Happy New Year!
Well, another cycle was over. Christmas tree needles swept up, cards filed away, ornaments wrapped in tissue paper, calendar recycled. It was the latter that made Sarah depressed. It had been a bad year. Losses, tedium, frustrations, disappointments.
There was a knock at the door, and when she opened it, there stood a man. He was quite dapper, and wore a suit (rather shiny at the cuffs). He carried a little case and looked like one of the old-fashioned travelling salesmen from the 1930s: his ware in those days would have been fully-fashioned stockings, or mothballs, or Rendell’s “Wives’ Friend” or even “Stanley’s Whirling Douches”. Sarah wanted to tell him to go away, but he intervened quickly: “Madame, have you purchased your next year’s calendar?” She had to admit she had not: “I’ve felt too depressed to consider the future.” “Ah” said he: “we’ll have to think about that.”
He bent down and opened the case, and she saw that it was full of brown paper packages. That wasn’t at all what she had expected. He looked at her in an appraising sort of way, and pulled out a package from the middle of the pile: “I think you’ll find that this one is exactly what you need.” He named an unconscionable sum, and when she demurred, he said: “do you want to be happy?” Sarah thought that if that what was on offer, it would be a bargain. Money changed hands, and he went back down the garden path, calling over his shoulder: “look, listen, and learn!”
She went inside and undid her parcel. The calendar was printed on lovely shiny paper, and on the front was embossed in gold letters Happy New Year! She couldn’t flip through the calendar in advance, and look at all the pictures, as she usually did. They seemed somehow stuck together. The first one only gave access on January 1st. The image for that month was of the Brueghel painting Hunters in the Snow. But one of the hunters was Sarah herself. She trudged through the ice, looking to left and right, trying to find something. And the whole calendar was like that. April was a version of Botticelli’s Primavera, and the frolicking pagan Goddess was Sarah. She seemed intent on finding pleasure without guilt. September was a homage to Chagall’s The Lovers, with Sarah and the man she loved dancing in the sky and then plummeting disastrously to the ground. But December was the most disquieting. It was Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead: and as Charon’s boat moved across the Styx, the shrouded corpse lifted its veil and looked back: it bore her own face.
How to interpret this? As the world turned on its axis, and as the seasons ran their appointed course, Sarah wondered if it was better to give in to decline and death, or to fight it. You couldn’t make the world to be as you liked, you couldn’t make people feel as you wanted them to. You had to find your way around and through the rigours of nature. It could not be fixed. And then she realised that, after all, there was one thing worse than not getting your heart’s desire. And that was getting it.