Bob hated Christmas. It brought to mind memories of when his parents fought, usually after a long night of spiked eggnog. While his parents’ quarreling was far in the past, Bob still found the forced merriment of holidays unbearable.
If he never heard Crosby croon on about the color of Christmas again, he would be happy. He would take a good rendition of the “Marine Corps Hymn” over that tripe any day, having completed his service as one of “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” a few years back.
No Marine worth his salt would cavort around a tacky plastic tree or sing about chestnuts roasting anywhere. On more than one occasion, Bob had even been mistaken for “The Velvet Fog,” a popular young singer named Mel Torme. Bob did notice a resemblance, but he would have said the famous “Christmas Song” singer looked like him, not the other way around. Bob was a handsome sonofabitch — Torme should consider himself lucky.
As Torme’s signature song continued to torment him over the radio, Bob thought again about how ridiculous the holidays were. So of course, he’d done the only thing a Scrooge like himself could possibly do. He’d married a bona-fide Christmas freak.
Joan saw him pacing, cradling his snifter of Drambuie. She knew that he wasn’t crazy about this time of year, but she’d spent so long on the tree, he’d just have to wait. They had only been married for a week and Christmas was a few days away.
It was almost a year ago, on December 29, 1965, when she first met Bob Cooper at the Chez Si Bon lounge. A handsome young man with a military haircut sauntered over to where she and her roommate were sitting. Tommy, a regular at the Chez, had muscled his way into the chair next to hers. Bob picked Tommy up in his chair and physically moved him out of the way, taking his place by her side. A year later and here they were, getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas together. So why did it look like Bob wanted to throw up?
Joan decided to talk to him just as soon as she could get the tree up. She’d run out this morning to get a real one, the delectable fragrance of the pine needles filling their tiny apartment. The tree was the last thing to do. Then they could sit under the festive lights and have a Christmas toast. She smiled at the thought as the tree fell over for a third time. Sighing, she picked it up and tried again.
He wasn’t going to get involved. Just keep out of it, Cooper, you’re just going to make things worse. He watched her, so earnest and beautiful, wrinkling her brow as she tried to puzzle out how to get the damned thing to stand up. After the fourth time it fell, Bob decided to act.
Grabbing one of their brand new steak knives, he went to work sawing away at the bottom of the trunk to try to get it to fit in the stand. Bob had never been handy, having grown up on the South Side of Chicago, but he thought he’d done a fine job. He jammed the tree into the stand and stepped back to admire his handiwork.
His new bride clapped her hands with delight. She ran over to finally plug it in, having roped at least four strings of lights around its drooping branches. Bob went to pour himself a celebratory drink when it fell again. A tiny snowflake ornament flew off and landed in his glass, causing his wife to giggle.
He went back to work, hacking away; twice more it tumbled over. It lay on the floor between them, a Christmas Rubicon, daring Bob to cross it.
He had one final idea. He wrapped a reel of fishing wire around the top of the tree and tied it to an old hook on the ceiling. He told his beautiful young wife that he loved her more than anything in the world, but if that goddamned tree fell over one more time, it was going out the window.
Joan tried not to laugh, he was working so hard. Perry Como began singing about there being no place like home for the holidays when Bob went to his tackle box for the wire. She knew his patience was running thin, but he had that devilish twinkle in his eye. She couldn’t decide if she was rooting for the tree or to see if her husband would actually follow through on his threat.
In a final, defiant dive the tree toppled over in a great whoosh. Bob downed the remnants of his drink, scooped it up, ornaments and all, and made his way over to the back sliding glass door. Much in the same way he moved Tommy, Joan thought in amusement as she rushed over and excitedly pulled the door open for him.
He pitched it hard over the third-floor balcony, both of them laughing hysterically as the tree landed right-side-up in a large snowbank. It looked perfect, remaining ornaments in place, with gobs of silver tinsel shining in the moonlight. Joan turned and kissed him passionately, certain that if nothing else, being married to Bob Cooper would never, ever be boring.
Bob and Joan sat out on their tiny balcony, bundled up in the cold Chicago night. They each held a glass of champagne while Sinatra’s “O Holy Night” drifted out through their open window, raising their glasses in tribute to Joan’s wayward tree below. Cecil in apartment 1B had dragged out an extension cord and actually plugged it in, the lights reflecting off the snow and lighting up the apartment building’s courtyard.
Joan looked lovingly up at him, her eyes shining as a random snowflake landed softly on her cheek. Bob decided that maybe Christmas wasn’t so bad, after all.
The Rubicon had finally been crossed.
A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had short stories featured in Bewildering Stories, Cafe Aphra, Clumsy Quips, Dark Fire Fiction, Edify Fiction, Everyday Fiction, Fictive Dream, 50-Word Stories, Friday Fiction, Literally Stories, New Realm, No Extra Words, Peacock Journal, Pilcrow&Dagger, Quail Bell Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Scrutiny Journal, Speculative 66, Storyteller, The Flash Fiction Press and Under the Bed. She has also published non-fiction work in Denver Pieces Magazine, bioStories, and completed a novel called “Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night” that she is hoping to find a home for. For more of her work/contact her at sites.google.com/site/aehertingwriter.