The Tree In The Window
It was three days before Christmas when I found my favorite ninja turtle behind the bookshelf. I was packing up only the important things in my room when behind the shelf when Leo’s green leg caught my eye. I raced down the hall to show mom.
“Mom, look, look who I found!”
My mom nodded, offering an indifferent smile as she clutched the phone to her ear. I’m not sure she fully realized the significance of my discovery. Leo had been my go to toy for over a year. He’d long ago lost his samurai sword and I used a yellow plastic cocktail sword I’d found outside. I had blamed my little brother Michael for his disappearance, grilling him for details but never able to pin him down to a location. I still suspected him but in accordance with the holiday spirit I let it go.
“Mom, look.” I pleaded again. She waved me off, pacing the room with a hand on her head.
“Okay….yes, I don’t know where else to go…. I’ve asked for more shifts…We’ll stay at the shelter tonight and hopefully be there tomorrow…..”
I studied my long lost toy, tracing my fingers over the grooves in his worn shell. “We’re going to Grandma’s?”
“Yes, but we need to move it, take those clothes to the car. It’s getting dark.”
I grabbed an armful of shirts and pants off the floor, still clutching Leo with my face pressed against a questionable smell in the wad of clothes. I wobbled past Michael, who was glued to Mom, hanging on to her leg whenever she was still. I’m not sure why he was so upset about leaving his bed—our bed, which was just a mattress on the floor but he’d been a really big baby lately, even for a four year old.
Stopping at the doorway, I looked in to admirre the Christmas tree. I’d plugged it in when I got home, before I knew we were moving. Leaning to the right; it’s scantly lit branches struggled to fill out its shape. A paper chain of red and green links wreathed around its top and middle, running out of steam as the base widened. We’d made them in Ms. Lavigne’s classroom last week. I brushed off the unsettling thoughts of a new school and teachers.
There were no presents beneath its spread. I’d already snatched the two wrapped gifts from — shaking the one with my name on it to be sure it wasn’t clothes before placing them in the car for safekeeping.
At the bottom of the stairway I dropped a sock and then a shirt as I bent down to pick it up. Ms. Brown yanked her door open to see what the fuss was all about. I’d told her we were moving. She shook her head and muttered something under her breath as she ducked back into her hole.
Our old car was angled into the yard with the doors opened and the hatch popped. Kind of like a bird with its wings spread. I slung the pile of clothes between a bloated duffle bag and the microwave. Mom followed with a pile of coats in her hands. Her face was hardened, piercing the breeze with sharp cheeks and a cold stare. I knew that it wasn’t a good time for questions but I couldn’t help myself.
“Mom, what about the Christmas tree?”
She gave me a deep sigh, irritated with my questions. “Maybe we’ll come back.”
I doubted that we would, Grandma’s house was too far away. Besides, we never came back when we left like this.
Another trip upstairs. We gathered lamps, clothes, a curling iron before squeezing into the car. I sat in the passenger seat with a heavy box on my lap. Michael whimpered from his place in the back. Mom stroked the engine to keep it from stalling as we waited for a break in traffic. I looked back to the house; the wood was gray, almost white against the dusk. My eyes climbed to the upstairs window, where the blinds hung dangled and the tree’s twinkling lights threw a warm glow on the glass.
I was glad we’d left the lights on. I hoped people would look up and see the tree and think about presents with bows and candy canes, and maybe even a mom's gentle laughter and happiness. That’s what I thought about when I saw a Christmas tree--even the one sitting in our window, shrinking into the dark as we drove up the rode.