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“THIS IS the most horrible,” she said. “The most horrible, terrible . . .”
At that point she decided to collapse to her knees on the snow. She then flopped down on her back, spread her arms and legs out, classic snow angel.
Her partner stood over her, hands on their hips.
“We need to keep going.”
“Nope. I don’t care anymore.”
“Yes, you do. This is what we wanted. What we both wanted. We’ve come this far! And paid so much!”
“I don’t care about the money.”
“We paid a lot for this information!”
“I don’t care about the information.”
“But all the effort! And searching! Finding a good contact!”
“It’s a scam. We’ve been scammed. He lied. He sent us on a wild chase. We did all of it for nothing.”
Their partner shook their head.
“Are you losing hope again?”
“No. I keep telling you. Not ‘losing it’. Already lost. My Hope is long gone. Hope took a high dive off a big cliff and is now hiding deep under the sea with the mer-people. Maybe Hope will come back to humanity in a few generations. But I doubt it.”
Her partner nodded sadly, having of course heard this sentiment from her many times before. So far, ‘Hope’ had ‘taken an (electric) train to nowhere’, ‘flown on a comet to another galaxy, eager to find a planet with a species more appreciative’, and one time Hope ‘went into hiding, into the witness protection program, fully disguised, never to be found again’.
But, they had to admit, Hope ‘living under the sea with the mer-people’ was a new, fun touch.
Points for your ongoing creativity, my love!
They took a moment to breathe slowly, to adjust their sunglasses, their hat, and tighten their scarf.
Around them both, the forest was silent, so quiet they could hear the melting snow drop off the branches. Nothing stirred. No wind. No animals. No birds.
The sky was a piercing, flat silver and the air was thick with the promise of more moisture. Rain or snow, or both, who knew these days? Weird weather. Weather gone weird.
The chill dampness stuck to their hair, their clothes. It certainly wasn’t a comfortable experience, being out there. But what grand quest ever was?
“Come on. Let’s go. Can you get up?”
“Maybe.” She rattled her arms and legs a bit, in a parody of her snow angel pose, then sighed and struggled to a sitting position, her movements hampered by the padding of her thick snow suit.
“I’m only sitting up because my back is cold. And wet. So much for waterproof clothing.”
“I’m sure it’s only over this hill.”
“You said that at the last hill.”
“The GPS is a bit off, that’s all.”
“How can a GPS be off? It’s that guy that’s off. He gave us mixed up information. He took our money and led us by the nose to the wrong place. And now we’re going to die out here, searching for a dream.”
“One more hill. I promise. If it’s not there then we will give up, okay? Come on. Let’s go.”
They offered their hand and she took it, using it to help her rise to her feet again.
“This is terrible,” she said. “But I’ll do one more hill.”
“Yes. One more hill.”
And that’s what it took. One more hill. And then they found it. The hidden tree.
When they found it, they both stopped in their tracks and stood, staring at it.
“Wow,” she said. “Wow.”
“See?” Her partner said (which was more diplomatic than shouting: I told you so!)
In a giddy rush, they pulled off their back pack and began searching for the hacksaw.
This was only a part of their journey completed. Now they had to cut the tree down, drag it back through the woods to the quiet dirt road, to where they’d parked the (electric) van. Then they had to squish it into the back of the van, drive a long way back to town and then sneak their ‘tree contraband’ into the house without anybody noticing.
While they retrieved the saw, she stared at the tree and said, pensively: “huh”.
Her partner knew the tone of that huh. Uh oh.
They stopped rummaging.
“It’s just… well, look at it.”
Her partner looked at it.
“Yep. It’s exactly as advertised. Full, green, right sized. A real find. It will look perfect in the living room.”
“No, I mean: look at it.” She waved her partner over. “Come stand with me and look at it.”
Her partner wanted to get on with things—being cold, wet, fatigued, and done with absorbing any more emotional drama—but they went and stood beside her, looking at the tree as requested.
It was a perfect tree for the holidays. Perfect height, perfect triangular shape, like something from an old painting or holiday greeting card.
It had been bred for deep, green, bushy boughs, perfect to hold their ornaments. They each had ornaments handed down by family. That tradition, that legacy would be honoured by this tree. That was why they wanted the tree, after all.
Trees like these had become so rare, it meant they could not hold their holiday in the cherished, usual ways, the ways coveted from their childhoods. The past few years had been especially hard, with so much up-ended, locally and globally, so much widespread grief and loss.
Was it any wonder they both wanted this one thing, this one rare thing to hold on to? Couldn’t they have just this one thing? Something to connect them to the way things had been?
Thanks to things like weather weirding, decreasing farmland and lack of farmers, you couldn’t buy these trees like you did in the old days, when there’d be fields and fields of them every winter season, or entire parking lots full of them: just drive up, take your pick, drive home, with the tree out in the open, tied right to the top of the vehicle!
No sneaking, no subterfuge, no pricey deals with ‘tree informants’.
Truly, this was the most excellent (albeit expensive) find, and they were so lucky, so privileged. All they had to do now was cut it down and bring it back…an action they were about to speak of again, to start prompting their triumphant return…
But then, they both sensed it. Faint, layered low in the still, heavy air. From somewhere high up, it came down and settled within the tree, the sound suddenly jumping about among the branches: unmistakable. The twittering of birds.
Then, just as quickly, they left, small silhouettes jittering up high and away again. Gone.
She started to cry.
“We can’t do it,” she said, hand to her face. “We can’t take it. It needs to stay here.”
“No,” her partner shook their head, eager to deny this. “No.”
“You know we can’t take it. I know you know this. We can’t!”
Her partner had had it. They’d had enough!
They kicked at the snow, knocking a few clumps. That wasn’t very satisfying so they kicked again, deeper down, and it being so heavy and wet, it was like trying to kick through chocolate fudge…the snow caught their foot and they stumbled and toppled and fell.
Now it was their turn to lie, snow-angel-like on their back, looking up.
From this perspective, the tree was a larger triangle against the silver sky, like a deep green mountain top. This version of the tree was as sturdy as a rock, and just as geologically imperative.
Removing it would be . . . wrong.
It would be wrong. Damn it.
They pounded their fists against the snow beneath them.
What a terrible, horrible, expensive mistake! They shouldn’t have even bothered!
They gasped at the sky with frustration and anger.
But slowly, that feeling dissipated. Slowly, the cold and the wet seeped even deeper into their back. They looked over to where she stood.
And she was looking to where her partner lay, a sprawled, worn out snow angel on the ground, and said:
“Why don’t we . . . bring our ornaments here for a day? Then it can be ours but also . . .” she waved at the context they were in. “Theirs.”
Ours and . . . theirs.
A compromise. A harmony.
They got up (a slow process, so difficult in a bulky snow suit) and went to stand again beside her.
They held gloved hands this time and together looked at the tree. Really looked.
Oh, glorious tree.
Oh, harmonious landscape.
Oh, beloved heritage.
A trifecta of connection, somehow made possible because they had looked with wider eyes.
Eyes of wonder, eyes of bright.
Later in the week, they returned with their treasured ornaments, some food, extra clothes, and a portable music player — and made a beautiful day of it.