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XMAS TREES

Mitchell Hagerstrom

One night in early December, the woman passed a Xmas tree lot on a corner where an old 3-story Victorian had been torn down in the spring. The lot was lit by a string of lights propped on tall, precarious poles. When she stepped into the dense stand of trees, it was like being in the middle of a real forest. She wandered about, studying the trees, admiring certain ones.

A broad-shouldered man in a tartan flannel shirt, a man who looked like he himself had chopped down the trees, came over and asked if he could help.

She pointed to a tree she liked. What kind is that? she asked.

Silvertip, he told her. They last good, better than Douglas.

Thank you, she said. I was just looking.

Later that night, she waited for a commercial during a program she and her husband usually watched, and then turned to him and asked if he’s seen the Xmas tree lot.

What lot?

On the corner of Webster.

He shook his head.

She moved closer to him on the sofa. I think we should have a tree this year, she said.

The program came back on.

So, she said, could we have a tree?

Shh, he said, I can’t hear.

*****

The trees began falling a few days after Xmas. Walking home from the corner bakery, the woman saw her first. It caught her eye as it dropped past the second story of the building across the street. Bottom heavy, it landed on its base with a smack and then toppled over onto its side. There were still strands of tinsel on some of the branches.

Hanging her coat in the hall, she called out to her husband: I just saw a Xmas tree commit suicide.

She could see him hunched over his desk under the front windows. She went into the kitchen. The rolls are still warm, she called.

He pushed back his chair. She watched through the doorway as he stood staring out the window for a minute. When he came into the kitchen he asked if the rolls were still warm.

They are, she said, then added, I wish we’d had a tree this year.

Christ, he answered, would you lay off it.

*****

The next day she spent several hours watching the six-story apartment building across the street. She saw three trees fall, one from beginning to end. A window on the fourth floor, directly across, opened and the head of an elderly woman leaned out and looked down. Then the elderly head drew back inside and the head of a tree appeared. Quickly the whole tree was out the window. It hung in mid-air for a millisecond and dropped, twisting to an upright position before it hit the pavement.

As soon as her husband left for work the following morning, she began making cookies. She rolled the dough very thin and cut rounds with a water glass. She tried her best to carve angels from the dough with a knife. She couldn’t get the wings quite right, but sprinkled them all with sugar and put them in the oven to bake. While they were still hot she made holes in them for hanging.

When she thought her husband would be back from lunch, she called him. He was a deputy D.A. assigned to Family Law. What are you doing? she asked.

The usual, he said, non-support.

Do you have to work late? she asked.

Not tonight, he said. What’s for dinner?

She told him she hadn’t decided. When she hung up she left the building and circled her block several times before she found the right one.

A neighbor she didn’t know rode up with her in the elevator. She figured he was giving her funny looks, but kept her eyes on the floor.

The tree’s wooden foot brace was still intact and she set it down in the corner. Then she took a box of paper clips from the desk, spilled some out and bent them open. A number of the cookies crumbled, but most held. When she finished she wished she had a star for the top. She fixed herself a cup of hot chocolate, adding a splash of brandy. Sitting on the sofa, she cupped her hands around the hot mug and hummed to herself. She tried singing carols but found she couldn’t remember enough words, couldn’t remember any one song all the way through.

She drank some more brandy and hot chocolate, still unsuccessful at remembering songs she should have remembered. When it was close to the time her husband would be home, she opened the window and threw it out, cookies and all. She was just putting the vacuum away when her husband called saying he would be a bit late and he’d bring Chinese.

Fine, she said, that’s just fine.

After several more brandies, she found herself reaching across the desk and opening the window. Both the sky and the building across the street were a dark grey. A soft rain was falling. She shivered a little, rubbed her arms, and then began opening desk drawers and pulling out the contents, tossing everything out the window — bills, envelopes, pens, pencils, note pads, all her husband’s papers, all her own papers.

What the hell! she heard her husband’s voice behind her. He came and leaned out the window beside her. A few of the papers were still floating down and someone on the sidewalk was staring up from under his or her umbrella. It was impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman.

What the hell! her husband repeated. The wet street and sidewalk were sprinkled with sodden pieces of paper, and the person under the umbrella was rapidly walking away.

December 24, 2016 11:01 am

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