Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Prompt: Saving the best for last

Old Bill worked the lot from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. There were other retired guys, some young college kids and a couple of high school punks that joked around and couldn’t be bothered to help a customer. Everyone knew Old Bill was the one to find among the trees.

By Christmas Eve, only a dozen or so trees were left standing against the lines that corralled them in place. By two, he sent the other guys home, but he would stay until only two trees remained, and one of them sold. By six pm, it was fully dark, with no moon in the sky; there were three trees remaining. A family with two little boys picked up one on their way to Grandmother’s. Old Bill cleaned up the lot and waited.

Finally a young couple drove up. “We hoped you would have some left. We weren’t sure if we would be here, and I just can’t wake up to Christmas morning without a tree,” the woman said gratefully. He helped them tie it to their car and bowed with a flourish when the man paid him double the price and insisted he keep it.

As their tail lights disappeared down the street, Old Bill turned to the last tree with a smile. “Looks like it’s you and me, kiddo.” He hummed Christmas carols as he flipped off the lights and buttoned up his coat, then threw the tree over his shoulder. He was short and wiry, but stronger than any of the others that had worked the lot that year. Or any year.

He walked two blocks down the main road, then turned left onto a street that you probably never noticed before. Perhaps it wasn’t there to be seen. He shifted the tree under his arm as he unbuttoned his coat, having grown warm, even in the crisp night air.

At the end of his street was a small, one-story house with an evergreen wreath wrapped in red ribbon on the door, and candles burning in each window. Old Bill leaned down to rest the tree against the door jamb while he unlocked it. He swung it up by its tip, tucking it into the crook of his elbow as he bent his head to enter.

The rooms were bare, and Old Bill headed straight for the basement door. He held the tree in his left hand while he opened the lock and stepped through, taking the first couple of steps before he turned to lock the door again.

As he descended, Old Bill’s humming changed to an older tune, one from long before the Christ child’s time. Light bloomed around him as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He palmed the tree and carried it to his long work bench. With the flick of a switch, an array of gardening lights revealed row upon row of delicate trees planted in deep flats.

He picked up a trowel full of peat from a bag and lightly tamped it into an empty flat. Carefully sliding the tree into the soil, he held its top branches with his fingers as he pushed the soil around its trunk.

“There you go, little one,” Old Bill said in a language that had never been used in the New World. “Now you can grow in peace.”

Dogs in house
Time writing
20 minutes
December word count


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