- Reading time: five minutes
- Word count: 987
- Published: 18 dec 2013
- Author: Matador the First
- Copyright: Matador the FirstMatt Matrisciano, 2013
Seth smells the trees as soon as his dad opens the car door. They have parked at the end or beginning of several rows of Douglas-firs. Seth jumps out of the minivan and plants his feet on the ground with a thud, and not the crunch he wants. He smells ice in the air. His younger brother James stops at the door and steps out as if starting down a hundred-foot ladder he were climbing the first time. Their parents walk over to a small shack-like office to the left of their car. They come back a moment later, sometimes leading, sometimes following the only available employee.
“You see the signs every so often along the trees?” the employee says as he points to various disintegrating and faded wooden signs. He wears no nametag. Seth’s parents nod. “That’s how we number each row. Helps train new folk, helps know where the trees are, helps find people who get lost.”
“But they’re not consistent,” Seth’s mom says. “That sign says 2, that one says T, that one’s solid red, and another’s got IX on it in green.”
“We alternate each row.”
“Or use whatever they find lying around the side of the road,” Seth’s dad whispers to the kids.
“We also cut trees down only once they’re five years old,” the employee says.
“I can’t wait to cut the tree down,” Seth says.
“Keep waiting,” James says. “I’m going to cut it down.”
“I’m older than you.”
“You cut your palm with a butter knife last year.”
“Whichever of you’s quieter as we look, you’ll help cut it down,” the employee says.
“We’ll say Timber, won’t we?” Seth asks.
“Timber!” James shouts. It’s loud enough to echo and almost escapes to reverberate, but gets captured by the branches.
“Sure we will. We all will,” Seth’s mom says.
“If you’ll come with me.” The employee swings his hand toward the trees ahead. He waits for Seth’s parents to step next to him and then they head down the path in Row T. “Y’all told me you had heavy ornaments.” The firs stretch on forever before them. “Trees the far end of this row have sturdy branches.”
The five of them walk quite a ways down the path. Seth and James lag behind and stop in front of a puddle. Their parents walk on with the employee.
James steps next to a tree and breathes out deep several times. “Why can’t I see my breath?”
“It’s not cold enough,” Seth says. “That’s why it never snows here.” He stares at the ground and swivels the toe of his sneaker into the dirt.
“Will we see our breath on Christmas?”
“If it snows.” Seth kicks the dirt back over where his shoe has been. “And it won’t.”
“Oh.” James takes off a blue cotton glove and dips his hand into the puddle. He shivers and yanks it back and shakes the water off.
Seth looks at a fir near him and tries to climb it, but the branches are too close together. “Let’s find a real tree. One we can climb.” He walks between the trees and James follows.
They cross several rows of Douglas-firs before they find a wide gap between the farm and a forest, covered by dirt and mud and dying yellowed grass. It’s still earlyish in the morning and a bit of frost has survived the night and sunrise. The grass crunches as the brothers trudge their way across. They walk into the forest staring at the ground and when they look up they see trees upon trees—mostly pines, some crowded together, some spaced apart. There are no paths but the scent of the Douglas-firs is still strong enough they can find their way back.
“Wow, are they all pines?” James says.
“I hope not,” Seth says. “We can’t climb those.”
“What about that one?” James points to a pine that has planks nailed to its trunk. Seth smiles and walks over to it.
He sees himself taking off his gloves and climbing the planks, one by one, with a strong grip and a steady pace, climbing higher and higher until he’s above all the other treetops. The trunk stretches farther up and he keeps climbing until, near the top, he comes to a small wooden platform. He stands up and looks down over the side. The ground is hidden, unseen so long it’s nothing more than a vague and fading memory, like the first day of kindergarten a few years ago. He scans the horizon and sees nothing but trees upon trees, growing any- and everywhere and without pattern. The air whispers a breeze and some pines sway like slow dancers. The tip of his nose sits swollen and heavy. A flake of snow lands on it. “James!” he shouts. “Jimmy!” He looks over the edge of the platform. “Snow, Jimmy!” Several axe-chops ring out and he feels himself falling and now he’s standing on the ground again, staring at the planks nailed to the pine.
“They chopped down the tree without us!” James says. Seth takes off his gloves and grips a plank. He looks up the trunk. A treehouse juts out about fifty feet above his head. He climbs to the second plank. The third, the fourth, the fifth.
“We didn’t get to say Timber!”
“You just said it,” Seth says. He climbs higher and higher and hears his mom shouting his name.
“Come see the tree we got!” their dad yells. “I think it’ll even hold the star up top!”
James walks to the base of the pine. “C’mon, Seth, we should go back.”
“You can have your tree,” Seth says. “I found mine.” He stares at nothing but the trapdoor above him as he climbs. He sees the ladder running on through the treehouse up to the treetop, and the cold and the snow up there will wake him up forever.