He lived in the family room on a borrowed hospital bed while the Christmas decorations went up. Patti unpacked the attic boxes at his feet, and his niece and nephew ran up to him with each selected treasure, me next, Uncle Jack, I want to go! Uncle Jack flashed his teeth, next to the fireplace, and over there by the window. The children ran back and forth from Uncle Jack to the walls and the corners of the room creating a spider web of tracks that secured him to their world. He asked Patti when they were going to get the tree, and Patti ignored him. She strung popcorn in her own corner of the web.
Patti had dark hair like their mother. It naturally curled around her ears and under her jaw line which she thought added the perfect touch to any perm, but she hadn’t had a perm in almost a year. When George left her in the spring, she fell hard, emotionally and financially. And, in the summer, Jack fell ill confining himself to a somewhat solitary life in their living room. Why did you have to ask? She shot him an annoyed glance and watched her children frantically jump up and down begging for a tree.
“Well, what do you suggest, Jack?” Patti asked pointedly. At thirty, Jack had won three consecutive years of their town’s “Season’s Greetings” competition for “best exterior design.” If anyone knew how to make the best of Christmas decorating, it really was Jack.
He smiled politely, “I suggest that you go outside and chop a tree down, darlin’.” She stopped stringing and glanced over at him. It was true; she could go outside and chop a tree. They had a small ax for trimming branches, and the tree only had to be big enough to support the weight of their angel for the top. She sighed and put the popcorn string down to put her camouflage boots on. Jack sank back in his bed full of delight.
“Oooo, we’re gonna get a tree!” his nephew shouted. His niece hooted and hollered.
The sky was clear, and the moon hung below the tree line. Patti could make out the start of the woods behind their small trailer as she passed the dog kennel to retrieve the ax from a small stump her son hacked yesterday. One small step for man… she thought making her way to the beginning of the woods. “One giant leap…” she whispered crossing the boundary between their world and God’s.
Her boots crunched the frosted ground, her eyes scanning the area for any trees that grew just above her waist. She made her way to the clearing they had picnics in during the summer time. Most of the shorter trees will line the inner rim, she struggled up the side of the hill. The trees parted at the top of the slant revealing a semi-circular field with long grass stiffened by the cold. Patti remembered a small bush that was growing when she freed her mind of George. It was on the far left side of the clearing with its now naked branches jutting out into the freezing air. She felt the small weight of the ax in her hand and held the top of the skeleton with the other.
An hour later, she could finally see the trailer through the last bit of trees. Hauling the bush halted her journey numerous times, its tiny fingers grasping the ground and hooking its legs on larger tree trunks along the way. She dropped the ax next to the stump and pulled the hesitant bush through the narrow doorframe. When she had the tree in its stand, she stood back admiring her little feat. She imagined its decoration under Jack’s guidance, the children running back and forth, and her popcorn string draped over the mantel. Her vision was interrupted by a shift in atmosphere like a force had been lifted from the room. Patti turned around to the hospital bed where Jack laid. The children meticulously wrapped his body in blankets to keep him warm, but his eyelids were blue from Jack Frost’s kiss. Outside, the first snow christened the soft earth.
Copyright, Kennedy LeJeune. 2015.