I am woken by the sound of someone vomiting into the toilet. It’s the first day of the year and I’m lying in the dark in the bowels of a hungover household. I hear people moving about and talking, through the roaring in my eyes. Ears. Mouth. For a long time I lie still, gathering the strategy to move, my mind groaning in a pounding head. I think if I roll over I will be sick but I’ll die if I don’t get up for water.
I come out of the dark passageway from the bedrooms into the big living room, ordinarily so comfortingly lamplit and dim. Today, the sun is shining. It glitters and glares. What’s going on, why is it so light? The mother looks up and says something, in German, with her mouth full of half-masticated bread. I can’t understand. The table is piled with spreadable meats. Everything makes me want to vomit.
The father says, “Wind down the blinds a little. I can’t tolerate that shining in my eyes.” He retrieves from the fridge something I have been trying to pretend is not there: a jar of pickled eggs. I mean they’re eggs, but they’re pickled. Who would ever think of pickling an egg? It’s hard to know how some things get invented. I thrust the imagined texture out of my mind and sit down. The headache is moving around from camp to camp like a living enemy. It is a clamp round the back of my neck and I have to turn my torso to turn my head. Now it’s a burst of sun. Now it’s excavating clamour, devoutly, from the brain matter right behind my eyes.
One by one the smooth white shining bald eggs are plucked out of the glass. He lays them in a row: four eggs. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. With his knife he slices each egg lengthways in half. His hands are shaking. Glancing up he tells me, curtly, “Ultimate cure. You should try it.” He offers me an egg on the end of a spoon. “Oh, no! No. Thank you. No.” The half yolks are scooped out and set trembling aside and he adds a glop of oil, teaspoon of vinegar, splash of Worcestershire sauce, a twist of pepper and a grind of salt. All of my senses are awake now and thundering through my sore soul like grief. He smears on some mustard, German mustard the colour of baby’s diarrhea. Carefully he replaces the lost yolks balancing each one on the spoon as it travels. I think I’m going to cry. I hear myself say this out loud and start laughing weakly. I hear him chewing. I can hear him breathing. I put my head down on the cool, hard table.
I’m so hungry but the thought of food of any kind seems cruel. Life is a series of pitiful dilemmas larger than my brain. My stomach aches. My mind aches. Everything is sensation. My hair aches at the roots as I push it aside. I feel so hungry, sick, hungry and sick. My partner makes suggestions: some muesli? some eggs? “Poor poisoned mouse,” he says. I think he’s laughing. I guess I’m laughing, too. He brings me an orange juice and I remember the line from Laurie Colwin’s novel, spoken the morning after a wedding by the groom: “That orange juice is very bright. Do you think I could have some coffee?”
This winter coat is padded with down, it feels like I’m wearing a sleeping bag, a life jacket. We step outside, fresh, clear world, to walk the zooming white dog. A most perfect, breakthrough rare winter afternoon. The trees are picked out in sunshine and I can hear a bird singing behind the old barn. Everything is beautiful. Everything is free. The dog runs in joyous zigzags, turning his head to question with a tilt how slow we are, how slow I am. I realise I am shuffling like a prisoner. The icy wind bites me. My legs ache. This is all my fault.
At the corner a long slew of track marks in the grass show where someone else has veered off the road. I clutch my beaker of milky tea and stop at intervals, to sip.
The day passes in slow heaves. The pain does not ease. I try to read, but have to put the book down when two characters end up “with egg on their faces.” Family members come by and laugh at me. I keep remembering the party in prismatic spasms, like the faulty hologram of Princess Leia that R2D2 screened into the desert air miles later in another world, on Tatooine. I see everybody crowded up one end of the two long tables set end to end, clinking our wine glasses together, toasting in a cluster, “To our hosts!” who give this party every year. We’re all sitting closer as the night wears on. He forces his wineglass through the crowd of stems, crying, “Wife! Wife!” as her glass finds his. From the kitchen the two men setting up decks, so we can dance, are bowing and waving their tea towels two-handed, from the waist, extravagant, one bows then the other, in tribute: a toast. I see my hands tuning up a nylon-stringed guitar. I see a woman playing piano who has only just started to learn, with her back turned to the room as if out of shyness, laboriously, her coat still on. We have all been outside lighting fireworks and drinking champagne. The word “champagne” sends a stab of pain down through my head. She plays with her coat on. The hostess is wearing long swoops of eyeliner. She dips her head, scooping round her bowl of Australian pavlova, saying, “It’s just so good. It’s just so good.” When I set it on the table bursting over with scarlet berries there was an intake of breath: “What is that?” Someone says something to the hostess, who breaks off, laughing. “Sorry!” she explains. “I’m not laughing at you. I just saw two people walk past with a table, carrying the music.”
They set up the decks. The music carries. The kitchen is tiny and convulsing, like my brain. It’s wonderful. I just wish I could get up. I’m lying on the sofa in the other room, the children have all disappeared, it must be late, I am clutching a darling, darling pillow to my head. On the wall is a framed chart of long, curling arrows called Evolution, in which Man is not the uppermost thing. I have been dancing like nothing on earth. I’ve swallowed hair. I’ve lost my pen. Everybody’s dancing. I hear hollers and whoops. I feel how this is the most wonderful party of all time. It was my destiny to come here tonight, I love these people. I love this house. A Russian teenager arrives and starts pouring vodka martinis. Midnight was long ago. Outside, the stars are high and cold and clean. We’ve gathered at the bottom of the cobbled road where there is a tree in an intersection, several households coming out to throw down their fireballs and wave their sparklers. Men with paper sheaves of rockets on sticks set them up in the necks of empty champagne bottles, little sons crouch to the cobblestones with lighters. Fireworks scream up into the night. They are cheap and plentiful and far too close. Showers of sparks fall. A lantern drifts past. The golden windows all around wink and gleam. A small boy arrives with both hands full of sparklers. He says, “Have you got fire,” asking for a light. With a sparkler I spell out the names of my wishes. It’s 2015. I spell in light, “2015.” The year is written in fire and disappears, spelt the same in German as in English. Someone from another party comes by and hugs me. We are hugging each other. We drown in light, in the dark. Everything is bold.