Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 5, 2014

The Stump of Jesse ... a short Christmas story

Goshen News

---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of a production error, this column did not run on Dec. 28, 2013 as it was scheduled.

He was not really a bad man, though he probably didn’t know it. Even so, he was surprised when he ran over a Christmas tree a couple days before the holiday. It wasn’t his fault — like the thing he did on the football field once, or the way he’d used up different people, or the uncared-for children a couple cities over. Maybe that was part of the reason for his surprise.

There he was following close behind a van with a Christmas tree on top, past the high school, around the bend. He was impatient with how slow the van drove. Why in the world are they getting a tree now, he wondered angrily, everyone’s supposed to have their tree already. As the van crossed the train tracks he looked at a woman in a passing car. When he looked back, the tree was already on the road in front of him. He didn’t even have time to swerve; he just ran right over it.

It made a horrible scraping and scratching and clunking sound. He swore, and looked out the rear view mirror. He didn’t see the tree anywhere and supposed it had rolled off to the side of the street. He swore again, this time at the van still in front of him. He thought of speeding up and giving them a piece of his mind. Then he thought about their faces when they got home and had no Christmas tree. That made him smile and laugh out loud.

But he didn’t laugh when he arrived at his apartment a few minutes later and got out of the car. No, it was a slew of swears and oaths and epithets. The tree was snagged on part of the muffler, the part that was still attached to the body of the car. It had trailed the whole way home with him. And worst of all, a thick branch had snapped off the bottom of the tree and speared the left rear tire, which by now was only half inflated.

He stormed up the stairs to his apartment, and stomped around his rooms, not caring about the family that lived below. He had no money to fix the tire. Well, he had some money, but it was for the bar and other things, not for fixing the god-forsaken car! And how was he even going to get to the bar, now? The thought of the tree made him swear loudly again.

His phone was shut off, so he couldn’t call anyone. He couldn’t go over to Michelle’s and ask for a ride, not after their last fight. She would love that too much. He wasn’t about to go see Randy, that two-faced, back stabber. He sat on the couch, boiling. Oh, how he wished he had followed that van. Or at least gotten the license plate number; he would have stuck them for every bit of damage done. Every bit.

There were a few beers in the refrigerator, and bread and peanut butter. He sat back down and drank and ate. The late afternoon was already turning to early evening, dark creeping in over the cold sky. The dark helped to mute the disarray of the apartment, and also seemed to ease his anger. Or maybe that was the beer.

He needed a cigarette. He hated that he couldn’t smoke in the house. But he got up and went outside. It was night now, and fully dark. The sky was clear, with stars. The winter cold was descending from the killing depths of space. The smoke smelled and tasted stale.

He took a deep breath and let it out. I could just stand here, he thought, just stand here and wait.

Across the street, several houses down, there were colorful lights blinking on the porch. In the warm window he could see lights on a tree. There were people inside. He watched a long while.

The tree was still lying in the street behind his car. By the time he untangled it and pulled it up the stairs to his apartment, half the needles were torn off. It was crusted with dirty snow and ice, broken and smashed, limbs missing, the top dangling down by a skin of bark. He leaned it against the refrigerator and looked at it.

“Can a dead thing live?”

He sat heavily in the kitchen’s small yellow light with the tree.

Goshen News Columnist Aaron Sawatsky Kinglsey it the forester for the City of Goshen. His column runs every other week on Sundays.