A couple of steps away from the tree gave Callie room to survey her handiwork. Lights twinkled, throwing prisms of reflected color from creases in the silver tinsel. She circled the seven foot evergreen and studied it with a critical eye, looking for bare spots still in need of attention. A tug on the braided garland here, an extra ornament there, and two hours from start to finish Callie breathed her approval into the room. “Just right.” Almost.
Callie’s gaze traveled from the tree, to the sofa, and the item she always saved for last. Her heart beat stumbled in her chest as she took a seat. She braced herself against a flood of emotions and pulled the worn tin box into her lap. Thirty five years had not blunted her grief. Thirty five years of hanging this final decoration on the tree had not made it easier. Thirty five years and her fingers still trembled as the lid came off the box.
Her hands were gentle as she unfolded soft blue flannel. Eleven months in storage had allowed the sterling silver to tarnish again. Callie shook her head and used the cloth to shine the ornament, rewarded as the metal brightened and began to reflect the red, green, and blue lights from the tree. A single tear plopped onto the surface as she worked. She ignored it, working the moisture into the surface where thousands of tears had gone before. Memories blurred Callie’s vision.
Their first Christmas as man and wife, just a few weeks short of their one year anniversary, opening their gifts from each other. Benton dancing a stuffed monkey across the top of her very pregnant belly. The piercing pain as she stretched to straighten the star on top of the tree. The shock of blood puddled at her feet. The assurances of her doctor that seven month babies could do “just fine”. Labor that lasted into the wee hours of the next day while Benton refused to leave her bedside. The precious hour she’d spent holding her baby as the light faded from his tiny blue eyes.
A shiver jerked her thoughts back to the present. The scent of pine had changed from pleasant to cloying. Callie shook it off and rose to face the tree. She stood on tip toe to place the final ornament high in the branches and gave the sterling silver bear a gentle nudge to bring the inscription into view. Gavin Wayne Stillman, December 26th. Her fingers traced the date. Just a day, less really. “Merry Christmas, Angel.”