“What Mothers Do” by Bill Butler
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Bill Butler witnesses magic.
As a five-year-old, I didn’t know how poor we were. We had just moved to Manhattan and knew no one in the city. My father would not be home that Christmas Eve; he was in the army serving overseas. My mother, in her twenties then, and I worked all afternoon making tree decorations. The kitchen table was crowded with stars, globes, and animals made of shiny paper. There were at least a dozen feet of a chain made of colored paper loops.
She explained that we would get a Christmas tree later in the evening. That’s when the prices for them usually dropped. Just after sunset we bundled up against the chilly Manhattan night and walked four blocks to a parking lot where they sold Christmas trees.
“How much is your cheapest tree?” my mother asked the man standing at the lot entrance.
He held his gloved hands over the fire in a steel barrel. His brown skin glowed in the flickering. “Thirty dollars, miss.”
Her smile disappeared. “Nothing for less?”
The man picked up a small tree branch and dropped it into the fire. “I just work here, miss. I can’t change the price.”
The sudden melancholy in my mother’s face made me sad.
The man looked down at me for what felt like a long time; it probably was only moments. He pointed at a mound of branches the size of a car in the corner of the lot. “See that pile of cuttings? Behind it is a tree that we can’t sell. You can have it for free.”
“Thank you,” my mother said. She nudged my shoulder.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
We hurried to the back of the mound. There it was: a scrawny thing just a little taller than me leaning against the wire fence. It had few branches—almost a ghost of a tree.
My mother shouted to the man, “Can we take some of these branches also?”
He waved his arm. “Take it all if you want to, miss.”
I hauled the tree, and she carried a bundle of branches. We set the tree in the corner of the living room, away from the radiator. I couldn’t imagine how we could hang many decorations on a sparse tree.
She was smiling again. “Go to sleep now. Santa will decorate the tree for us.”
I woke at dawn and rushed into the living room. To my amazement, the tree had filled out. I couldn’t even see the trunk anymore. It had a beautiful natural shape. The decorations glistened in the morning light. The chain of blue, red, white, and green paper draped gracefully around the tree. I almost didn’t notice the presents wrapped in shiny paper under the tree.
Days later, curiosity made me examine the tree closely. My mother had used wire from clothes hangers to somehow fix discarded branches to the almost nude tree trunk. She had carefully trimmed it with scissors to get its perfect shape.
A few weeks later, my father returned from overseas. When I told him about the tree, something happened that I didn’t understand at the time. Tears filled the eyes of that burly soldier.
Since then, I have seen many wonderful holidays. That Christmas remains my favorite.
BILL BUTLER was born and raised in Manhattan and didn’t leave until age seventeen, when he joined the army. He returned to New York years later and worked as a private detective while earning a few degrees. He eventually settled in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has been writing for several years, but only recently started submitting for publication. His three novel-length manuscripts are currently going through the seemingly never-ending revision and editing process.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 3, 2015
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