The roaring fire greeted Willow from afar when she drove up to the house. She could see shadows on the snow bank beyond, moving as her friends arrived and settled into their spots, getting up to fill cups with the hot mulled wine she knew would greet her. She took a moment to wrap her coat carefully around herself, settle a dramatic red hat with a huge brim on her head, add a purple scarf, and pick up her notebook and pen. She almost forgot her gloves, but it wouldn’t do to leave them in the car. The night promised to drop from its current tolerable twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit to a nasty ten before they finished. She’d tucked a couple of hand-warmers and a much warmer hat into the deep pockets of her coat.
She took another minute to review the past year, before opening the door and stepping out onto the icy parking area and carefully mincing her way past Susanna’s house to the gathering. She hoped the others wouldn’t notice her tears, although they all knew about Karen’s death and Jason’s betrayal. Few had heard about her mother’s slow decline into a world where nothing made sense any more, but at least she didn’t have to talk about that here.
She slipped off her glove to finger Jason’s ring, hidden in a black bag in her pocket so that no-one would know what it was. Did she really dare toss it into the flames, to cleanse her of the need to look back? She would tell Susanna to search for its ostentatious diamond once the coals cooled. Lord knew that Susanna needed the money. She had considered just giving her friend the evil thing, and letting her sell it to help pay her rent, but she had rejected the thought. She wanted to know that it had burned, like Jason had burned her heart when he left her daughter’s bedside to sleep with one of her nurses. How cliché. If he had waited a month, she wouldn’t hate him so much.
She greeted Clarissa with a kiss and the others with a wave of her hand. They had spread blankets on the snow benches she and Susanna had pounded hard and flat yesterday. Star brought her a cup of wine. Raven and Theresa scooted over to make room between them.
“How are you holding up?” her best friend, Raven, asked, squeezing her close with one arm.
“Not great. I’m ready to bring in a better year than the last one,” she answered.
“Me, too,” Raven said. Raven, a yoga instructor, had broken her leg skiing two weeks before.
Clarissa clapped her hands. “Everyone, listen up!”
Their voices gradually stopped.
“We’re going to begin by calling in the four directions, then we’ll sage each of you,” Clarissa explained.
After the cleansing, they passed around a branch of sage and each threw a piece into the fire with a prayer for the new year. Most of the women prayed for world peace and an end to hunger, but Raven asked for great sex, which brought a big laugh, and then Willow said: “You all know that I’m a cynic after what happened this past year. I’m just saying that, if God, or the spirits, or whoever, could take my baby girl and my fiance, and leave me with two little kids to raise by myself, then I’d rather believe they don’t exist. Anyway, I’m going to be selfish, and just ask that no major crises happen to me next year, or to any of you.”
They all nodded. “Amen,” they chorused.
“Okay, did everyone write down what you want to be rid of from last year? If you didn’t, we have paper and pens,” Clarissa said.
A couple of the women got up and fetched supplies. Willow sat quietly. She’d spent the past two days angrily filling sheet after sheet until her anger dried up. Hospital visits, diapers, stupid insurance adjusters, people who couldn’t understand why Karen didn’t return their phone calls, Karen’s useless husband, and on and on. When it was her turn to throw things into the fire, she wrapped the sheets around Jason’s ring and tossed it all, feeling relieved of a huge burden. Only her poor mother remained, and that she could handle, with the help of the Alzheimer’s unit where her mother now lived.
While they sat in silence, meditating on the fresh slate that lay before them, she felt a tingling on the top of her head and looked up to see what caused it. Above the women sitting with their eyes closed, a ring of fairies hung in the air, their wands dripping stars onto each person. One of the fairies put a finger to her mouth. Willow nodded. She tried to close her eyes again, but the right one wouldn’t obey. Nor could she stop grinning like she was stoned. Either the wine was spiked with something unusual, or these creatures were real. She watched until they faded into nothing.
“What are you staring at?” Theresa asked her, after they had closed the ceremony.
“Di – did you see them?” Willow stammered.
“See who?” Raven asked.
“Nothing. But I think our wishes have been granted.” Willow stood and stretched. She turned her cold back to the bonfire. Above her, stars glittered in the clear sky. She wanted more of that wine.