Father Time holds his court, as he always does, to decide whether there shall be a New Year.
His court is crowded.
It is always crowded, in this moment, in this twelve-toll interregnum between the new year and the last.
He takes his seat with grave dignity upon his bench. He adjusts the fall of his hair.
He gestures to his adjutants with his gavel, with his hammer of old wood marked with an arabesque in gold. “Separate the righteous from the unrighteous,” says Father Time.
Now his adjutants move among them.
Shrieking, pulling at hair, fluttering their tattered wings, his adjutants move among the petitioners to his court.
The crowd rings with cries of outrage, pain, and derision.
The adjutants drag the petitioners apart. They separate the unrighteous from the just, not by their character but by the nature of their petition. They set forth velvet ropes to seal apart the groups. Then and only then may the court of Father Time begin.
The first two tolls have passed.
He begins, as he always does, with the first unrighteous petitioner.
Gravely he listens to the man’s tale of the horrors he would wish visited upon his enemies; and how, that failing, he would rather they not have a year at all.
A thin judicious sneer appears upon his face.
He dismisses the matter with prejudice.
Again and again through the line of the unrighteous he dismisses their arrogant and evil claims. They ask him to end the furtherance of time as a punishment for others; or to save them, to salve them, from the impending awareness of their own unexamined faults.
What righteous judge could answer such requests?
The tolls of the clock of the interregnum slip by, the third and fourth and fifth, and he dismisses such complains.
Thus it always is.
Yet something, this year, is different.
He feels it first as a peculiar adumbration, a distant crawling sensation that something is wrong. Something is different. Something has changed.
It comes to his awareness that the unrighteous petitioners are dissipating more quickly than he hears their cases—that something besides his disregard is motivating them, each to each, to depart.
He signals to one of the adjutants of his court.
He murmurs to it, “I would know the reason for this thing.”
And his adjutants scatter in their flock, and in due time, another case now heard, they return.
“The righteous bribe them, milord,” they say.
A cloud appears on the forehead of Father Time.
He scans the crowd.
Now he lingers, deliberately, longer over each case. He is cautious. He is formal. He grants each petitioner the benefits of his judicious doubt.
Gay marriage, now.
This one a rich vein:
The petitioner and his gathered supporters present their case most reasonably. It is a sickness, they say; it will come to flower. Better that the march of time end here, in 2006, before catastrophe descends—before the institutions of marriage dissolve and leave society a howling and bestial mob, unbound by goodwill, righteousness, or grace to their fellow men.
He allows a great debate, but in the end—
He is Father Time, le juge ancien, and reactionary to his bones. He lends his sympathy to the petitioner. He hears the words of the petition with grave regard. But to end time and abort 2007 before it can be born?
He brings down his gavel.
He dismisses the case; he affirms 2007, even in the face of social change; he tells the pallid and choreal priest who brought forth the case, “Do not return again.”
The tenth toll comes. The crowd of the unrighteous is down to eight.
A man argues to him that the year had best not come; America is losing, he explains, its “racial balance” and another year might tip the scales.
It is no different from any number of cases that Father Time has heard and disregarded; with a thunder of his gavel and a laugh of scorn, he had sent them forth never to trouble his court again.
This time, he says, only, “Denied, pending an evaluation of the events of this coming year.”
He hedges against the docket of next year.
And so; and so; and so on.
Three of the unrighteous remain.
He takes the unprecedented step of calling a brief recess.
He returns to his stone bench in the arrears of the court. He meditates decorously, and with great pomp. He arranges his brow so that all who look upon him may say: ah! What deep and potent thoughts swim and mate within the river of this mind?
He senses more than sees the pleading and bargaining across the velvet line.
The clock of the interregnum sounds its eleventh toll.
Worn down by the douceurs of the righteous and an eleven-toll litany of juridical scorn, one of the unrighteous petitioners casts down his hat and departs.
Father Time pales.
Panic sweeps him.
He returns to his feet.
He says, “Adjutants, bring forth that man.”
But it is too late.
The third-to-last unrighteous petitioner departs the court of time.
Now such grandeur does he give the justice of the second-to-last unrighteous petitioner as to ring down the annex of time; how deeply considered, how thoroughly-debated, how many witnesses he calls and how many points of law he allows the barristers of this court to dispute!
Gravely does young Peter argue that 2007 must not come.
His older brother had struck him in the face.
Their parents yield no insight; “You must understand that Peter’s character is not fully formed; nor James’.”
Dragged by subpoena into the court of time, his playmates refuse their association with the case. Old Mrs. Skivvens, Peter’s father’s boss, speaks eloquently about the need for modern parents to better rein in their children. He finds her in contempt; he casts her out.
He graces his court by giving even a child his due; but he cannot grant the petition, and the case of Peter ends.
One last unrighteous case!
His nightmare comes to fruition.
The last unrighteous petitioner is incoherent, incompetent: a creature contorted by mindless rage, unable to muster a believable argument.
His case is a mix of jingo and cliché, incapable of supporting the dignity of the court—a dignity already in the balance, in the aftermath of the time spent on a child.
To grant an extended hearing to this stream of foulness and incoherence, thinks Father Time, would leave him embarrassed before the company of all men.
Father Time looks to the clock of the interregnum.
Now is the last toll of the clock and it does not measure well.
He cannot tell, looking at the silver surface of the clock, how long he has remaining.
He fills his judgment with harrumphing and the clearing of his throat.
Palely, he dismisses the case.
And, so that there be no final appearance of impropriety, he rejects the mad impulse to call a second recess.
Listening to the labored beating of his heart, and all unwillingly, he calls forth the first of the righteous petitioners to speak.
The petitioner opens a dry mouth; gives due honor to the court; and begins to speak a case—
Tolls the twelve bell; ends the interregnum; interrupts the petitioner with the resounding march of time.
Father Time breaks with the tradition of his court.
He lifts his hand for silence.
He stands, abruptly.
He does not hear out the remainder of the final case, as is his wont; nor even its beginning.
Instead he begins, and with a waxing juridical outrage, to upbraid the remaining righteous. He says, “It is beneath you, I should think, to make payments to the unrighteous; it makes a mockery of the process of this court; and I should hope you are ashamed.”
He says, “Where is the distinctive mark, the decorum and the civility that marks you as the righteous to this court?”
He says, in the roaring and aching white-bearded fury of the dissipation of his fear, “How dare you?”
He retreats from the court.
He says, “I hope I shall not see you in this court again.”
The last petitioner is shouting, but he does not listen.
The court is over; the New Year shall come; and if there is some reason worthy of the man’s consideration that the march of time should end, if there is a righteous case that one could make that 2007 should not come, he has not heard it; he has never heard it; he has not considered it, through all the passing years, in the court of Father Time.
Happy New Year!
May all the best and brightest find you.