When Dean pulls open the drapes it’s to a window laced with frost. The bare bulb in the room extends just enough light to see the fir which grows ten steps away from the cabin, separate from the rest of the forest. He nods to himself. It’s tall enough. Wide enough, too. Today might be the day.
In the kitchen he lights the stove and throws logs on, scrapes the table in front for warmth. He sits and drinks coffee thick as tar while he thinks about the tree. Dean wonders if when he watches it, it watches back? He wonders if it dreams. He feels like it might. He can’t put his finger on it, but anyone who’s seen a tree in daylight and a tree at night knows there’s a difference – it’s subtle but there – or rather not there. He has this idea that when the sun disappears, it sends itself out, travels along its roots as far as it can go, all the way to rest of the woods and beyond – conscious, aware, whirring.
Mid-morning and he’s never been surer. It must happen today if he wants to be ready. Gwen loves Christmas, she just adores it. Everything has to be just so. He imagines them sitting down, eating their turkey and potatoes and stuffing, and Gwen will put down her knife and fork and say: ‘Well, if that isn’t the nicest darn tree I’ve ever seen in my life.’
Dean loves that image. He clings to it. Even though when he blinks, he sees her tears. He sees her at the bus station. He sees her walking away holding her battered blue suitcase.
When night falls, he gets back into bed. He pulls the quilt over his head, wraps it tighter and tighter creating a cocoon of warmth. He gives a groan as the vertebrae of his spine open up, separate. The more he concentrates on them, the more he feels his body sink. His bones pressing against the mattress springs, then into them, through them. He goes deeper still – under the floorboards, into the earth with it’s smell of moist decay. His fingers and toes become green tendrils. They dig deep, stretch out. Through them he leaves the cabin.
Faster, faster. Past the woods, where he hears the trees chitter chatter.
So fast that things start to unwind, run in reverse.
Back and back, he goes.
And then there she is – the girl with the red hair.
She’s all alone, tapping her foot to the music. She’s the most beautiful thing that he’s ever seen and if he doesn’t ask her to dance, he knows he’ll regret it forever.
He offers his hand and she stares up at him through thick lashes, bites her lip as she weighs it up. He’s not sure which way she’ll go, what her answer will be.
The tree will wait. Maybe a little thicker, a little taller. Then everything will be perfect.
Samantha Palmer is a schoolteacher from the UK. She is a short story and flash fiction writer and has had pieces in several e-zines, magazines, and anthologies.