It’s the afternoon of the day before Christmas Eve, and still there is no tree. Somehow the week has just slipped away. It’s taken them forever to get packed and ready for the trip to their cabin in the woods, but finally Wilson has issued the proclamation to his wife and daughters that it’s time to relax and start enjoying the holidays, damn it. After twenty years, he’s lost his job as a road-construction engineer, and though he knows, intellectually, that he’s foolish to be brooding on it at a time of year when his priorities should be reordered, he can’t help it, he’s still a little tense. Belinda’s not working, she’s been focusing on being at home as much as possible while their girls, Stephanie and Lucy, are young. Wilson never thought he would be out of work. He thought work always existed, like air. You breathed, you worked.
It’s a tendency of his: the more imperfect things become, the more he wants them to be otherwise. In most years by now they would have already been at the cabin for their week-long time away from town, work, everything. Wilson and the girls would’ve gone into the woods together to cut down their tree, an annual ritual he started the Christmas after Stephanie was born, with her bundled and huddled against his chest in a papoose. But this year they’ll have to get their tree tonight, as soon as they make it to the cabin, Wilson has told them, in order to spend Christmas Eve Day decorating it, and settling in: cooking, hanging their stockings, shoveling snow, sledding. Coming back home with their toboggans in the fast blue dusk to the delicious odors of the holiday—ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, peppermint—with the fragrant tree in their living room, adorned with its familiar ornaments, each one recalling for them a certain story, and lit with the colorful lights that remind them of the luxury of even a little electricity, here so far back in the woods, gotten from the little battery-and-solar-panel system that Wilson takes such pride in having designed.
The big family feast, a lovely candlelit dinner in their warm home, just the four of them, with the snow coming down outside—the elegant dessert, a chocolate chess pie or flaky rhubarb—and then the reading aloud of “The Night Before Christmas” (never mind that Stephanie, eleven, no longer believes, and Lucy, eight, is hovering on the edge; this may be her last year even for partial belief: and all the sweeter, Wilson thinks, for that going-away-ness), until at last the opening of one gift from beneath the tree.
Photo: Sisojie via iStock
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