I looked out of the window at the empty street. It seemed as though I had been sitting here for days and days. For a while, I’d dozed off but not for long, I’m sure. Nothing in the street had changed. Glancing back at the room, I could barely comprehend that this was my home; it looked so different with all this adornment. The tree in the corner, the shining, glimmering strings draped on every wall. When he was home, the lights on the tree would flash, calling and repelling me at one and the same time as the fragile trinkets reflected the tree’s distress signals. When he left, he would turn the lights off and warn me to leave the tree alone. What exactly did he expect me to do to it?
It was decorated to his taste and his alone! Although I’d tried really hard to help, he simply couldn’t share the task, criticising everything I did, until he actually got angry and I took myself out of his way. In my head, I could imagine how it would look with my ideas as well as his: instead of his, even. The decorative birds were all clustered at the top, too close together instead of spread around with some in the middle or near the bottom. It made no sense! He’d placed festive chocolates all over it and then changed his mind and removed them, leaving it looking quite bare in patches.
Decorating the tree was one of the many ways in which he would let his desire to control everything slip through. He decided what and when we ate, what time we went to bed, when I could go out. It had been so long since I had made a decision beyond when to pee that I wasn’t even sure whether I could fend for myself now and I didn’t expect I’d get a chance to find out anytime soon.
The street was still empty and rivulets of rain were racing to the bottom of the window pane as I leaned on the glass and sighed. My breath misted up a little oval on the window and my nose cleared a streak of it as I shifted slightly. I looked back at the tree. I wondered how much he would notice if I just spaced out a few things to hide some bare patches. He hadn’t taken a picture of it, had he? Would he really pay that much attention to the exact layout of the odds and ends that were spread over it?
Walking towards the tree, I studied the patterns made by the strings, the lights, the balls, the branches. The tree was really tall, though. Too tall for me to reach all of it, but I could make a few adjustments here and there. I reached out and felt the smooth surface of a golden-coloured metallic bell and it jingled sending a simultaneous chill and thrill right through me. For some reason, I felt as though he had heard and considered the dire consequences of messing with his ordered life. Backing away from the tree, I sat once more and just looked.
I wished the lights were on; the tree looked so other-worldly when it was lit up, but the trouble with living with somebody who doesn’t count you as an equal is that they never feel the need to let you know when to expect them back. He could be home in a minute, he could be home in an hour or it could be more. It was still light outside though and he often came back after dark so as I looked at the tree that had already caused so much trouble between us it was just too great a temptation to resist.
The switch for the lights was behind the tree so I slipped carefully around the side. Turning it on wasn’t as easy as I had expected and I pushed at it twice, three times with no effect. What was the matter? He didn’t seem to have any trouble doing it, so why should I! I struggled in a little closer, but something brushed my ear and, without thinking, I lashed out. I felt a wire catch on my foot and tried to jump sideways but a branch scraped my back. In a panic, I struck at every moving part that came near me and heard my own cries as I swiped at the cascade of items that seemed to be coming at me from every side.
With a slam and a shattering of glass, the tree stretched across the room. As a lone bauble bounced onto the wooden floor and rolled toward the door, it opened and I looked up into his eyes. There was a moment of silence before he yelled “I knew you’d do something like this, you stupid bloody moggy!”