“Right this way, my Adorable Amaryllis,” I said, holding her hand and leading the way. It was slow going.
“I can’t see a thing,” she said, holding on tight to my hand.
“That is because it is pitch black,” I explained. I thought it would have been obvious to even a casual observer, let alone my keen eyed little Sunflower, but I have never been above stating the obvious if I thought it would help shed some light on things (so to speak).
“Yes, I can see that it’s pitch black,” she said, I thought, a little peevishly.
“Technically, you can’t,” I said, trying to be helpful. “But the brain is a marvelous thing and it interprets a complete lack of light as being darkness. It has to do with rods and cones and all that sort of thing.”
“Ow!” she yelped suddenly.
“Mind the dog,” I said, again trying to be helpful.
“We don’t have a dog,” she said. Her tone did not seem to be improving any in spite of all of my helpful banter.
“Then I’m at a loss as to what that was. Perhaps a free-range ottoman or a roaming occasional table or some other piece of errant furniture. One never knows.”
A tiny voice from somewhere behind Alexis reiterated her desire to have a cat someday. Alexis vetoed this almost before Evangeline managed to get out the word “cat”. Another voice further back said, for the second time today, that dogs were definitely the way to go. Alexis also vetoed this motion from the floor and went on to say that there would be no animals of any sort allowed in the house or anywhere on the Callington estate. The silent sound of disappointment floated up from the rear of our human chain.
“We’re almost there,” I said.
“That’s good,” she said, “Though it’s too late to save my toe.”
“You’ll forget all about your little piggy in just a moment.” I pulled out a pen light and switched it on, but took care to only illuminate my face.
“You had a pen light this whole time?” asked Alexis, seeming surprised and agitated.
“I did indeed. I had secreted it in an inside pocket of my jacket.”
Alexis inquired, in her own inimitable way, as to why I hadn’t used it before now. I cautioned her about the use of expletives around the children, and she reposted something that was ironic due to its use of expletives.
“I didn’t use it before now because I wanted to surprise you,” I said.
“Surprise me with a broken toe?” she said, a bit petulantly, I thought. “Well, mission accomplished.”
I decided that the time had come to steer this conversation away from her charming little toes, so I used the pen light to find the switch and I flicked it.
The Great Room was suddenly illuminated with thousands of tiny white Christmas tree lights that had been carefully and painstakingly wrapped around each branch, sub-branch, and trunk of our 20-foot-tall Christmas tree. At the very top of the tree, a winsome angel glowed with a warm, benevolent light, no doubt from bearing tidings of great joy (and also because of a low-wattage bulb secreted modestly within the folds of her robe).
“Oh, Darling!” said Alexis with pure delight in her voice, her toe forgotten. She released my hand so that she could clap her hands together as she stared in ecstasy at the massive and well-lit tree. “It’s absolutely gorgeous!”
“Thank you, my Darling Delphinium,” I said, beaming with pride at her compliment. “It is rather eye-popping, isn’t it?”
“It is breathtaking!” she said as she gazed up at it rapturously. I glanced at the children to find that they were similarly impressed and had apparently been struck dumb by the sight.
“How on earth did you manage to get the tree lit and the angel on top in just the few hours we were out shopping?”
The time had come to fess up and admit that I had not worked alone.
“I had a little help,” I admitted modestly.
“Did you call the fire department and use their hook and ladder truck?”
“No, nothing so dramatic as that. I consulted with James and he said he knew a chappie –”
“Not the baggage handlers again?” asked Alexis, her eyes widening.
“No, not them, though I’ve no doubt they could have done a stellar job moving the tree if we’d needed it moved back and forth across the room. No, this called for moving up and down, rather than back and forth.”
“And James knows a circus trampoline act?”
“No. Better. He knows a roofer who, apparently, collects ladders as a hobby. He had a truck that fairly bristled with them.”
“A roofer, eh?”
“A roofer name Rufus?”
I held up my hand. “I swanny. I could not make that up. His motto is Let Rufus Roof You. It was printed on the side of his truck.”
She eyed me keenly for a moment as if trying to determine if I was just making up this entire story, but then she glanced back at the tree and apparently satisfied that there was no way I could have done this on my own, and so finally came to peace with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
“Well,” she said, “I’m sure he was a little out of his element, working beneath the roof instead of on top of it,” she said finally.
“He adapted quickly. Apparently, he puts up Christmas lights for people as a sideline. The results speak for themselves.” I indicated the tree with a flourish of my hand.
“Yes, they do. It is absolutely gorgeous! Thank you, Darling! The whole time I was shopping with the children I had a vague sense of dread as to what we would be returning home to.”
“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said, shaking my head. I may have also tsk’d in disappointment.
“I expected to come back and find you crushed beneath the tree or hanging from the highest bough by your necktie.”
“I was spared such indignities by the appearance of Rufus and his collection of ladders.”
Alexis turned to the children, who were still looking a bit gobsmacked at this colossal conifer in our Great Room. “After your baths and after you’re in your pajamas, we will come back down and decorate the tree just like we do every year.”
This seemed to incentivize them greatly and they streaked out of the room in a state of great excitement (and ear-piercing vocalizations). Alexis said she would follow them and supervise their ablutions and dressing. For my part, I said I would coordinate with Mrs. Fournier on the making of hot chocolate and fresh cookies. We agreed to meet at this exact spot in precisely 45 minutes.
