A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook, “One person threw their old Christmas tree on the street corner and then a bunch of people did, and now it’s windy and dead trees are blowing all over the neighborhood.” A friend suggested that be the first line of a short story. Seemed like a good starting point – so I wrote the following piece of fiction.
The Parting of the Dead Tree
by Jolene Hanson
One person threw their old Christmas tree on the street corner and then a bunch of people did, and now it’s windy and dead trees are blowing all over the neighborhood.
I watch them through my living room window. The poor Christmas trees. Everyone loved them, dressed them up in all sorts of shiny things, made them look great, and now they are rolling around looking for comfort in the dark night and nobody cares. I think of how the kids loved them, cats jumped on them, and now nobody cares.
Maybe the Boy Scouts forgot my street. Every year they collect the trees, but it’s the second week of January, and surely they’re not coming for us. The City will have to take care of the problem. After all, the City doesn’t like dead trees on corners. They’re a blight on the community. Who wants to visit a place where trees jump out in front of you like brainless deer, who, tired of their complete and total uselessness, lie in wait on the edge of dark roads for the right car to end it all?
A silver BMW speeds up Prince Avenue, gleaming new under the streetlights. I hold my breath in anticipation, and sure enough! A tree bounds out in front of it! Tires screech. Limbs thrust into the grill, scratching metal things I don’t know the names of. The driver gets out, shouts what I assume to be expletives – muffled as they are from the safety of my living room, and throws his arms in the air. It’s Jacob Goff, who lives down the block. He’s dressed in a nice suit and a wool overcoat, and a new wife peers over the dashboard at him with her pretty, concerned face. He pulls the tree from beneath his car and tosses it back to the curb. It rolls, sickly, with a few strands of forgotten tinsel. Amputated boughs are strewn about, some glass from a headlight, and needles spill all over the dark pavement. He gets back in the car and slowly pulls away.
I think of hauling it up the avenue and into the woods, where it can biodegrade in peace, but then everyone would think it was my tree, and I decide not to take responsibility for it. People should call the Boy Scouts and confirm the right pick up times or haul their own trees into the woods so the street corner won’t look so disgraceful. But no one does and now the trees are blowing around the street, smacking into cars and scraping mailboxes. One knocked over a garbage can, and it’s entangled in a black, plastic bag filled with food scraps. A cat is licking something that leaks from the eviscerated end. This is the last night I’ll spend in this house, on this street, and in this city. Maybe if I were staying, I would care to do something about the dead tree problem. But I’m not, and I don’t.
My phone vibrates, and I peer down at the text message that pops up. It’s my ex-husband, Marc.
“You didn’t transfer the money today,” he says.
“I don’t have it yet,” I text back.
A few angry minutes go by in which I imagine him growling to himself somewhere across town, complaining to his girlfriend Dawn about me. He’s probably pouring a Coke with Jack Daniels, and he pauses to drink the whiskey straight from the bottle.
“You’re not trying to cheat me out of my money, are you? There’s the divorce decree…” he responds after a few minutes.
“Really? Me cheat you? That’s a good one.”
“When will you have it?”
“The closing date is on Friday. I’ll have it then.”
“I need it ASAP. Flying to the Riviera on Friday. Need the money.”
I roll my eyes at the image of him, beached in the sand, his manatee belly reddening over a pair of new swim trunks, and young, perky Dawn sunning herself beside him and enjoying margaritas bought with the equity of the home I paid for.
Instead of texting back something snarky, I look outside again. And there goes my own tree, rolling around in front of my house, convulsing in rejected agony. The site of it makes me groan. I didn’t even want a tree. Not this year. Not with the sale of my house and my life in boxes. But then, just days before Christmas, I drove past a tree farm and saw the scrawny, three-foot-tall spruce leaning against a fence. Families pranced out with larger, more opulent trees, capable of presiding over a litany of undeserved gifts, and I felt bad for that little spruce. So I bought it, weighed it down with glittering nostalgia, and then threw it on the street corner. Now, past its season, it trashes nakedly for the whole world to see.
Something shiny on the tree catches my eye. I hurry through my empty house to the door, throw on a coat and a pair of boots and then battle the winds and risk evergreen assault to see what it is. On the edge of my once verdant lawn, I pause next to the For Sale sign. The tree is resting against the sign, and I bend down next to it. Plucking a silver ornament from between the dry branches, a few sharp, needles stab my fingers and then fall to the ground. The scent of pine lingers in the air for a moment before the wind whisks it away.
It’s a silver heart that I bought the year Marc and I married. Back when he worked and used to buy me pretty things when there wasn’t an occasion. Before he decided that staying up until 5 a.m. smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey, and writing poetry was more important than going to work. Before he found a young, blonde artist who still ate Top Ramen every night and was unconcerned, and maybe even inconvenienced, with things like jobs.
I turn to appraise the house that is no longer mine as of Friday morning. It’s an impressive, two-story Craftsman with a wraparound porch, a hand-crafted oak door, and newly restored red-brick chimney. I wonder why I bought it and put so much care into it over the past few years. Didn’t I know it would be temporary? Marc was already channeling the spirit of Seamus Heaney and missing work because of the poetic aspirations that kept him up all night. When he finally quit – or was fired, it was hard to say for sure – he began the poetry circuit, attending workshops and readings. That’s how he met Dawn – at a poetry slam hosted by a coffee shop downtown. I came home early from work one afternoon and found her in our bed.
“My love for you has died,” Marc declared, still in the bed and clutching his heart in a melodramatic way.
I asked him if he was high.
“You try to contain my spirit. Dawn lets me be free. She doesn’t judge me for being a poet.” She lay next to him as he recited this speech, vaguely covering herself with a white sheet, unashamed.
The ornament is cold steel in my hand, and I throw it at my neighbor’s toppled trash can. The wind catches it and knocks the feasting cat over the head. The cat hisses and runs away.
Grabbing the retired Christmas tree by its pointed tip, I slog awkwardly up the avenue, turn onto a side street and arrive at the dead end where the road simply disappears into the woods. It isn’t raining, but the ground is soaked from yesterday’s deluge, and my boots sink ankle deep into the muck. They make horrible, sucking sounds as I trudge forward, and one finally sticks and stays behind. Now I’m perched on the foot that’s still in a boot, twisting my body so I can wind up and fling the tree into the thicket. It disappears into the darkness. Mud covers the lost boot and I can’t fish it out, so I hobble home with a squishy sock on one foot and a thick boot on the other. I don’t care because at least my tree isn’t rolling around the neighborhood anymore waiting to get hit by cars.
The last night in my house is spent inside a sleeping bag on the floor of my bedroom. In the morning, I drive away in a moving van filled with boxes, and as I turn onto Prince Avenue I see Jacob Goff piling up the remaining dead trees on the corner again. Perhaps he hopes for the Boy Scouts or the City or Jesus himself to return and haul them away.