The air seemed fresh on the porch with the scent of evergreen right outside the front door. Inside, the house closed-in, suffocating Jean. A month had passed since she had lost Gerald. Locking the door to memories overtaking her again today, she determined to tackle the household chores lying abandoned for too long.
She stood at the sink, the sound of the morning news keeping her company. Mechanically dishes were washed. The light knock and squeak of the door handle preceded her son’s sharp bark, “Mom. Just stopped by to see how you’re doing before going to work.”
“Hi, dear. Let me get the soap off my hands so I can give you a hug.” With great effort, she faked a half-smile. “Want a cup of coffee?”
“Well, maybe a quick one. I have an important meeting with my department managers in an hour.”
As they sat at the dining room table, Jerry glanced quickly around the familiar setting, noting that nothing had been changed. When he stood to leave, his eyes roved to the living room. The surprise hung heavily evident in his voice, “Mom! You still have the Christmas tree up! Well, that’s gotta come down. I mean this is April. What are you doing? What will people think?”
“It’s fine, Jerry. It’s not in the way of anything. I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ve gotta go. Sis or I will be by to get that down for you.”
“No, Jerry. I told you. It’s fine. I’ll take care of it,” she tried to reassure him as he walked hurriedly to the door concerned about making his meeting.
The phone rang a full five rings by the time Jean managed to reach the seat of a nearby chair and pull herself off the floor.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t home, mom.”
“Sorry, Julie, but I was feeding Bootsie. It’s easier to just sit on the floor while I visit and feed her than to bend over for extended periods; but, that does require quite a bit more time to get anywhere else.”
“How is the cat?”
“She’s doing fine. Making herself right at home, now that she’s gotten brave enough to come inside.”
“So, you’ve decided to call her Bootsie?”
“Well, I thought it was only appropriate. The little white areas at the ends of all of her paws was all I could see of her on those dark, cold nights when she was hiding under the spruce tree. I would tell your father that that little kitten with the white boots was under the tree, and then take some food out to her, bless her heart. I never thought she would survive those freezing temperatures.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying taking care of her, mom. Um, mom, the reason I called was because Jerry called me. He said he was over to see you and that you still have your Christmas tree up. He’s thinking that you’re having a nervous breakdown or something because of dad’s death, being alone, and everything.”
“Oh, Julie, for Heaven’s sake. I’m fine.”
“He said you had the tree up and lit. Is there some reason you still have the Christmas tree up?”
“Of course there’s a reason.”
“Would you tell me?”
“Well, I started to take it down in January, but your dad was so proud of it, I couldn’t. We got it on sale last year. Your daddy had a really hard time setting the old tree up, especially getting the lights on. He couldn’t bear to have to ask any of us to do it for him, so when we found this one, with the lights attached, well, it meant everything to him. He was able to put it up himself. Then, with his health failing so quickly in February, and losing him in March – I just didn’t notice it. I started to take it down again a few weeks ago, but when the mailman came to the door, I saw Bootsie run and hide under it – a safe place – like the spruce tree outside. I would rather think of my home as a ‘safe-place’ for the living, than a ‘show-case’ for inanimate things.”
“But, why was it lit?”
“My eyesight. That corner is pretty dark when it’s cloudy like that day. The lights help me see the plate I put her food on.”
“Why didn’t you explain all this to Jerry and keep him from imaging things?”
“Simple. He didn’t ask.”
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