CXVIII. In the Christmas Tree

December 22, 2013 — Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed parts of The Nutcracker Ballet music while riding on a train across Europe.

I composed myself to buy Christmas stamps while walking a few blocks across town to the United States Post Office. I dreaded meeting our town version of The Mouse King, The Post Office Witch. She works as a clerk behind the counter, not to be pried loose. I have been told she has risen to celestial status in the civil servants union ranks. So, she remains my nemesis. I don’t know why she picks on me. I went there with nothing but a $20 bill one time to buy a few forever stamps. She dressed me down, commanding me never to come in there again without a credit card or exact change. The next time, I arrived with small bills and a pocketful of coins. She made me lay the currency on the counter rather than counting it out for her as I handed it to her. So I set it in a heap. Her reaction upon gathering it and tediously counting it was a mild {{{   }}}, for I needed only a penny change. She laid that on her scale so that I had to reach across the counter to scrape it up.

This time I waited until two in the afternoon to embark on my expedition. Fewer shoppers are out at that hour, typically, and I didn’t want to wait in a long line. I steeled myself and entered. There was a long line. In that situation, when two clerks are working, for me it’s like drawing the lottery – I always get The Post Office Witch and not the clerk with the soft snowflake personality. Today The Witch was absent. She was probably at home pulling needles out of the branches of her tree. Two other clerks stood behind the counter. Two women stood before the counter with a platoon of 20 to 30 meter-length tubes, the kind in which you would insert rolled blueprints. Each tube had to be weighed independently and affixed with a sticker. The postmistress was helping one clerk who wasn’t much taller than the tubes. We waited in line, observing the slow-motion tableau.

“What’s in those?” the young woman behind me asked me.

“Those are maps for Santa and his reindeer so they’ll be able to find their way and not miss anybody,” I said.

Finally, the women mailing the tubes revealed that their business organization was mailing 36-inch calendars to their clients. I was tempted to ask for one, since I have yet to find a good wall calendar for 2014. But, I remained silent. I bought my handful of stamps, affixed them to my Christmas cards, dropped the cards into the box and walked home.

Out the upstairs window, I spotted a turkey in my backyard. A wild turkey confronted my brother at the edge of the woods behind his house a few years ago. “They’re pretty big,” he said. This wasn’t that big, I decided. It was a turkey vulture. What had it just eaten? A flock circled our area that day. For several days thereafter, I saw no squirrels. I saw a squirrel today, so at least one survives. Maybe the vulture ate the carrion of a big mouse that had gotten shot.

Speaking of big things, as I told in a previous post (“The House of Seven Staircases”), I carried the four heavy, unwieldy sections of my artificial, eight-foot Christmas tree laden with cones down out of the attic and assembled it in the living room. Then I strung the lights and lit them. I climbed the ladder to place my angel on top. Naturally, at this stage, the ladder was in the corner, behind the tree, and, until I was done, I wasn’t about to move it and topple the grandfather clock. As I reached across the tree to find a suitable branch for my angel, I held onto the ceiling while the shadows cast by the lights of the wobbling tree made the ceiling appear to be spinning. My hasty placement of the angel makes her look tipsy. I probably should have drunk a glass of wine first….

My minimal decorations this year extend to a garland of little clear lights I strung up the staircase railing. I like the soft light, especially on these dark December days.

After my enjoying a pleasant week illuminated by this corps of soft lights, all of a sudden they flared brightly and then burned out, like a supernova. It was spectacular.

I stood my Nutcracker soldier beneath my tree in hopes that the Sugar Plum Fairy will alight in my dreams, In the Christmas Tree, the enchanting part of The Nutcracker Ballet tableau where the Christmas tree grows. She will zap my Nutcracker with her magic wand and transform him into a real prince, remarkably resembling Mikhail Baryshnikov. In Christmases past, this hasn’t happened. And now, he’s just standing there beside the bottle of Red Zinfandel a friend gave me. He’s waiting for me to crack it open, probably.

My friend who gave me the bottle of Red Zin cooked dinner for me at her 1870s home last evening. She is Wallie, the Bichon Poo’s human; he is the dog I sometimes Wallie-sit for. My friend and I met at a store downtown where she was purchasing a Christmas present. Then, we walked to her home together. Wallie barked happily as we stepped onto her front porch, arriving at her door. My friend unlocked the door and let me go first.

We opened the door and Wallie, seeing me, was like:

{{{   }}}. “You’re not her.”

And then he saw his human. His expression of relief was palpable. “I am glad to see you,” he seemed to say, “but she comes first.”

Later, he came up to me in the kitchen while my friend was cooking dinner and I explained to him in some detail why I couldn’t give him other than the barest perceptible piece of cheese, because if he ate too much of it, it wouldn’t be good for him. He looked me in the eye, listened intently and then, continuing his gaze, seemed to be ruminating on how best to word his reply.

My friend and I, Wallie, and her two cats – Wallie and Gilmore, the big orange tabby, have issues with one another – enjoyed an enchanting evening in her historic walnut paneled front parlor in flickering sconce light and candlelight in front of the live, fat Christmas tree, as tall as mine. She and her daughter had cut it down. She had decorated it with colored LED lights. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was good and we poured more. I asked her if the tree came with lights on it. The hour grew late. The evening was balmy and I walked home along the Victorian red brick sidewalk. What magical gifts.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and may you find in your stocking an enchanted 2014.

—Samantha Mozart