Angela snapped the camper door shut behind her as fast as she could. For a moment, she stood stock still and listened to the wind as it whistled around the trailer with the sound of a wounded animal. It was colder than a well digger’s ass out there and Angela was pretty sure that if her own ass didn’t recover some feeling soon, it would probably be lost forever. Compared to the thrashing wind, the inside of the camper was eerily still as if nothing had moved in years. The fierce daylight of a cloudless winter day filtered in through the windows, pitilessly illuminating the scuffs on the countertops, the chips in the mugs, the dents in the faux-wood panelling and the unkept bed.
But Angela had eyes for none of it. Twisting her face into a grimace, she pulled off her gloves finger by finger and winced as the material stuck to her skin. Sticky with tree sap, the gloves left her hands gummy and furred with lint. Angela scowled at them. Something about sap grated her insides and rose goosebumps on her skin. She had to get it off and quick! Huffing, Angela bent over to undo her salt-caked boots. The laces were hard to manage and the whole operation was made more difficult by her hair which fell uncooperatively across her face. Angela tried to blow it out of the way, but it flopped back into place instantly. Fuming, she soldiered on, sweaty now in her coat and grunting with effort. She wished she could at least tuck back her hair, but she refused to touch it until her hands were clean. Finally, with a moan of relief, Angela kicked off the boots and rushed across the cold floor to the cupboard where she stowed “the antidote” as she liked to call it.
Sap never bothered Errol. He even thought it smelled good. “Come on Angela,” he’d laugh whenever he caught her frowning at her hands. “We’re in the wrong line of business to hate sap.” Well, Errol’s an idiot, Angela thought to herself as she squeezed copious amounts of Fast Orange into her hands. She rubbed them together vigorously until all her cuts and scrapes stung. Then she rinsed away the stubborn bits of lint with what was left of her water bottle. Sighing, she wiped her hands on her snow pants and tugged off her neck warmer. That was much better. The victorious Angela raked a (clean) hand through her greying hair and bullied it into a bun.
It was still freezing in the trailer, but at least she was protected from the wind. After flicking on the electric heater, Angela unzipped her parka and squeezed herself onto the mint-colored kitchen booth. The plastic material made very unladylike noises as she shifted her weight, but no one was there to hear them. On the other side of the camper was the tiny bed on which Angela had spent the last two nights. Atop wrinkled sheets, several warm blankets were piled high, their folds bunching into mini mountain ranges. She needed every last one of those blankets—it only got so warm at night in the camper, even with the heater roaring in her ears. The bed also doubled as a couch, but she hadn’t bothered to fold it up. Who was she going to entertain anyway?
Angela felt very alone, but it was not an unpleasant feeling for her. She wouldn’t have minded sitting out here by herself all week if she hadn’t been sent to do it. She’d spent the last two days damning Errol’s curling tournament to the seventh circle of Hell. “It’s only one week to Christmas,” he’d said. “All the stragglers will be murdering each other to get ahold of our trees.” He’d said “trees” with as much pride as a father talking about his children. Sometimes he went as far as to call them his “saplings”. Angela hated that. “We need this money, Angela. You can manage this, right?” he’d asked. No, Errol. I’m an incompetent idiot. Didn’t you know that yet? That’s not what had come out of her mouth, of course, but she now wished that it had. She was so sick of being treated like a child. “Make sure you take care of those trees!” he’d warned her. “Cover them up every night with the tarp and bricks and make sure no one tries to get at them while you’re asleep. Got it?”
From her seat, Angela had a perfect view of the grocery’s parking lot framed between plaid green curtains. Nothing was moving out there. Bad luck for Errol, the temperature had decided to plummet to negative 27 degrees. No one in their right mind would come out today. Bad luck for me too, Angela reminded herself. After all, they were in this together. Still, here she was, having driven all the way to the city by herself, forced to spend the next week freezing her butt off in Errol’s Canyon Prowler which was about as insulated as a Coke can.
