Ion Vignette #13
I blame Sally. We were never really much for celebrating any of the major holidays, Duo and I. I had always more or less been included in some way or other by our friends during those years that Duo had gone off to be a Salvage Pilot, and I had gone off to be a Preventor. Duo had observed the holiday only in his role as ‘Santa’ to the kids at the Maxwell orphanage.
But after we got together and he spent a year or two listening to Sally and Wufei ‘bicker’ about Christmas trees and decorating… Duo had gotten curious. And off we had gone to Sally’s place to see ‘what all the talk was about’. I should have seen it coming… I’m pretty sure Sally Po, in some past life, was Mrs. Claus. Or maybe Santa himself. How the woman can cram that much glitter and glow and greenery into one apartment is beyond me. Or… where she keeps it in the off season.
I’d always found it mildly impressive, and considered it what Christmas was supposed to look like… for people who still believed that gravity and logic had nothing to do with flying reindeer.
Duo… was more than mildly impressed. Smitten. Entranced. There was a painting done that very weekend that was a portrait of Sally in all her holiday finery. I think Duo had planned on giving it to her for Christmas… but Wufei saw it first and now it lives at his apartment.
There were sketches and studies and at first I thought it was going to be a theme for his next show. But then as suddenly as the painting had started, he switched gears and off we went to get our own Christmas tree.
That first year was… odd. We went to the local tree lot and bought something vaguely appropriate, had to buy a tree stand, and had to buy decorations, took the thing home and found a place for it to sit in the corner of the living room. But Duo… was discontent. I didn’t quite understand, and watched as he added a wreath to the front door and then later, one over the fireplace, then a string of lights around the bay window. I was starting to fear our place looking like Sally’s… somewhat expensive fears, as a house is quite a bit bigger than an apartment.
But as abruptly as the decorating started, it stopped and the sketching began again. Studies of individual tree branches, the individual ornaments hanging amid the lights. I think it was Christmas eve when he finally blurted it out… I had known he would eventually, I just hadn’t thought it would take him so long.
‘Christmas is kinda… morbid, don’t you think?’ he asked me, his sketch pad in his lap and when I glanced at the page, realized that I was seeing a progression of a festive pine tree losing it’s needles.
It all came clear. ‘I suppose it can seem that way,’ I allowed and waited to see the depth of what kind of morbid we were talking about.
‘I’ve been reading up on some of these traditions…. And some of them are just plain weird. The Yule log?’ he asked, checking with a glance to see if I had a clue what he was talking about.
I had to grin… he had been doing some serious research. ‘Not what you thought?’
‘Not really,’ he admitted, glancing at our tree again. ‘Old religions plundered for their ideas and subverting them as their own?’
Ok, so several layers of morbid. Going back several thousand years. And while sitting around our cozy, slightly festive living room with Duo talking about traditions and Winter Solstice and history wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening… it was also Christmas eve and we had a big day ahead in the morning. What was it Wufei was so fond of saying?
‘Not so keen on murdering a tree and decorating the corpse for the holidays?’
He burst out with an abrupt laugh and flipped his sketch pad shut, turning from the tree to come join me on the long couch. ‘I’m starting to understand Wufei’s side of things, I guess.’
‘Well, it’s not a complete waste for us,’ I reassured, thinking of the somewhat sad display of discarded trees in white bags all along the streets on the first trash day after Christmas. ‘We can at least use ours for firewood.’
‘True,’ he said, laying his head in my lap and gazing up at the ceiling, seeing things other than ceiling. ‘But it still seems kind of … wrong.’
I closed my book and tossed it aside, opting instead to play with the hem of Duo’s fuzzy flannel shirt. ‘There are other options…’ I began.
‘Artificial?’ he asked, wrinkling his nose in what I took to be a lack of enthusiasm.
The idea of having to store the thing the rest of the year didn’t much appeal to me either. Though I personally had done without a tree for all this time and really didn’t much care one way or the other, I could tell Duo was still enamored with the notion on some level, even if he wasn’t so crazy about the reality of the whole business.
‘There are such things as live trees, you know,’ I informed him and his gaze dropped from the nebulous depths of the ceiling to meet mine.
Really?’ he wanted to know, and I hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.
‘They’re much more expensive and we’d probably need to get one from a garden center and not just a tree farm,’ I warned him. ‘And do the research of types and planting it after the holiday….’
Watching his face, I could see the gears already going around and just petered out; I didn’t think he was really listening to me anymore anyway. As much as he’d never much observed the major holidays before we got together, traditions were becoming important to him. I was pretty sure I was seeing the birth of one.
He at least waited until after the current holiday to start his research, and we did use that first tree for firewood after all, with a few words said over the ‘corpse’ before we tossed that first log on.
