She had imagined he would come out from around that counter and sweep her away with that half a grin on his face, but reality was more awkward than that. She’d come in everyday to buy her cigarettes and ask him silly questions just to see that grin. Even with that red work shirt, he was handsome. So many men his age were, but it was that wrinkle against his cheek. And his piercing eyes. She touched his hand when she took her change. She said, “Tell me, are you free Friday night?” He smiled his silly smile and winked.
Who wants to live in
A world with friendly and well-
Have you failed if your
Child has a healthy relationship
Orange bucket. Black
Smiling reaper. Late November’s
I think I’ve been staring
At this popcorn can
For like sixty minutes.
53,012/50,000 November word goal.
It was a cold morning in the waning days of fall. It was so close to the edge of winter that the building had been creaking and clanking from the radiators, but they still had to keep a window cracked to keep from getting too hot. Allen and Linda donned their best winter coats and got Markey covered up with mittens and a knit cap that went down over his ears. Markey said, “I don’t want to wear the hat and gloves. Why do I have to, and you don’t?”
Linda said, “Because you look so cute.” She squished his cheeks together with both hands and gave him a kiss on the head.
Allen had his phone out and he was swiping through for the camera. He said, “Believe me. I’m going to wish I had some gloves when I am carrying that tree.”
Markey said, “Where are we going to get a tree?”
Linda got down on one knee and put her face next to Markey’s. She said, “Smile little boy.” Markey smiled. Allen was still fiddling with the phone. She said, “Get the picture quick while he is still smiling.”
Allen was now watching them on the phone screen. He snapped a picture. He said, “Don’t warn him.” He snapped two more pictures. “I got to get him before he knows he’s happy.”
Markey started getting impatient. He said, “What tree?” He grabbed the pocket on Allen’s jacket and tugged on it twice. He said, “Hey!” He drew the word about a bit. “You are ignoring me.”
Linda said, “It’s a surprise.”
Allen said, “You will like it.”
Markey said, “Wait. Is this a Christmas tree like they have been teaching us about in school?”
Linda forced a big mock frown on her face. “Oh, no!” She let her shoulders drop in an exaggerated fashion. “Mrs. Packwood ruined our surprise.”
Markey jumped up and down and shouted in excitement. “Yay, I love pagan rituals. What does this one do?” He slid his hand under the flap on his hat and scratched behind his ear. “I bet it invites wood nymphs into the home. Are we going to dance and burn incense?”
Linda said, “I bet we could do a little light dancing. And how about Glade pine scented spray?”
Markey said, “Isn’t that the stuff we spray in the bathroom?”
Allen cocked a wry smile on his face. He said, “Why don’t we just leave the door open so the place can smell like poop and apple pie.”
Markey started laughing. He said, “Poop pie!” He repeated the phrase several times.
Linda tried to frown at this. She didn’t want to encourage such uncouth behavior. She said, “Come on, Allen. You need to be an example for your son.”
Allen had heard and inside tip from one of the other temps at his most recent job that the Christmas trees were going on sale this morning. It wasn’t much of a tip because anyone with eyes could see the men scouting out their corners and setting up the wooden A-frame scaffolds they would need to keep the trees standing. And luck for them, there was even a Christmas tree stand at the end of their own block. Allen’s hands would be freezing before he got back to their apartment with the tree, but at least he wouldn’t be totally worn out when it came time to put up the tree.
Markey wanted to know everything there was to know about this tree ritual and he asked question the whole way out the building and down the street. Linda and Allen did the best they could to answer his questions, and Markey wouldn’t except Allen’s story about a family of chipmunks that lived in the walls of their apartment that needed a real home for the winter. Linda made a few educated guesses about fertility symbols that just didn’t sound quite right to the boy. Eventually they were forced to consult the all-knowing oracle of Google. They read a few things about Saturnalia and the world tree. They said it was a symbol of the connections between the human world, the underworld, and the heavens. Markey thought this was the idea with the most merit until they came into sight of the trees.
Markey saw that they had been cut away from their roots and the earth and were, therefore, dead. He said, “It’s the one about eternal life. They killed these trees, but they live forever. These are zombie trees!”
Markey ran up and back through the Christmas tree stand frightening Linda to death. She said, “Markey, there are cars all over both of these streets. You better settle down before you get yourself runover.” Markey pouted after his mother had chastised him but that didn’t last long. He was excited again and helping to pick out the best looking zombie tree even though he was forced to hold onto his mother’s hand until after they had paid for the tree.
The old man that ran the lot was using his own wallet to take the cash until he needed to make change for large bills than he would reach into his pantleg to pull a larger wad of bills from his sock. He told the family in line before them that it never paid to keep your money all in one place. When they were paying for their tree the man asked Markey if he was ready for Santa Clause. Markey said, “He is the fat one, right?”
The old man laughed good naturedly at the boy and said, “A right jolly old elf.”
Markey said, “I know a few elves.” The man scratched his head and watched them walk off with their tree.
When they got back up to the apartment Allen fashioned a cross out of the two pieces of wood they had bought with the tree and hammered it into the center of the trunk with the long nail that came with it. He was happy the gruagach hadn’t been back recently to hide his tools. They had been sitting in the top of the closet right where they were supposed to be this time. Linda got out the lights and garland she had stashed away and a box of Christmas bulbs. Markey danced around as he helped them decorate the tree. He seemed just as happy as a kid getting ready to celebrate his first Christmas because that is exactly what he was. Raul had never brought him up with Christmas because it didn’t exist in their universe neither did the notion of a savior or a redeemer. Sure, those words existed in the language, but they didn’t hold the extra meanings they did in this universe.
It’s time for Christmas stories, the original form of fan fiction.
Bad and lazy writing with stock characters. I’m ready holidays.
Frosted store windows, Christmas music, long flights, and action movie villains.
Christmas music is catchy, nostalgic, and in the public domain.
A car with a busted heater waiting for the windshield to defrost.
Christmas trees and jingling bells a writer’s shorthand for everything.
The Christmas cash grab, the holiday tradition that never gets old.
Plume of car exhaust in the cold morning breathing life into my lungs.
A normal person dealing with the abnormal like it was normal.
Speak your authentic thoughts, but only think what I tell you to believe.
Jack booted thugs and the rule of law in smoking jackets drinking Scotch.
When the world is running smoothly, go out and be the problem you solve.
When you know about solvents, alcohol can be part of the solution.
When you know about
Solvents, alcohol can be part
Of the solution.
When the world is running
Smoothly, go out and be
The problem you solve.
Jack booted thugs and
The rule of law in smoking
Jackets drinking Scotch.