Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Sellout (05/26/11)
TITLE: The Christmas Tree Salesman
By Michael Throne
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The sun had already set. He should be home by now. They should be eating Christmas Eve dinner as a family.
He had to sell more trees.
He’d been out of work for months. They were broke. He just didn’t know how they were going to make it.
He had to sell more.
The tree salesman stood as despair began to overtake him. He stared down at the pine needles scattered across the ground, then gazed up toward the heavens. And for the first time in years, he prayed. He prayed that he could feed his family. He prayed that he could pay the rent. Somehow….
As he prayed, snowflakes began to fall and a peace flowed over him, a peace he hadn’t felt in years.
He was amazed.
Just then, a car pulled in.
A woman got out and glanced around.
“Take a look,” he said. “I’ll give you a good price.”
“Oh, thank you,” replied the woman, examining a crooked tree. “But I’m not actually here to buy a tree.”
“See, a family I know didn’t have money for a tree this year.”
“And here it is, almost Christmas….”
“So you thought…?”
“Look, lady, I’m not out here freezing just to be giving my trees away!”
He hadn’t meant to be so abrupt. “I’m sorry.”
The car door slammed. A moment later, the woman returned with a plate of cookies and a big smile. “Here,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Now, just wait….”
“No, sir,” replied the woman. “You enjoy these. And if you have a tree left over, please, set it there in your shed. And if you don’t, well, no hard feelings.”
She put the plate down. “Merry Christmas!” she said and walked away.
The salesman paced impatiently. There wasn’t another car on the road. He glanced up angrily. He was tempted to just go home.
But he couldn’t. He had to sell more trees.
He had to.
He had to.
And then it started.
A minivan pulled in. Children raced from tree to tree.
“Merry Christmas!” they yelled.
Then more cars came and more. Trees began selling. A tall sparse tree sold, then a short fat one, a crooked tree with low, swooshing branches sold, then an off-green tree that had lost too many needles, a lopsided tree sold, then a practically one-sided tree with ugly brown patches. Nice trees, ugly trees, trees that had no business being trees, they all sold.
And the customers said, “Merry Christmas.”
The tree salesman glanced up to unexpectedly discover he had only two trees left, and one customer. A woman was holding up a tree, a crooked tree. The salesman realized with a start that it was the tree the cookie lady had been looking at.
He glanced at the other tree. It was pathetic. He couldn’t leave her such a poor tree. He just couldn’t.
He spoke up. “I’m sorry; that tree’s taken.”
“Taken? What do you mean taken?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I kind of promised it to someone.”
“You kind of promised it to someone?” The woman was incredulous.
The tree salesman didn’t know what to say. Finally, he blurted out, “Look, I’ve been out of work for the last six months, but there’s a family who’s probably worse off than I am and I’m going to help them. And I don’t care if it doesn’t make any sense, that’s what I’m going to do!”
He finished and felt a bit stupid.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I just can’t sell you that tree. But look, take that other tree, on the house. It’s not so bad.”
The lady stared at the tree.
Then she looked at the salesman curiously. “You know, I almost think we were supposed to meet like this, don’t you?”
“I’m opening a Food Pantry in town.” She pulled out a card. “Folks are hurting pretty bad, nowadays. We need volunteers.”
She smiled. “We have work to do.”
The salesman sat in his chair and watched the snowflakes drifting down. He marveled. In all the world, on this Christmas Eve, God chose to perform this minor miracle for him. He felt truly honored and blessed.
He glanced at the woman’s card.
She was right and he knew it. He did have work to do.
Somehow, he had known it all along.
The salesman picked up a sugar cookie and took a bite.
It was wonderful.
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