The new tradition was started the very next year, and I had been right… it was more expensive and did require a great deal of research. We accidently killed the second tree, though I never let Duo realize I knew. He’d gone out while I was at work and replaced it, doing I have no idea what with the dying one. He was like a kid who broke the cookie jar for weeks, not losing the guilty look until I managed through lack of reaction to convince him I had not a clue.
How many years has it been? I could count the trees as they swept along the back fence line and tell you, but it doesn’t really matter. We’d started to bring them up the east side of the property and we had plenty of room to continue for… the rest of our lives.
That original tree stands tall and proud in the back corner and last year’s isn’t quite as tall as I am yet, the latest in line. They aren’t all the same, and the spacing allows for growth. Duo did his research well and there are as many sketches of our tree line as they are sketches of them in their holiday finery. There had ended up being a Christmas show.
I stood with the current tree in the wheel barrow, waiting for Duo to fetch the shovels out of the shed. Tomorrow is the first trash day after Christmas, and while the neighbors will be dragging their white-garbed bags of trees and pine needles to the curb… our tree will be nestled, sleeping, into the ground waiting for spring. I can’t help but smile.
A warm kiss landed on my cheek, bringing me out of my reverie, and I turned to smile at my mate.
‘Time’s wasting, Yuy!’ he informed me, stashing the shovels in the barrow beside the tree. ‘We have a tree to plant!’ Then with a wicked grin, he plopped himself in front of the tree and let me cart him and tree both to the end of the line.
Perhaps next year I might invest in a neighbor kid… the hole had been dug and waiting since before Thanksgiving , dirt carefully stored in the shed to keep it from freezing, hole insulted with leaves to keep it from freezing; not my favorite part of the tradition. Twining a single strand of left over tinsel on the root ball after we scored the burlap, was, even if I didn’t understand it. Maybe Duo thought one Christmas to awake and find all the trees had sprouted ornaments and lights all on their own.
I trundled him over the hard ground until he was complaining about my driving, and I threatened to dump him out all together, though with all his layers, I doubt he’d feel it… he really hates the cold.
We set to removing the leaves from the hole, setting them aside to use as mulch after the tree was in place. With much pomp and circumstance, of course, since this was Duo.
I always made sure he was the one to stand back ‘for perspective’ to make sure the tree was aligned the way he wanted it, while I took the job of kneeling on the cold ground. I don’t think he ever realized I was just saving him from the extra chill, or he would have insisted he take a turn. I didn’t know whether to be smug that I’d been pulling it off all these years, or mildly put out that he didn’t think I could tell a straight tree from a leaning one.
It didn’t really matter in the long run; we’d done this job so many times we had it down to a science that was all about minimizing the time in the cold. He fetched the bag of dirt from the shed while I raked the leaves together and into prime location. We both shoveled dirt, Duo pausing just long enough to deliver the jaunty salute and the ‘Don’t die, tree,’ that had become tradition.
Then he returned the shovels and the wheelbarrow to the shed while I got back down on the ground to press dirt and then leaves into place. I heard the shed door squeal shut and Duo’s quick steps crunching through the frozen grass… and then I heard the steps slow and I had to sigh.
‘Would you stop that?’ I implored, imagining what he was seeing and committing to ‘artist’s memory’.
‘Not my fault,’ he chuckled, his tone about as unrepentant as it
could get. I refrained from turning
to look at him and giving him that one angle that would supply an expression to go with… the rest of the image.
‘I can imagine the look,’ he said, as he came up next to the tree, and offered me a hand up.
I suppose I should just be grateful that since his first show, there were no sketches or paintings of me that were shown to anybody without my express approval. Though his ‘private collection’ was rather… large. Nothing erotic, but… I had a bit of trouble with pictures of myself seen through his eyes. It felt like… a lot to live up to.
I took the offered hand and we turned away from our latest Christmas tree, now just a run of the mill tree, and headed back to the house. Next came the part of the day that was my favorite part of the tradition. Duo would change out of his many layers of jackets and sweaters into the clothes I’d put into the dryer before we’d gone outside. I would make the hot chocolate and toast and we’d settle together on the couch. Duo would put on some short little Christmas cartoon, declaring it the official end of the season.
He’d be asleep with his head in my lap before the Grinch’s heart grew two sizes, the Bumble lost his teeth, or the dregs of his cocoa were quite cold. I’d pull the afghan off the back of the couch and cover him with it, half way watching the end of whatever he’d found to share. It didn’t really matter; we’d seen them all a dozen times.
What mattered was that he was warm, safe and well loved. And felt that love enough to be content and dreamless under my hand.
The television droned on in the background, but I spent that hour thinking about how far he’d come. Remembering those first few years together and comparing them to our latest year. How far we’d come.
Because… it just keeps getting better.