The poor tree stood suffocated behind flashing Christmas lights and sparkling decorations at the far corner of the living room. Kim was still bludgeoning it with crepe paper and pine cones. I mean sure it was plastic, but still, if it could talk it would be screaming right now.
Colorfully gift-wrapped presents flooded the foot of the glittering green giant, a proud testament of months of savings expunged in just one afternoon. But hey, that was the reason for the season right? There was after all no Christmas that was complete without a Christmas tree and a floor full of presents no matter how broke it meant I’d be by January; thank you Santa and your money-grabbing schemes.
“I’m here Dad…”
He hobbled down the steps, a floorboard creaking under his full weight as his face peered over the landing. He was sweat faced either from having to climb up and down the stairs or because of the heat. Maybe it was just because he was old.
“Why do you young people have to have so many stairs? It’s so much work going up and down every time you need to get anything done.”
Yeah, it was definitely coz he was old.
“I’d reduce them if I could dad. Sorry… but it’s good exercise at least, right.”
“Exercise my foot! It’s a pain in the…”
“Dad… children in the vicinity…”
He mumbled indiscernibly.
“Are you okay, you look like you just ran a marathon.”
He scowled. I chuckled.
“Very funny is it… just know that this is your future, baldness and potbellies and peeing every five minutes.”
He gave a wicked grin.
“And if I’m lucky, you’ll also get your mother’s bad knees.”
He chuckled a wheezy laugh as he climbed down the last step.
“Glad to know you’re wishing such good things over your only son dad.”
He waved his hand dismissively.
“Did you need me for something?”
“As a matter of fact I did… come here.”
He said leading me to the fireplace. I saw trouble coming, though I didn’t know in what form. With him, it was best to just wait and hope for the best.
When we got to the fireplace he just stood glaring at the scarlet orange flames then back at me.
“Is anything the matter?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“You’re the one who called dad.”
“I thought you said that we had enough firewood in here to last the night?”
There it was. He had a problem with the fire. Figures, he had complained about everything else, the stairs, the volume on the tv, the toilet not flushing. He needed to keep his record of 100 complaints within the hour.
“We do have enough firewood dad. Right there…”
Or maybe his eyesight was failing too. Oh God, was he right, would this be me a couple of years later. Please God no. I can’t. I just can’t.
He pointed at my pile of firewood by the fireplace.
“Not with these miserable store bought planks of dressed wood.”
He bent with a struggle, took one, and scowled some more, dropping it immediately like it was something filthy, like a dirty diaper.
“They’re not store bought dad, I got them from Will. He chopped the tree down himself.”
“I know store bought wood when I see it and Winn…”
“Will dad, his name is Will…”
“What’s his face got these from the store; teaches me to leave firewood to you.”
I would have argued with him but it would have only made it worse. So I resigned to simply nod and smile.
“It’s a good thing I thought to carry some of my own. I have better wood in the truck. Wood I chopped myself.”
“There’s no need for more wood dad, this’ll be enough.”
He turned immediately glowering at me.
“And how would you know.”
He was spoiling for a fight, daring me to take the bait.
“What I mean is you know how Jane hates having that thing on for long. It always leaves soot on the ceiling and that darn smoke smell lingers in the seats.”
The shift in his expression was so quick I’d have never noticed it if I hadn’t been staring right at him, but it was there until it wasn’t. He replanted his frown.
“These things are smoking up the house anyway, but not my wood, no. You’ll see. Get those hazards out of the fireplace and follow me!”
“Don’t I at least get a say in this?”
“No! Now get!”
He said walking away from me. I took the poker and started to move them.
“Not with all the windows closed!”
“But you said to get…”
“I know what I said and I never told you to ravage the damn fireplace, give me that!”
He wrestled the poker from my hand and proceeded to do it himself.
“The holidays are all about seating by the fire for hours and being with family,”
He said turning back to look at me.
He returned his attention to the fire. “I wish your sisters thought the same.”
So that was it? I was being blamed for being the only one who came. It wasn’t enough that I was the only one who was generous, or stupid enough for that matter to actually host. Now I was being blamed for my sisters not being here too.
“It’s not my fault they all had plans dad.”
But it was my fault I hadn’t thought of a better excuse not to host. Then again, the kids, they really needed this.
“All of them? I mean I’d understand if just one had commitments, but all of them?”
He was right, they didn’t all have commitments. The truth was I hadn’t sent out the invitations on time. But I wonder if even if I had, that they’d have come willingly. Anne was taking the kids to Sweetwaters and Lisa was entertaining her mother-in-law. Kate simply didn’t want to deal with mum just yet, not after the whole Easter scene. But dad didn’t need to know that, none of them did.
“We’ll try again in New Years maybe?”
“Maybe… why not, easy for you to say, it’s not like your parents are getting old and approaching their crag’s end where they need their children the most.”
“Don’t be so dramatic dad, they still visit don’t they?”
“They do… you don’t.”
“Can we not do this now? Remember… family, fire, holidays.”
He muttered more indiscernible words. “Get those damn things out and open some windows. It’s starting to smell like your grandmother’s in here.”
He said as he grabbed his jacket from the couch.
Family gatherings; how wonderful!
“And don’t worry, no one ever looks up at the ceiling.”
Dad added putting on his hat.
“Nobody normal at least…”
“Are you about done B? You can help grandpa get some more wood for daddy.”
Dad said as Kim placed the last of the pine cones on the tree.
He took something out of his pocket and stuck it on the tree.
Dad eyed him pensively. “What’s that?”
“Nothing… just something I made… for mum.”
He said as he looked my way then quickly back at dad. That indecipherable expression dad had held earlier returned and this time it lingered. Deciding that I had enough lectures to last me till next year, I decided to hurry the moment along.
“I’m sure she’d love it son. Go on then, I’ll be right there.”
I turned, returning my attention to the fire.
You can do this Tim. Just… breathe. That’s it. Breathe.