santa, butcher ii
They leave the tree out on the pavement. One January. Well. They leave it lying there until the weather turns for the better. Bringing flies and aphids. Ants.
Those needles go marching. One by one.
So one fine day in August I notice they have finally gotten round to lifting it. To be dropped in landfill at last. Odd, I feel, that its sudden absence bothers me more acutely than its amputation.
When the madness is fast upon me I follow the angle of it. Hacked-out root to naked prow. It seems to point straight at a basement flat I lived in thirty years ago. On the other side of the street. Painted lorry tyres, planters, nursing chrysanthemums where once there was nothing but dog leavings in front of the little window poking up from its recess.
A coincidence, granted, but it makes me start.
Each time I pass that tree I pause to look at the ogre\’s door. Incredulous I ever held a key to it. Vigilant. On the prowl for workshy elves. A lurking goblin.
Or Richard Dadd. Hyde to every passing Sikh.
I come awake in the middle of the night – this morning – on a memory so tangible I can smell it. It is Christmas 1966 or 7, and I am with my mother in a shop in Glasgow. The bell rings over the door and the heat is on us. An odour of tissue paper. Sawdust. There is a sentence of words strung together like parcels tied with string that is somehow important, but even if I could remember it I don\’t suppose I would write it down. It is not for sharing, perhaps, or it would mean nothing to you if I could. My father is not there with us. But he is close by. The man behind the shop counter is bored but feigns interest. My father died long before my sons were conceived. Like his own father before I came into this world. Bloody but mute.
I stand there, count five, waiting for something to happen. All the while listening to whispers behind drawn curtains. The kind of whispering which marks one as a nut.
Months later, a year perhaps, I stop again and say to my three-year-old son,
See. Daddy used to live in that house. A long time ago. Isn\’t that strange ?
My son looks at me as if I am still crazy. Pointing at the green door right beside it, deadly in earnest.
Well. A long time ago, when I was very old. I used to live there.
I look at him. He is not joking. One eyebrow raised, daring me to contradict him. Just like his mother. Brother. Me. Just like history repeating itself.