I thought I’d share my winning short story for the North Texas Christian Writers recent Christmas Story contest.
Feel free to share with others, but I ask if you repost on your blog, please give a link back to this site and author credit.
Hope you enjoy!
Joe’s watch beeped. Already 6:00 o’clock? Finally. “That’s it folks. Last call.”
“This the best trees you got left?” A man with a bright orange knit cap scratched his chin.
The tent was like a graveyard of frazzled trees, bare branches. Needles littered the ground. A sharp breeze swept through the tent, the back wall flapping. Snow floated down in gentle lilts. Wouldn’t be too much longer before a white sheet frosted the road.
“It’s Christmas Eve.” Joe tried not to roll his eyes. What did this city boy expect? “We sold the best ones already.” Why do these guys wait until the last minute? Expect a tree to rival the one in Times Square? Typical. “Look, this is all there is. You want one, it’s yours. Half off. We got to get rid of ‘em.”
The man nodded, fingered the branch of the last Douglas fir. Not much to write home about, with its bald coat of needles and dried up scent, but maybe he wouldn’t notice. Joe tapped his leg. His wife had the ham in the oven, and he could almost feel the warmth of the fireplace on his nose.
A sudden shriek broke the air. A boy and girl, about eight and ten, chased each other around the center tent pole, giggling.
“Excuse me.” Joe sighed. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time.”
Joe trudged past. “Hey, you kids need to find your parents.”
But the kids ran to the far side of the tent, screaming louder.
Why did parents think it was his job to babysit? He had work to do. And a long drive home. Joe clenched his fists, stalked toward them. The little boy ran round a spruce, grazed the branches. The thing crashed to the ground and knocked over a Christmas wreath display.
“Hey!” Joe ran to the tree and picked it up. A pair of broken branches at the bottom, one at the top. No star would sit straight on this tree. The kids laughed and ran to another poll. Joe’s jaw ticked. He could really use that hot chocolate about now.
The man in the orange cap walked up to the kids and whispered something. So, he was their dad. Great.
Joe marched up. “You’re going to have to pay for that tree your kids knocked over.”
“Sure, I’m sorry about that.” He pointed at the fir tree. “We’ll take both.”
“Whatever,” Joe muttered. What’s a man need with two trees? On Christmas Eve? “I’ll get them netted up.” He glared at the kids as he hauled the fir to the baler.
“Did you sell a lot of trees this year?” the man asked.
Joe shrugged. “Yeah, like normal.” Christmas patrons running in and out, hurrying to their next shopping paradise. “We did alright this year.”
Joe didn’t tell him that he’d rather be anywhere than here tonight. How he really hate all the Christmas commercialism, and the fact that every one of these trees would be thrown out in a few days…such a waste. There wasn’t much point to any of it. As long as he got paid, enough to buy his kids presents and keep the wife happy.
That’s all that mattered.
Joe lugged the fir to the man’s truck and tossed it in the bed, then grabbed the broken one. “Did you forget to buy a tree earlier or something?”
The man opened the truck door, and the kids crawled inside. “No. I already have a tree at home.”
“So what do you need all these trees for?”
“You said I had to buy the one the kids knocked down. And their mother will love this fir. She grew up in the mountains. The scent will remind her of home.” He slammed the tailgate and leashed a rope over the trees. “She lost her job last week. These are her kids, my neighbors. When I found out they weren’t getting any presents this year, I had to do something. That’s what the trees are for. Even if it is for one night, hopefully, they’ll feel a little bit of warmth. A little bit like Christmas.”
Joe stuffed his hand in his pocket. The man’s cash was warm against his iced fingers. Why didn’t the man say as much before? Joe looked at the kids. The little girl smiled and waved. She had the same brown curls as his own little girl, who was probably counting her gifts under their over-stuffed tree right now.
Joe sighed. “Here.” Joe handed the cash back.
The man held up his hands. “No, I can’t keep it.”
“I insist.” Joe wrapped his around the bills. “Get them some presents to go under the tree, too.”