The children finally fell asleep. The parents tip-toed to the closet,
unlocked the presents and positioned them under the tree with its
delicate glass balls and constellations of colored lights. Alongside it the
window framed the big oak in the garde n with the children’s swing.
Faint stars shone between the black branches. No danger of a white
Christmas, the children’s wish. The children thought in terms of
snowmen, not of fatal skids. The parents finished the second bottle of
champagne and went, unsteadily, to bed.
The wind woke them briefly at 2:36. At 3:18 he mumbled: “Blowing
hard.” At dawn the house shook them stark awake. In the grey light
outside they saw that the big oak with the swing had fallen a few yards
from the house, a chaos of broken branches. The gale blowing a few
degrees more south-west and the tree would have swivelled on its taproot
like a fair-ground wheel of fortune and sent its tons on the roof.
Decapitated pines cowered and whined. The house groaned. The noise
almost covered the boy’s wails.
They groped their way toward the wails, she crying, “It’s all right,
everything’s all right, we’re here.”
In the living room the tree stood unlighted but intact, the colored balls
reflecting minimized versions of the chaos outside. Busy with their
presents the children didn’t look up. The boy had gone impatiently from
package to package, in a welter of gay gift wrapping paper and was now
pushing the fire engine, imitating its wail. The little girl had stopped at
the first package and had already set up the doll’s house. She positioned
the fourth chair at the table in the miniature living room: perfect order.
– Howard Waldman
*This piece originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Twisted Tongue.