never stopped you before, “ was her grinning answer. We arrived at my family mansion around half past ten. Now Kate was only a couple of months younger than I but even so I did not want to offer her any alcohol she was not used to. Apart from anything else I had known her for several years and liked her too much to take advntage of her. But she was not looking at the bottles of booze or even at me. Our Christmas decorations seemed to mesmerise her.

   “Oh, Anton you have done the house up beautifully. I have always loved this drawing room, but the streamers over the piano and the huge Christmas tree through the doors in the conservatory, it’s just like fairyland. What shall we do?” I suddenly realised I hadn’t got a clue. Television was a big no, no at New Year and I’ve explained the drinking problem, so I was just about to suggest we sit down on the huge, comfy sofa when she really surprised me.

    “Could I ask for a New Year’s gift? It won’t cost you anything.” I momentarily thought the floor was about to open up beneath me and take my morals with it. What did she want? I never thought she’d suggest it!

    “Anton everyone tells me how well you play the piano, and yet I have never heard you because ..well..oh dear this is awkward.. you see mummy says….”

    “I gave her an affectionately understanding look. “Don’t feel any embarrassment, Kate, I know what everyone says behind my back. ‘He’s got this terrible mental illness and can’t do anything he’s good at in front of other people’. Or some such rubbish. I’m right aren’t I?”

   A tear rolled down her cheek. “Yes, I am sorry. People do say awful things about you, but so very few of us have ever heard you play. It’s said you can only play for one person at a time. Is that true, and if it is could it be me tonight? Jacqueline says you are a brilliant classical pianist and I love really good music. Would you play me something? Please!” Actually I had never felt more like playing something I really liked. But I asked her to choose. I told her I had a fairly large repertoire. Then it was my turn to be staggered.

   “I believe you love Liszt and your music master has told people you can actually play the whole of the twelve transcendetal etudes right through. I’ll be as quiet as a mouse, and even if takes just over an hour we’ll still have time to cuddle up on the couch with a drink to bring in the new year”. I could hardly believe it. I agreed at once and we both settled down to an hour of quite unusual and unexpected pleasure.

   It was twenty minutes to midnight when I finished and went to the fridge and opened a bottle of Champagne. This won’t knock you out or make you ill will it?

   “After that music, nothing you could offer me could do anything other than make me happier than I’ve ever been. This is a great, great New Year’s Eve. My best ever, thank you.” So we snuggled up in front of the log fire, a glass of bubbly in our free hands and our other arms round each other as we just smiled and kissed affectionately for a few minutes. Then I turned on the radio to hear Big Ben chime midnight and say goodbye to 1959.

   “Got any really important resolutions, Kate?” I asked, gently brushing the blonde curls from in front of her eyes. She had a far away look in her eyes and troubled expression that was half really happy yet half sad.

   “I had thought I was going to be really good this year and try to help as many people in need as I could. But after tonight I have to be honest, Anton. What I really want in 1960 is to fall in love. But that’s not something you can plan or arrange, is it? It either happens or it doesn’t. What’s your resolution?”

   I almost couldn’t tell her. “As we’re being honest Kate, I hoped that by the end of the year I would have made love to someone for the first time in my life. But like you, that’s not something I can plan or arrange. You see I could only bring myself to do it if the girl was as fond of me as I would have to be of her. And if I met her I might not even know at first. So we both seem to have landed ourselves with obvious but probably impossible resolutions.”

    It was the way she let me stroke her hair so gently as we held each other very close, and downed the last drop of Champagne half an hour later, that left us both lost. We looked quizzically at each other and then collapsed in each other’s arms.

    And do you know something? Later that day around noon neither of us knew whether we had yet kept our resolutions or not.