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The International Writers Magazine: Millennium Eve

Y2K
Paul Martin

Everything had been prepared and arranged at the Hospital Records Library months ahead of the chaos that had been predicted for the Millennium Eve. Names had been pulled out of hats in order to decide fairly who would work the night shift and who would cover the following morning.

Christmas leave had been discussed, argued about and eventually agreed upon by the managers and team leaders. And the I.T. Support Team had, we were told, readied themselves for any possible problems that might cause havoc to the in-house computer system that stored all of the information about patients’ medical records.

Being severely strapped for cash because of Christmas shopping and because I only worked fifteen hours a week, I’d put my name down to work on the night, starting at midnight and working through until eight the next morning, tempted by the double pay that was offered for the shift. I knew it would actually be a fairly quiet night for us, apart from the phone calls from A & E, and that between the three of us that were working it, we would each get a chance to have a few hour’s sleep in the coffee lounge upstairs, there being no managers or senior staff in the building until after New Year’s Day.

Obviously I didn’t exactly relish the idea of being there that night, knowing how lively and exciting it would be in the pubs, clubs and at private house parties. But there was over a hundred pounds in it for me, money I desperately needed but which would barely last me for the following couple of weeks. I really had no choice. And neither did my then girlfriend. It just hadn’t occurred to me to ask her if she minded me working that night; not, that is, until the moment I’d agreed to do so with my colleagues at the hospital. But by then it was instantly too late. Everybody had come out with water-tight, plausible-sounding excuses and reasons for not being able to work the shift: kids, parties, holidays, or they may have already worked Christmas Eve and so felt that this in itself exempted them from working the shift, which, to be fair, it did.

I immediately regretted volunteering to work that night. It seems ridiculous now but we were having a party at our house on that New Year’s Eve and my plan was to not drink alcohol, be at the party for a few hours with my girlfriend, Lisa, and then leave for work at half-past eleven in the taxi that was booked and paid for in advance by the hospital. But, almost inevitably, this did not happen. I had a beer, then another, then another, and by about half-past ten I was well into the spirit of the night. At the time I blamed my girlfriend for persuading me to stay at the party but in truth I had no intention of going to work and was starting to panic about how I might get out of it. And then Lisa came up with an ingenious plan:
"When the taxi turns up why don’t you offer the driver twenty quid to pretend that he was given the wrong address, then call work and tell them that it hasn’t arrived and that you’re finding it impossible to order another one? It’s Millennium Eve so they’ll believe that. I bet you really wouldn’t be able to get one if you tried anyway."
"That’s a brilliant idea," I replied, opening another bottle of cheap French beer, "but I’ll never get through to the taxi firm now. And the people at work will know I’m lying."
"Oh, so what. It’s Millennium Eve! What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll get the sack. You only work fifteen hours a week; you can easily get something else. How could they sack you anyway if they can’t prove you’re lying? Go on babe… stay here."

In my semi-drunken haze this seemed to make complete sense, and combined with all of the talking, drinking, dancing and general abandon that was going on around me in our front room, was simply irresistible. I thought hard about the possible repercussions of Lisa’s plan for all of about two seconds.
"Go on then. But will you speak to the driver when he gets here? You’re better at things like this than me. And you’re good at getting through when it’s busy."
"Yeah, let me do it, I’ll speak to him. Can you get me another beer please."
I gave her a beer and a twenty-pound note for the taxi driver, which I borrowed from my dad, and we forgot about the whole thing for the next hour and continued with the festivities.

I didn’t actually feel that guilty or worried about letting work down. It was obviously very unreliable of me, but there would’ve been four of us manning the building that night, we wouldn’t be doing any actual work, which normally involved pulling out patients’ records for forthcoming clinics, and the place could function perfectly well with just one person there. I should know, I’d worked there alone before on several occasions and the hardest thing about doing so was staying awake and not getting spooked by the building. It was an eerie place to be alone in and at night; a draughty, cobweb-ridden, unnervingly silent library consisting of rows and rows of narrow aisles within which were stored hundreds of thousands of dusty, bulging cardboard files and folders. Being there in the middle of the night, alone and groggy from sleeplessness, one’s mind would play tricks. You would begin to think you’d glimpsed a black figure darting quickly past the far end of the aisle you might be working in; or you’d be convinced you could hear the muffled sound of footsteps from the floor above. Having the radio on didn’t help: that would only prevent you from hearing any possible intruders and just put you even more on edge. And you couldn’t lock yourself in a room or an office because a security guard patrolling the hospital grounds could call in unannounced at any moment to check you were still alive; or at least awake. So all in all this was probably the last place I wanted to be on Millennium Eve. ‘What, ultimately, would be the point of being there?’ I tried telling myself, convinced that I should just be at home with the people I love – and getting shit-faced with the people I love – on this unique and momentous night.

The party turned out to be one of those great ones that people still talk about years later. In my memory it was all contained in that one front room, like a microcosm of the carnival that took place all over the world that day. There were twenty- and thirty-something’s stood against walls, trying to look like they were not trying to look cool, parents dancing unashamedly in the middle of the room, youngsters abusing our piano in an attempt to compete with the music on the stereo, couples snogging on the stairs, the usual shady characters you barely notice at parties smoking something foul and sinister in the garden, two people having extramarital sex in my bed, beautiful eighteen- and nineteen- year-olds flirting with each other in the kitchen, the obligatory tearful girlfriend being consoled in the forecourt, and an overall sense of all of life being lived out in this one house.

Three days later I was called into work to go for a meeting with two of the managers.
Well, what did I expect?

"You let us down, Paul", my manager Tony pronounced in his camp, nasal, scouse accent. (I always thought of him as a kind of Nazi John Inman.) But I knew they couldn’t prove anything. I felt guilty and rather silly, knowing that they knew full well that I was lying, and not very well.
"Honestly, the taxi never turned up. I tried to book another one but I couldn’t even get through. How did it go, anyway?"
I didn’t give a toss how it had gone but thought I should make some pretence at devotion to my job.
"Luckily it was fine. No thanks to you."
"I’m sorry, but like I said, I tried to order another one but just… couldn’t. And by about three o’clock I thought it was probably not worth coming in anyway. Sorry."
"We’ll be in touch."
He got up and opened the door to the office for me. I was understandably relieved to have gotten that over with and lit a fag as soon as I got out into the chill of the car park.

I didn’t lose my job. Nothing more was said about it but I had my tail between my legs the next time I had to work the night shift. I’ve always found lying very stressful, and lying to the others that night about what had happened was almost like juggling plates in that I had to seem convincing whilst simultaneously appearing to share their incomprehension at why the taxi didn’t turned up and why I couldn’t get another one.
"I know, it was a nightmare, it was just engaged every time I rang up…"
Absolutely pathetic.
"How did it go, anyway? Were you very busy…?"
© Paul Martin December 2006
paulmartin177 at hotmail.co.uk

Paul is studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

Lifestories in Dreamscapes


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