On the table in front of Angela was a pot of glue and huge pile of clothes pegs, their metal springs twisted off. Putting sap and curling tournaments and cold weather from her head, Angela settled into a comfortably blank mind frame. She let the familiar physical pattern govern her as she gently selected pegs from the pile and glued them together with practiced precision. Angela worked for a few minutes in the silence of the camper until she was holding a small rocking chair. Satisfied, she reached over and placed it on the windowsill to dry next to a dozen similar ones—the fruits of her sojourn in the trailer. She made sure that the new chair was aligned with the other ones before turning her attention back to the clothes pegs and starting anew.
Angela didn’t only make rocking chairs. She could manage tables, benches, and beds but the chairs were her favorite. The idea had come years ago from a crafts book she’d found when her niece Catherine was only five. They’d made a whole collection of furniture for Catherine’s Barbie dolls: kitchen, bedroom, living room, you name it. Catherine had eventually moved onto computer games, but Angela never stopped making chairs. She was so good at them now, she could make twenty in a row if no one stopped her. Hundreds of the small chairs were strewn about the house in all kinds of surprising locations and Errol would laugh whenever a new one surfaced. “Goddamn Angela, if you spent nearly as much time on the trees as you do on these chairs we’d be highfalutin’ millionaires!” She couldn’t really explain why she made them, there were no dolls to sit in them, no kids to play with them.
Only once, Angela has asked Errol if he wanted to have children. “Kids?” he’d said. “Oh, Ange. Between the trees and taking care of your mother, when would we find time to raise them? Besides, do you really want to be pregnant now? At our age, who knows what would happen. I could be infertile for all we know. Probably am.” He made it sound like impotence would’ve been God’s greatest gift to him, so Angela hadn’t pressed the issue.
Angela checked her watch: 2 o’clock and not a single tree sold. She gazed out on the parking lot again. A few clients were rushing in and out of the IGA but no one seemed to be out to get their trees. She watched as a mother and a child scurried from their car to the grocery store without so much as glancing at Angela’s stock. She was happy no one showed any interest.
Standing up from her clothes pegs, she walked over to the electric plug by the door. When she pulled it free, the Christmas lights rimming the windows went out. So did the lights on the display tree outside. No lights, no business; that seemed pretty clear to Angela. After all, she couldn’t control the weather and there was no point in standing outside if no one else was.
Errol wouldn’t have approved. He’d have been out there with a smile frozen to his face heckling people as they ran by. He’d have sold at least ten trees today already. To be fair, there weren’t that many left. With only one week to go until Christmas, the trees were pretty dry and needles fell off in handfuls every time anyone so much as grazed a branch. But that didn’t matter. A Christmas tree was a Christmas tree and people were ready to pay good money even for brittle ones like these.
This batch, Angela knew, had been cut in early November. She knew because she’d been there herself. The harvest was always her favourite time of year, way better than Christmas. Errol made a big show of it and insisted that all the neighbors come to the “pre-harvest ceremony.” People came from across the county to celebrate with them. Errol, with the help of Jack Lincoln, always cooked a massive barbecue which usually ended up being the last one of the year.
After the feasting was over, the whole crowd walked the groves to find the three very best trees of the lot. Errol tallied the votes with mock solemnity which got people laughing every year. When the top three trees were finally elected, the first would be sawed down by the oldest in the community, the second by the youngest (which usually got the help of their parents) and the last by Errol and Angela themselves. Then the three trees were placed in their front yard where they stood until New Year’s Day. Errol would conclude the tradition by climbing a ladder and draping a banner across the trees which read, “Evergreen Farms: Let us put the green in your white Christmas!” Every year, Farley O’Leary would comment on how this didn’t make any logical sense and every year Errol would reply “Nope, but it sure brings the bucks in.”
A knock at the door sent a metallic shudder through the trailer. Angela looked up, but didn’t move. The rapping became more insistent.
“Open the door,” came the sound of an annoyed voice. “I know you’re in there, Angela!”
There was no getting out of it now.
“Just a minute,” she cried as she extracted herself from the booth.
