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I wake up and stare at an unfamiliar ceiling. After a moment, realisation floods back to me. I’m in a hotel. I sit up, feeling uneasy. Maybe I’ve made a mistake coming here.

Still, too late now. I spent all my money on a late flight in and one night in this hotel. After today, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I didn’t even bring any luggage. But today- that I do know. Today I’m going to go and find happiness.

I get dressed and slip on my cheap trainers, the laces loosely knotted so I can easily kick them off, and head out of the room. I drop the room key off at reception and ask for a street map. There’s one in a free leaflet, so I pocket it and head out.

The hotel is on 10th, and I walk fast trying to concentrate on the map. If I turn right on 1st, I can reach the junction with 89. 89 sounds good to me. Far better than 10th, anyway.

I glance down 5th as I pass the junction. There’s a paving slab fenced off down there with a Union Jack flying over it at half mast. That must be the 7th July, I guess. As I turn on to 1st I can see the long stretch of September on the other side of the street, all fenced off with flowers piled up around it, and a pretty obvious police presence. I heard they once shot a guy who was trying to climb over the fence, assumed he was a terrorist wanting to revel in destruction. Turned out the guy had a daughter, born on the 12th, only lived one day. He’d just wanted to hold her again.

I reach 89 and kick my shoes off as I step onto the first paving slab. For a moment I can feel the cool stone beneath my feet but then it disappears.

It’s New Year’s Eve. If I can stay awake till midnight I can see the New Year in. It’s the first year I’ve been allowed to stay up and I feel really grown-up as I sit between my parents on the sofa. I’ve been practising Auld Lang Syne since Christmas, I know all the words properly because my mum’s got a tea towel with them printed on. I doze off at half past eleven.

With a blink I look around the street. Nobody seems to care that I’m standing there blankly with no shoes on. I guess they see it often enough.

I look down at the paving slabs. They all look the same; nothing to tell you when you’re stepping into. But if that one was New Year’s Eve, then count back six and it should be Christmas. I jump with both feet- I remember hearing you could go mad if you straddle two days barefoot.

The tree is beautiful. Multicoloured lights, tinsel, shiny baubles, and the fairy on the top. I had nearly forgotten about the fairy. We started using a star at some point. I can’t remember why.

Nobody else is up yet. I crept out of bed to switch the tree lights on and stare at it in the darkness. Somebody’s used foil gift wrap this year, and the presents sparkle temptingly. I peek at a couple of the cards. This is for my brother; this one’s for dad. I know it’s naughty so I stop. Some of these presents are for me. I know they are. I can wait to find out which ones. Or can I?

I suddenly realise I’m standing in the street crying. Christmas hasn’t been the same for years, no matter how we try. Perhaps it’s just because we grew up.

I look down the street. 1989 stretches out in front of me. Somewhere along here there’s the long school holiday; endless summer days spent playing with my friends. My tenth birthday. Shopping with my mother. The city streets hold other good years, too. Years full of hope, ambition, innocence and love- all the things I lost somewhere along the way.

My shoes forgotten, I hop onto another slab and lose myself in memories.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note- This week’s Sunday Scribblings prompt is “Flashback”. )

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