Shishir 2022 Stories -Taylor Thomas


Bah Humbug
By Taylor Thomas


It is dark. So dark that when something crawls across me, I can only assumeas to what it is. Truthfully, I should be used to this darkness. For several months a year I wait patiently in the closet or the outdoor shed until they need me again. This year they find me buried deep in the closet and I can feel the dusty cardboard box I lie in shake gently as I am lifted off the floor and taken into the living room.

Suddenly one half of the box opens and finally I can see again. You forget how wonderful seeing the world around you is until you are constantly kept in darkness. A face is looking down at me and they begin the slow work of assembling my branches, opening the other half of the box, and slowly taking each item out. There are ornaments, some older than I am, and dusty string lights. A spider scrambles out of the box without her notice and hurries through the carpet to find a new home.

I cannot keep time, so I do not know how long it takes but eventually I am put together – each branch fluffed and dazzling with twinkly, rainbow lights. Each ornament has been applied and Jolly Rancher flavored candy canes weigh the tips of my limbs down, but I love it. Being used, in any capacity, beats waiting in a box.

Hours or minutes tick by and soon the house smells like food and the people in the house have begun to shower and make themselves presentable. I attempt to puff myself as much as I can in hopes that I look my best for the family members to arrive. This is my favorite part: the house full of people, soft music playing in the background, and presents buried underneath me. I’ve been the tree for this family for many years (they cannot afford a new one thankfully) and I have watched each of them grow up, some of them having children of their own.

Before I know it, the house is flooded with children racing around, adults with stiff smiles pasted on their faces, and something burning in the oven begins to fill the air. This year I am hopeful that nothing will go wrong save for some burnt food.

I watch as the children dive underneath my branches and shake each box, giggling and attempting to figure out what they have received this year. This is the most gifts I have ever seen this family produce. Like I mentioned before, they aren’t the richest family, nor are they the nicest to each other, but they come together once a year like every other family and they make nice for a few hours like the holidays demand.

The parents, clearly wanting to end the night as soon as possible, decide opening presents early is the way to do it. Gifts are passed around and everyone is surprised that there is an abundance – gift cards, toys, and cash flow freely this year – and for once, everyone seems genuinely pleased with the gifts they have been given. Everyone is smiling, genuinely, and it is breathtaking. It makes a year of being in a box almost worth it.

Maybe because of this stroke of good fortune they all decide to stretch the night out further – the kids race upstairs to play whatever games they play together – and the parents sit around the couches, schmoozing and catching up. The toys are taken upstairs by the children, but the gift cards and cashare abandoned near the tree and no one, but me, seems to notice a figure lurking close to the tree, waiting quietly.

This person, agirl in her late teen years, possibly a young adult by now, is not someone I look forward to seeing through my tree limbs. This family in general is not an ideal one for a tree like meto be paired with. They reek of disappointment and exude anger.More often than not, family events end with fights or fake replies of, “We’ll stay in touch!” However, they are my family, and I their Christmas tree, and I can’t help but look forward to seeing them each year. Except this one.
This girl is given more gifts each year and yet nothing pleases her. She bullies her single mother and runs the house, avoiding responsibility as if it is her job. The mother, the woman who often puts me together, enables this behavior and year after year I witness this girl become a monster. She takes pride in teasing the younger children and pretending to be sweet and innocent in front of the adults. Maybe because the family knows that she is so despicable they all avoid paying attention to her. Maybe they all are pretending that for one night she isn’t as callous and spoiled as she really is.

But I can’t, and won’t, pretend. I feel her getting closer to me (she believes she is sneaky) and slowly, but not slowly enough, she begins leaning down to snatch up items that do not belong to her. First to go are the gift cards – and there are many. I watch as she pockets them, her eyes quickly glancing around the room to make sure she is not caught. It is no surprise she takes from the children first – they are easy victims; But she even takes from the adults as well. To me this reeks of familiarity. She must know there are no true penalties to be bold enough to steal from adults.

Next is the cash. The families have thoughtfully put the cash in little Christmas themed pockets that I found particularly adorable, and she, without any remorse it appears, takes the money out and pockets it as well.

I want to scream until the ornaments fall onto her. I want to shake my branches furiously into her eyes. I want someone to notice.

No one does.

She continues her ransack of the gifts and when she is finished, she announces to her mother that she is taking the car and going out. I wonder if the mother knows what her daughter has done. I wonder if she feels it in her body, like a phantom limb, when her daughter acts out. Each year this girl does something cruel, but this is the most she has ever taken and my stomach, if I had one, is in knots at the injustice. I spend a good amount of time wondering while I wait for someone to notice what she has done.

When they do notice, quite a bit of time after the girl has left and come back, they realize what she has done with her purloined goods:she has bought a cell phone. I imagined anger. I imagined shouting. I imagined punishment. That was silly of me.

Instead, this family that I wait for each year in my dark, dusty box, pretends everything is okay. They pretend that this girl does not have serious problems that need addressed. They pretend that they don’t secretly hate this girl and her mother who does nothing to stop her. They attempt to continue with the night, whispering to the children that, “We’ll get your gifts back”, knowing that they won’t but not wanting to turn the situation into a “thing”.

I thought the children would cry – losing gifts is a big deal to them – but it’s as if they all knew what to expect when entering this house: disappointment.I watch as the night continues, with less enthusiasm than before, as if each family member is walking on eggshells, praying for the night to be over.

Then I notice that I am not alone anymore. One of the children, a little brown girl with pigtails, is standing near me.She is one of the children that I enjoy watching, though she rarely says how she feels to her family. She is passionate and fiery, but often in secret, as if worried her family will extinguish this personality trait if they find it. In this moment in time, in which my anger knows no bounds, this little girl is gazing at my lights, and she is quiet, but I observe that her teeny fists are balled up at her sides and they are shaking.

She never says a word, and no one pays any attention to the small girl who is attempting to contain her frustration, but I can tell she wants to scream just as loud as I want to.

In the end, she doesn’t, and I am simply a tree, so I can’t. Instead, she takes a few deep breaths, puts a smile on her face, and then runs to play with the other children. And I, a Christmas tree, continue to shine my lights, hold up my trinkets, and dread the moment I am placed back into the box.


Taylor Thomas is a biracial & bisexual emerging writer from Indiana. Her work has been published in Bayou Magazine, So to Speak Journal, The Indianapolis Review, root and branch, Wingless Dreamer, and Indianapolis New Voices. Her piece, Consequences Often Unheard Of, will be published by Salt Hill Journal in 2022. She was selected as a Hurston/Wright Fellow in 2022 and she received the Outstanding Literary Essay award from Voices of Diversity in 2021. She lives in South Bend, Indiana with her husband, Herschel, and her dogs, Bella & Buster.


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