On Friday night after work, Dad came in through the door, wrestling with a five-foot Nordman Fir wrapped in plastic mesh. It slid out of his arms and he dropped it in the hallway.
’Don’t scuff my paintwork,’ said Mum.
Kylie and Kieron appeared, as if by magic. ‘Dad, Dad,’ said Kylie. Can we put it up?’
‘Let me get my coat off,’ said Dad. ‘Helen, get us a cup of tea, will you? I’m parched.’
Coat off, tea drunk, Dad contemplated the spiky green monster in the hall. ‘Helen,’ he asked. ‘Where’s the stand?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Mum. ‘That’s your department.’
Dad embraced the tree, an overweight and unsteady dance partner, and lugged it up the stairs. Once there, he slotted it into the metal tube and pushed and pulled to get it approximately upright. Then he sat down on the sofa, breathing heavily.
‘Dad, Dad,’ said Kieron. ‘Can we decorate it?’
‘Not tonight,’ said Dad. There was a film on.
‘Let’s do it in the morning when we’ve got more time.’
’There’s no hurry. The decorations are in a box in the cupboard under the stairs. They’re not going anywhere.’
‘Shall we have an angel on top this time?’ said Mum, coming into the room to assess the damage. ‘Or a fairy, or a star?’
‘Let’s decide tomorrow,’ said Dad. ‘I know exactly where they are.’
In a little box in the cupboard under the stairs, the three ornaments were talking.
‘Who’s going on top this time?’ said Star. ‘It should be me. I’m a celebrity. It’s hardly going to be you, is it Angel?’
Angel closed her eyes and prayed.
‘Oh for Christ’s sake,’ said Star. ‘Knock it off, can’t you?’
But Angel said nothing.
‘What do you think, Fairy?’
‘I think she lacks a certain sparkle,’ said Fairy. ‘Not like me. I bring zing to every occasion.’
‘Well,’ said Star, ‘There are too many of us in this box. Let’s chuck her out.’
‘Kill her, you mean?’
‘Why not? She’ll go straight to heaven.’
Laughing, Star and Fairy grabbed Angel by her gauzy wings, prised open the lid of the box, and chucked her out. They watched her disappear into a mass of tangled tree lights, used party-poppers and superannuated lametta. ‘That’s the last we’ll see of her,’ said Star, stepping back from the parapet with Fairy.
‘You know, I’ve always wanted to get to know you better, Star,’ said Fairy, flicking back her blonde acrylic hair and looking deep into his eyes.
‘Is that because I’m sexy, strong and incredibly talented?’
’No, it’s because you’re famous.’
Afterwards, as Fairy lay naked beside him, Star rudely shook her. ‘I’m afraid you’ve outlived your usefulness. Look at you. You’ve lost your wand. Your skin is like plastic. I don’t even believe you can do magic.’
‘I can, you beast.’
‘Well magic your way out of this.’
With that, he squeezed her tiny waist until she stopped breathing, then impaled her on one of his points. Then he chucked her out of the box too and went to sleep.
‘I don’t get it,’ said Dad. ‘I could swear all three of them were there last time I looked.’
‘Oh,’ said Mum. ‘That’s a disappointment. Never mind kids, the star is nice too. Look at it, all red and shining.’
Dad picked the star out of the box and lifted it up to the top of the tree, where he tried to fasten it. It couldn’t be done. Pine needles stabbed his hand as he grappled with the shiny object. It was almost as if the tree was rejecting it.
And after all that, the star would not stand up straight. It leaned forward, or back, or to one side, like a glitter-encrusted ‘before’ in a Viagra ad.
‘Right you fucker,’ shouted Dad. ‘You’ve fucking had it.’
Kylie and Kieron looked at each other and smirked. Mum felt obliged to tut.
The star ended up in the pedal bin in the kitchen.
‘Never mind, kids,’ said Dad, ‘Let’s carry on doing the tree and I’ll get another one for you tomorrow.’
But as they pulled at the tangled tree lights, the used party-poppers and the superannuated lametta, they found something they thought was lost. The angel had her eyes closed and was praying.
‘She’s lovely,’ said Kylie, and for once Kieron didn’t disagree.
‘Yes, she is,’ said Mum.
‘She’ll do,’ said Dad, with no great enthusiasm. He lifted her gently up to the top of the tree, where she stayed, perfectly upright and apparently weightless, until the 12 days were over and she went back in the box, just the way she liked it. On her own.