We Live in a Tree for One Month Every Year
A Christmas story by Reina Hardy
Welcome to Recommended Reading’s new Monday supplement, a biweekly home for short prose, poetry, and comics.
Issue №1 | We Live in a Tree for One Month Every Year
by Reina Hardy
We are fragile, but immortal, somewhere between mayflies and unicorns. Eleven months of the years we sleep wrapped in tissue paper in big red boxes, until we are lifted and carried down, and carefully uncovered. By that time the tree is ready, covered in lights and red glass balls and golden ribbons. The tree used to be a stranger every year, a strange-smelling, god-like thing, sticky with sap, who knew things we didn’t know, but now the tree is more like us. It stays in a red dark bag in the basement most of the time.
Light comes down through the box lid. It stays on till we hear the only songs we know, and then the girl lifts them off. She has been tall enough now for so many Christmases, and she knows all of us that are worth knowing. She makes sure that we stay by our loved ones, and our friends. She makes sure that we do our jobs.
The goose girl must await her geese.
The giraffe puppet and the top hat lion are married now, after a long courtship.
The beautiful glass king stag must hang a little hidden from view, with a green or blue light to illuminate him. Only then can his magic and beneficence filter through the house.
All of the other precious ornaments must be seen, even if they are new.
The old and unlovely are hidden below the window and behind the tree, but never do they stay in the box.
The new and unlovely go high, facing the window, but away from the family. They shout back to us about passerbys and dogs, which we have not seen for some time.
Angels and moons and suns and stars must go near the top.
Birds must nestle in lower branches, except for the doves, which must wait on Galatea.
Galatea is the angel that holds the reins of the world. She is lashed to the highest point of the tree and she watches over all of us (the reins of the world are the golden ribbons.)
The green satin rocking horse mourned and would not stop mourning the death of the blue satin rocking horse (chewed up by a dog) and while he hung sad and lonely low for ever so many years he is gone now, and no one knows how he went.
After we have heard our songs two or three times through, the box is carried away, and life begins. We talk and visit, and love each other. We watch the people of the house, and the people of the street, and we cast our various magics on them. We used to talk to the new tree. We love to hear about snow, and traveling fast above streets, and about other trees, and about the moment when the old man put his hand on the tree, and shook it, and chose it for our own, and would take it home and string the lights so that the girl could go to work. And oh the strangeness of being strung with lights! The feeling of being all lit up and beribboned and becoming a world ruled by an angel!
The conversation is different now. This tree has never seen the old man, and says it has been strung with lights for as long as it can remember, so it is like talking with another old friend, an old friend we met just last year. And truly, we think it is better. The trees who were strangers could never stay long. They changed as people do, and their marvelous smells would fade. Galatea would tug on her golden ribbons, her face growing sad, and when the old woman would take us off the tree and wrap us in fresh paper, we would cling to the branches for and whisper “goodbye—goodbye!” We do not know what changed. We do not know where the dogs went, or the blue satin rocking horse, or the old man, but this year as we go into the paper we will say just Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen! We will think of the songs in our sleep, dear tree, until we meet again!
About the Author
Reina Hardy is a playwright. Her plays, which usually contain magic and sometimes contain science, can be found at reinahardy.com, She can make things happen with her mind.
About the Illustrator
Sara Lautman is a cartoonist, illustrator, and editor in Baltimore. Her drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Playboy, Mad, Jezebel, The Paris Review, The Pitchfork Review and The Awl.
About Recommended Reading
Recommended Reading is the weekly fiction magazine of Electric Literature, publishing here every Wednesday morning. In addition to featuring our own recommendations of original, previously unpublished fiction, we invite established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommend great work from their pages, past and present. The Recommended Reading Commuter, which publishes every Monday, is our home for flash and graphic narrative, and poetry. For access to year-round submissions, join our membership program on Drip, and follow Recommended Reading on Medium to get every issue straight to your feed. Recommended Reading is supported by the Amazon Literary Partnership, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For other links from Electric Literature, follow us, or sign up for our eNewsletter.