A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Reindeer"
Originally featured on 12-18-2008
As part of our series "Holiday Fiction Drive (The Things Holidays Drive People To, The Things Holiday People Drive)"

He wrapped the Christmas lights around his arm. His arm was stubby and he tried again to make them all fit. It was no use. He made layers of lights around his forearm, clasping the end in his fist. He approached the tree and started to spin the lights around it.

She watched him from the couch while sitting in the fetal position. She was afraid of the lead in the Christmas lights. She refused to touch them. He lumbered around the tree, not so gracefully and he told her it was fine. His face said it was not. She touched her feet in white socks and thought about the humiliating nature of socks. Two legs, their ends covered in shame. The way the socks distorted the forms of her feet into two pegs.

He played Christmas music through Youtube on the TV screen and it made a distorted sensation of bizarre old carols of dancing, and editing mistakes full of static. She felt as if it were a little more real. Like when people hit your heels with a shopping cart, when you’re buying Christmas presents off an Angel Tree, for disadvantaged children.

When he was done with the tree they made cider and spiked it. They sat under the tree and she was afraid her head would touch the boughs and she thought of the way she would try to wash just her forehead in the sink, to avoid smudging her lipstick. He held her around the shoulders and they played stupid games involving stabbing each other with pine needles. His beard, like moss, pressed into the back of her head. They watched the tree, something to idealize not much later.

They wrapped the presents they were to give to their parents. There was a memory card for her mom. A way to remember things to put into a machine. She thought of her grandmother and the way things were starting to blend. The ways the grandmother did a loop when speaking to her. Grandma spoke of her dogs, the pines, and the oldest son. The dogs, the pines, and the oldest son. The girl jumped up and started to write things down. Because she was afraid her words would loop into one story- in the way that we all move toward a chant of a story. To write down the words that were part of her separate story, her cognition. Before she too started looping and blending into everyone’s words.

She moved away from the boy and sat on the couch. She pulled the crocheted blanket that was mailed from her mother and held it up near her chin. He looked up at her from the floor. Crocheted blankets always made her sad. The rows and hours of forgotten hand work. The repetition of it and the way the art was loose. She thought of her mother hunched over two empty needles, moving them in tiny loops.

She moved the empty boxes where the Christmas bulbs had been back to the storage closet. There was confusion there. She saw a few gloves and hats, awkward reindeer hanging from a wooden sleigh, fourth of july flags, and plastic bags, it looked like a homeless exploded. She shut the door.

They talked about going to bed early, then tipped over on the floor and watched Roseanne for three hours. They thought it was funny. She fell asleep for a while on his chest. They woke angry and uncomfortable and stumbled to bed.

He fell asleep instantly and she liked the way he was like a quiet rumble. She’d been good at high school and thought that this was the reason that everything after had been harder. She looked at his face. When shopping for this face, she had looked for good bone structure. Something she would still be able to see, through the sagging on the skin. Not a weak jaw. The now closed eyes were also important. Bright ones were best because they would still be visible under drooped eyelids. She thought about the lead of the tree and the way it would be on his arms and in their bed. The way it would poison them when they were older and the way they would rot. The stillness of the room moved through her body and she stood up.

She moved to the living room and was still worried that the Christmas lights would start a fire in the night. It was a glowing triangle, a message. She clutched the Christmas tree to her chest and picked it up, letting the boughs push into her. She imagined the pricks of the needles were inserting tiny bits of lead under her skin. She pushed open the screen door with a pinky. She sat the tree down, took the tree base in her hands and lifted it over the railing of the balcony. The tree hit the downstairs neighbor’s hanging plant on the way down and the pink pansies fell with the tree. She was disappointed that only a few of the glass bulbs had burst on impact, but the streets lights illuminated the whole thing well, the boughs and colors were an enchanted garbage dump. She went inside and made coffee because of the way it was ruddy and she liked the steam on her face. She took the mug outside and brought her knees to her chin.

She thought about when boats sink and the rules we make about who should live, and who should die. The way we make these rules to protect those who find themselves there, men, women, and children on sinking ships.

Read More By Alice Clark

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