She felt the throbbing before she opened her eyes. She was disoriented and uncomfortable, but the sound of Arnie softly breathing next to her assured her that she was at home. She opened her eyes slowly as she sat up. He was lying on his side, gazing at her, a couple of noisemakers and some confetti streamers strewn about. The bottle of champagne she had bought a few days earlier — nearly empty now — stood upright in silent testament to the previous night.
She pulled her knees up and propped her elbows on them in order to massage her temples as she tried to remember why she had slept on the living room floor rather than in their bed. When she extended her left arm to pick up the noisemaker nearest Arnie, she noticed the red stains. Pulling her arm back and raising her right hand to inspect it as well, she saw the dried blood caked on both hands and under her fingernails. Panic overtook her.
“What the . . .?” she whispered frantically as Arnie stood up, came over to her, and nuzzled her elbow with his nose.
As her restored memories overtook her, she collapsed back onto the floor in slow motion, Arnie instinctively lying down with her as she absently rubbed his ears and stroked his head.
“Oh, Arnie,” she sobbed as she realized that she had actually lived the sequence of events that seemed like just a terrible nightmare.
They had dressed hurriedly for the party because they had both left work early and come home to enjoy a couple of hours alone before going out for the evening. They dozed off, satisfiedly wrapped each other’s arms, and awoke to realize that they had less than an hour to shower, dress, and travel uptown to their friends’ home for the New Year’s Eve dinner and celebration.
“Oh, my gosh! Sam! Wake up! We’re going to be late,” she warned after she contentedly rolled over and glimpsed the clock on the nightstand. “It’s six o’clock!”
“How ’bout if we just stay here tonight?” Sam mumbled, reaching to pull her back to him as he burrowed deeper under the covers.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” she chided, pulling the covers back. “I’m getting in the shower. You promised me that we would go to the party tonight and I’m holding you to it. I’m wearing my new dress and you’re wearing your tux. So get moving!” she playfully slapped him on the rear end as she got out of bed and strode toward the bathroom.
“Hey!” he yelped. He groaned dramatically as he grabbed the covers and pulled them up over his head. But when he heard the faucet creak as the water began surging out of the shower pipes, he couldn’t resist the temptation to join her.
Thirty minutes later, they were dashing around the apartment as they finished getting ready for the evening. She was still putting her earrings and bracelet on as they hurried down the hall to the elevator. His tie hung around the collar of his half-buttoned shirt, and he finished hooking and straightening his belt as they exited the elevator car on the first floor.
“Would you like me to get you a cab?” the doorman asked as they stepped out of the building into the cold New York City air.
“That would be great!” he responded, putting his jacket on. He quickly finished buttoning his shirt as she began assisting him with his tie.
“You look beautiful in that dress,” he whispered as he lightly kissed the end of her nose. “Are you sure you don’t want to just go back upstairs and have a private celebration?”
“Thank you,” she beamed. The taxi pulled up just as she was adjusting the bow to assure that it was straight. “And you are unbelievably dashing in this tux. But no. I intend to wear this dress for at least a few hours.”
They hurriedly hopped into the back seat. Sam announced their destination to the driver and urged him to drive as quickly as possible because they were running late.
“I’ll do my best, sir,” the driver replied, “but there’s a lot of traffic this evening, you know.”
Sam sighed as he grinned slyly and leaned toward her. “It was worth a late arrival, don’t you think?”
“Behave yourself,” she whispered, feigning displeasure.
“I love you,” he mouthed silently as he draped his hand over her legs and kissed her gently, his lips lingering on hers.
“I know and I’m very lucky,” she said quietly as she reached up and tenderly stroked his cheek with her right hand. As she did, she felt the cab slowing. Glancing forward through the windshield, she noted that they had entered an intersection and the cab driver was waiting for oncoming traffic to pass before making a left turn.
Sam leaned back on the seat, his right hand remaining over her legs as she turned her attention to her handbag lying on the seat to her right. She reached for it, intending to pull on her gloves when she felt the impact and Sam seemed to be ripped from her side in slow motion.
The next thing she knew, she was leaning over him on the pavement. She removed her coat and placed it under his head, holding his face in her hands and urging him to hang on as the wail of the sirens grew louder and louder. She never stopped talking to him, gently stroking his face and telling him how much she loved him, assuring him that everything would be fine as the paramedics carefully placed him on the gurney and lifted it into the ambulance, helping her up the steps so that she could remain by his side. She did not stop whispering in his ear until they reached the hospital and the paramedics forced her to remain in the waiting room while several medical personnel took control of the gurney and whisked Sam away from her.
“No, no,” she repeated over and over when hospital staffers asked her repeatedly if she was sure there wasn’t someone they should call to come and stay with her in the waiting room. “No. No one. All of our family live out of state. I’ll call them later after I see Sam,” she insisted. “I don’t want to alarm them unnecessarily.”
She still would not provide them with the name and telephone number of someone they should call to accompany her home after they let her sit with Sam’s body. The social worker who had informed her that Sam would not be going home with her and accompanied her into the room where the medical personnel had tried desperately – but unsuccessfully – to revive him had practically demanded that she either provide a name or remain at the hospital herself to rest and recover from the shock. Still she refused. All she wanted to do was go home. There she would figure out what needed to be done and who needed to be called, she explained.
Eventually, the social worker relented and summoned a police officer and chaplain to drive her back to their building and escort her into their apartment. After greeting Arnie and searching the premises to assure that nothing was amiss, they finally took their leave after providing her with several telephone numbers to call if she felt that she needed assistance.
It was 2:00 a.m. A new year had begun but not in the way she and Sam had planned.
Her parents, Sam’s parents, her sister . . . they would all be asleep by now, she told herself, unable to face the task of dialing their numbers and telling them about the accident.
So she went to the refrigerator and retrieved the champagne that she had purchased a few days earlier — just in case Sam convinced her to stay at home instead of going to the party. Just for fun, she had also bought a couple of silly hats, noisemakers, and some confetti, knowing that Sam would try to beg off going out and want to celebrate quietly at home, alone with her and Arnie.
She popped open the champagne, blew bitterly into one of the noisemakers, and threw some streamers around the room as she sat down on the floor next to Arnie and began drinking the champagne right out of the bottle. Arnie stared at her questioningly in his perpetually forlorn manner as if to ask, “Where is he?”
“He’s not coming home, Arnie,” she cried. “He’s not coming back to us.” She repeated the words, “He’s gone, Arnie,” over and over, drinking the champagne to numb her pain between the sobs that wracked her entire body as she wished she had let him convince her to crawl back into bed with him instead of insisting that they go to the party.