Welcome to Brighton Bits, short short stories about the people, places and things in and around the fictional village of Brighton, New Hampshire.
This short short story is about Ella and Emma’s first Christmas alone. They are Claire’s mother and Aunt Emma before they were her mother and aunt in Christmas by Candlelight.
Oh, Christmas Tree
The sister had only been on their own for a few months that year when Christmas came along.
As twins, they were used to sharing things. Now eighteen, and adults in the eyes of the State who’d turned them away from their care, they now shared a tiny efficiency apartment that ate most of both their meagre salaries. Ella worked as a cashier at the local grocery store and Emma worked as a waitress at the local diner. They barely made enough to pay rent and often had to supplement their groceries at a local food pantry.
They’d scrounged up a turkey breast and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and were collecting all the colorful paper they could to make stars and garlands to decorate their space for Christmas.
Emma looked around at their handmade decorations and sighed, remembering the beautiful Christmases their mother created. “I wish we could afford a tree.”
“Just wait.” Ella smiled that knowing smile she had telling Emma she had a plan. “It’s all going to work out.”
“There’s only three more days until Christmas!”
Ella hung a pair of socks on the windowsill. In the window itself, she’d painted a cheerful fire with packets of ketchup and mustard Emma had brought home from the diner. If Emma closed here eyes, the fire almost looked real.
Emma had pinched pennies from her tips and put them aside to buy some of Ella’s favorite peppermint candies and a barrette to tie her hair back at work. She’d also bugged the cook at work to show her how he made the cinnamon buns that patrons couldn’t stop eating. Just yesterday, he’d given her a pan and a printed copy of the recipe. Their first Christmas alone wouldn’t be as sad as she’d thought. She couldn’t wait to surprise Ella on Christmas morning.
But on Christmas Eve, even with all they’d done to make their space cheerful, Emma missed the splendor of a tree. They’d always had one before—even at the home where they’d spent the last five years.
On Christmas Eve, after eating a dinner of leftovers from the diner, Ella said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
Emma looked out the window at the snow falling softly. “It’s cold.”
“It’ll be worth it,” Ella said with that teasing smile of hers.
When they reached the lot where an old man with a white beard and a buffalo plaid jacket sold trees, Ella stopped and perused the offering left. The old man glanced at them as he stowed unsold trees back into his trailer.
“How much for that one?” Ella asked, pointing at the most ragged tree. The only one, really, that would fit in their tiny space.
The man looked from Ella to Emma, to their hand-me-down coats and worn boots.
“It’s yours,” he said with a wave. “Merry Christmas!”
Emma and Ella carried the tree home, laughing all the way as if they’d won the lottery.
“Told you I’d get us a tree,” Ella said as they reached their apartment.
“How did you know?”
“What was he going to do with cut trees this late on Christmas Eve?”
And ever since that day, the sisters have gone all out for Christmas, making the holiday merry for themselves and others.