Later that same evening, as I browsed through our mind-boggling collection of Christmas music for something to put on the hi-fi, Alexis was on her knees in front of the many bins and totes and storage boxes that held our vast collection of Christmas ornaments. The children, freshly washed and wrapped in a protective layer of flannel, were “helping” her. Their helping consisted of excitedly tearing the lids off of storage bins, pulling out boxes, which they also opened to pull out ornaments. I shook my head. I could have told them they were making a rookie mistake. Obviously, they were not familiar with either Alexis’ color coded charts nor her patented “method of doing things.” I had no doubt they were about to be schooled in both.
I finally found and put on some gentle, soothing Christmas music to set the tone. Mrs. Fournier brought in a steaming cauldron of hot chocolate and a silver salver of homemade cookies. This had the effect of distracting the children from the bright, shiny ornaments. While they sipped at their chocolate and giggled with each other about biting the heads off of the cookie snowmen and elves and reindeer, Alexis tried to conduct a seminar on her method of decorating the tree. She was explaining to them the importance of good tiering, of balance, and of form. The trick, she instructed, was to avoid “clumping” of either colors or textures or thematically similar items.
I could have told her that her words were falling on deaf ears. The children were much more interested in their ragtag collection of headless snowmen cookies, reindeer cookies with no antlers or legs, and elves denuded of their pointy hats. They were giggling uncontrollably and composing elaborate stories with each other about the rise of the headless snowmen, and how an army of hatless elves rode in on their antler-less (and sometimes legless) reindeer to save the day.
Alexis sighed hopelessly as she realized she had lost her audience. I just put my arm around her shoulders and offered her a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
“Don’t fret, my ravishing Narcissus,” I said, giving her shoulders an encouraging squeeze. “Let them decorate as they will. I predict they will lose interest by the time they’ve hung 8 or 10 ornaments. Then I will herd them upstairs and put them to bed while you rearrange all of the decorations to conform to your standards for tiering, balance, form, and anti-clumping.
She smiled up at me, her eyes glittering beauteously as they reflected the thousands of lights of the tree. “You’re right,” she said, taking a tentative sip of hot chocolate. “I don’t know why I get so worked up about things like this.”
“Because, my Dear, you are a perfectionist. Which makes me wonder why on earth you ever agreed to marry me. I am decidedly non-perfect.”
“You are perfect for me,” she said. “Two perfectionists would have killed each other before the wedding was over.”
“You are probably right about that,” I said, taking a contemplative sip of hot chocolate. I noted that the mug I was holding had painted on it a sprig of mistletoe, so I held it above our heads and leaned down to give her a kiss.
“Not in front of the children,” she said, giggling and turning her head slightly so that I ended up kissing her on the cheek.
“Well, they’re bound to find out about us sooner or later,” I said. “We can’t hide our relationship from them forever.”
“You know what I mean. Later,” she said, conspiratorially. “After they are asleep.”
She set her mug down and got the children’s attention, which was now much easier since their cookie army had been decimated, with both sides suffering heavy losses.
The tree decorating began in earnest. Alexis carefully took the delicate ornaments out of the boxes, I affixed the hooks to them, and the children hung them on the tree. Alexis had a story that went with each ornament. I was amazed at her ability to remember the story of our family’s life as told in Christmas ornaments. How she was able to keep track of which ornament went with which life event was beyond my comprehension. I hadn’t even known where we stored the ornaments, let alone what each one means. It’s a good thing she did not demand perfection from me like she does with everything else.
I was wrong about the stamina of the children. They remained engaged and enthusiastic about the entire process from start to finish. I could tell Alexis was cringing at how they hung some of the ornaments, but one could not find fault in their energy and enthusiasm. We sang along with the Christmas carols on the hi-fi. We took breaks to enjoy hot chocolate and a new batch of cookies from Mrs. Fournier. I, of course, had to get out the ladder to hang up the ornaments above the children’s reach.
Eventually, much to everyone’s dismay, we ran out of ornaments. I glanced at Alexis to gauge her reaction. She just stared at the tree, biting her lower lip as if not quite sure what to make of what she was seeing.
The tree looked the very picture of Christmas cheer and beauty. The ornaments were absolutely lovely. The shining ribbons of gold and silver that Alexis wove amid the branches were lovely. Everything was absolutely perfect.
Except that the decorations only went about halfway up the tree. The top half of the tree was completely bare except for the twinkling lights that Rufus had weaved into the branches earlier.
I glanced nervously at Alexis, sure that she would be extremely displeased. Even the children seemed to be holding their breaths as they kept glancing back and forth between the tree and Alexis.
But finally, much to everyone’s shock, she merely said, “It’s perfect. Don’t you all think so?”
We nodded our heads, stunned, and mumbled our agreement.
“Okay, children,” she said. “It’s time for bed.”
They protested a little as she stood and begin herding them towards the door. She stopped in front of where I stood looking at the tree, still feeling a little like the villagers whose village had been spared by the passing tornado.
“And as for you …” she said to me in a low voice so that the children could not hear. I stiffened, fearing the worst.
But she just smiled and said, “Next year, make sure I only get a ten-foot tree.”
I smiled and kissed her on the top of the head and assured her that I would. After all, sometimes less is more. Or, at least it is just enough.
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow