The tree had been caged in mesh at the garden centre, a small woman with a bright smile telling Louise she must water it and keep it away from radiators. Louise had looked at the way the tree, its branches free only seconds before, was constricted and held, and she felt a wave of guilt rush through her body. She could water it, of course, but keep it away from a radiator? Impossible in her flat.
It was an extravagance, buying a real tree. She’d never done it before, and this year of all years…yes, yes, she knew, Ivars had told her enough times, it wasn’t like they could afford to splash out forty quid on a fir tree, and in their little flat, what was she thinking? She was thinking about hope, she told him. She was thinking about the deep green spindle pine needles, the scent of the forest, the evergreen a reminder of the spring to come. She was thinking about the beauty of a living tree and how some things were constant, while others could, and would, change.
They freed the tree together in their flat. Ivars said it might make the air better. He was worried about the flourish of mould blooming around the bedroom window and the way water dripped inside from the glass pane and the sills. He said a tree was a sign of life. In the old country they boasted the first ever Christmas tree, he said, though it wasn’t called Christmas then, and they danced around it and set it on fire. Louise grinned and said any sign of any fires near this one and she’d be withdrawing all signs of life in the bedroom.
He put his arms around her then, standing behind her, both of them gazing at the bushy, fat tree. It made the dingy flat feel brighter already. Wait till they had lights on it and tinsel and a few shiny red baubles, made from glass as delicate as ice. Wait till there was a star on top, she said, or an angel. She asked him how they would decorate a tree when he was a boy and he told her about the legend of the Christmas Spider, the helpful little creature that would decorate with webs when there was no money for anything else. Louise said that was fortunate for them, she found plenty of spiders running the walls and corners in this flat.
It will get better, he told her. With the new year there was hope, there was always hope, and things would get better. There’d be work and there’d be somewhere else for them to live, somewhere with space and clean walls and windows.
Louise stepped forward and touched the smooth needles of the tree. She would water it every day. And when the season was over and the new year rang through, and the tree couldn’t hold on any longer, she would send it on its way. And just as the fir tree had promised, spring would come.
(c) Samantha Priestley