Marv pulled the string taut while Joanie applied tape to the far end, sticking it to the wall.
“That should do it,” Marv said, standing and admiring his work.

They were at the top of the stairs, a flight of eight, and across the top step Marv and his sister had taped six pieces of string, tightly, barely discernible against the beige carpet at the bottom of the stairs.

Joanie said, “Do you think it’s enough?”

“I just said it would be.”

“What about the pins?” She held out her hand, the tiny pins bouncing back light like slivers of glitter. Mark shook his head.

“Nah, won’t need them. Besides, they’d hurt to much.”

Joanie glanced downstairs, at through the strings, at the Christmas tree, lights blinking through the dark. Their parents had gone to bed a short time ago, but Marv had woken Joanie to put their plan into action.

It had actually started two weeks ago, after Marv had heard some rumors in class. His friends were making fun of him for believing in Santa Claus, a fact that he was actually proud to “own”. They all told him, yelled at him, that he was stupid, a moron, and that his parents were the one who laid out presents every year. “A fat dude climbs down your chimney? Come on, Marv!”

So he had come home and cried, and Joanie tried to calm him down and tell him “of course Santa’s real”. But she’s younger, so what does she know?

So they plotted and waited for tonight, Christmas Eve, and as they walked to their bedrooms upstairs in the house, Marv watched Joanie and smiled a little. If it were true, that their parents were the “real” Santas, then Joanie would be strong and maybe she’d be able to yell at her friends when they grew a little older.

Footsteps shook Marv, and he and Joanie quickly dashed to their separate rooms, each peeking out the doorways. They’d forgotten to turn off the hall light, but it didn’t make a difference.

Mom and Dad slipped out of their bedroom together, wiping their eyes and yawning. Dad said, “I’ll get the big ones, you stuff their stockings.” Mom just nodded and then shrieked as Dad began waving his arms.

The sharp TWANG of a snapping string vibrated through the air. Dad cried out, “What the hell?!” This was followed by the THUMP-THUMP-THUMP of Dad tumbling down the stairs, the CRACK of his neck.

Mom didn’t stop screaming all night.

The Sidewalk Tree

The other day I was walking home from the store when I came upon an abandoned Christmas Tree that was about 5-ft high with only a stray strand of tinsel remaining. It wasn’t on its’ side or resting in a ditch. It wasn’t in a garbage can or surrounded by bits and strands of cash. It was simply standing still, on the sidewalk, allowing its’ branches to be blown by the breeze, or perhaps waiting for a passerby would pick it up and give it a home– for a brief moment, I wanted to decorate the tree, and check on it every day to see how long it could stand as a symbol on the sidewalk rather than helpless on the sidewalk waiting for an end.

A symbol for what? For Christmas? For Christ? For chocolates and ham and all kinds of spice? That, I don’t know. What I do know is that the tree didn’t look sad out there on the sidewalk, like a mockup of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Nor did it look healthy like the Griswold’s tree. No, the tree looked like any other pine tree, belonging to the earth and there for our visual perusal and perhaps a few small birds (hummingbirds?) to nest. The tree wasn’t disappointed or judgmental, or out of place like a wallflower at an uncomfortable party. The tree was just a tree, without roots, without water. There, standing free on the sidewalk.

I’d like to think someone picked up this tree and brought it to a forest to plant and watch grow, but that’s wishful thinking. It was likely disposed of the next time the garbage men drove by, but that’s the natural cycle of these things.

Regardless, I captured it in one final photo and thought I’d share. Next year, we’ll see it’s older sibling in an apartment along Franklin Ave. and have yet another Christmas where the tree will mean something different, but equally important, to the family which adopts it for that short amount of time.