She opened the door onto a very cold Terry. His hair was slicked back with gel which looked to have frozen to his scalp. The idiot hadn’t even bothered putting a coat on over his IGA uniform. He shivered in his thin sweater which did very little against the wind. Angela took a second to relish how cold he looked.
“Why the hell aren’t your lights on?” he snapped.
“I thought I’d take a break for a little bit. No one’s out today anyways, Terry.”
“Sure there are! I’ve had about five customers in the last ten minutes ask me if you were open for business,” he yelled. “In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s almost Christmas. And your selling Christmas trees!”
Angela could tell that when Terry Barnes had been promoted to IGA manager, it had gone straight to his head. He was a young guy, probably just 23, but already responsibility had made him as bossy as a crotchety matron.
“Ok, I’ll turn them back on,” Angela conceded.
“You’re damn right you will!” He was off on a trip now. “It’s not like having you here is very profitable to us, so the least you could do is serve the clients.”
Angela had to smile at Terry’s use of “us”—as if he was a main link in the grocery chain.
“Oh come on, Terry. We’re paying you to rent out this spot.”
“Wrong. Your husband’s paying to rent this spot. And not very much either! And,” he went on. “You’re taking up twelve parking spaces to do it. At least when your husband’s here, he sells trees by the dozen!”
Terry had gone just a little too far. Who the hell does this asshole think he is?
“Listen, pal,” she spat. “It’s minus thirty-fucking-degrees! Nobody’s even looking at my trees. But, if it makes you happy, I’ll turn the lights back on so that no one gets lost. And, by all means, if any customers absolutely can’t find room to park, tell them they can just back their suburbans straight up my ass!”
Terry opened his mouth to protest, but Angela went on.
“And if you ever talk to me like that again, you’ll find out just how hard it is to pull a Christmas tree out of your hole!”
With that, Angela slammed the door in his face and watched him run back to the grocery store. She knew that she’d probably just lost them their spot at the IGA, but she couldn’t care less. Errol would’ve been appalled. “What the Hell, Angela?” she imagined he’d say. “All you had to do was turn on the goddamn lights!”
Angela picked up the plug from the floor and jammed it into the socket. The lights flashed on and then went off. Frustrated, Angela tugged the plug out and shoved it back in. Nothing, the lights stayed off. She did it again. And again. Finally, with an annoyed howl, she threw the plug against the wall. Not my fucking fault if the lights refuse to turn on! Then she marched back to the table and sat down in front of her clothes pegs.
She tried to settle back into her blank mind frame, but it didn’t work. Her hands were trembling. She kept hearing Errol’s voice in her head. “Knew I shouldn’t have let you go out there by yourself! Thought I could have a little break, but no. Angela always needs a babysitter! Now what’ll we do with the extra trees?” The trees! The trees! I don’t give a shit about your fucking trees, Errol! Angela grabbed a fist of clothes pegs and threw them across the trailer. They flew into the window and landed soundlessly on her bed.
Angela froze. The window glowed orange. She ran to the door and wrenched it open. The heat hit her so hard she had to cover her face with her arms. Angela barely believed what she was seeing. Her trees were ablaze. The fire ate through her stock, making the needles crackle and the sap hiss in agony. Her neatly piled trees had become a ranging bonfire. She stepped outside, dumbfounded. Instantly, her mind jumped to Terry, but as her eyes travelled from the trees to her trailer along the electric cable she realized what must’ve really happened. The lights in the display tree had short-circuited. How could she have missed that? Then, the display tree must’ve fallen on the others and set them alight.
So it was her fault.
Angela clapped a hand to her mouth. She stayed like that for a good while, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. Then, when she could contain it no longer, Angela burst out laughing.How’s that for firewood Errol? She laughed and laughed. She couldn’t stop. She stayed there in stitches until all that was left of her husband’s precious trees was ash.
Stéphanie Hornstein is presently completing her final year as an Art History major and a Creative Writing minor at Concordia University. Her current research interests center around the place of women and memory in amateur photography from the turn of the century. Increasingly, she is also drawn to the study of textiles, more precisely in the activist practice of yarn bombing.