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Tuesday

Liberating by Jo-Anne Rosen

Dan’s worked out a search and cap­ture mis­sion to the largest tree lot in Oak­land, where one tree won’t be missed. He’s done the pre­lim­i­nary recon. Gina will be look-out. He’ll snatch the tree and tie it to the roof of the car. 

We don’t need a Christ­mas tree,” she says. “Where would we put it?”

Shit, babe, you begged for a tree. I promised you one.”

You didn’t say we’d be steal­ing it.”

We’re lib­er­at­ing it from the one per­cent,” he says. 

You don’t like Christ­mas much, do you?” The arms fold­ed across her chest are thin but wiry, so are the long legs she twines around him every night. Her face is a fine-boned oval. She’s like a Madon­na with spiky hair, gen­tle yet tough. He’d do any­thing for her, except pre­tend to like Christ­mas.

He hates it. He nev­er got one thing he asked or prayed for. In his fam­i­ly, every­one got drunk, even San­ta. But that wasn’t as bad as Christ­mas in the Al Hajarah desert, 110 degrees and sap­py jin­gles over the PA.

Christ­mas start­ed in the Mid­dle East,” she protests. 

There’s no fir trees in the desert,” he says. “There’s fleas and sui­cide bombers.”

She wraps her arms around him then, as if he might jump out of his skin. This is how she holds him when he thrash­es awake from dreams, slip­pery with sweat.

Alright,” she sighs, “I’ll help you lib­er­ate the damn tree.”

 

 

They don black sweaters, pants and ski caps and at mid­night dri­ve off in his Hon­da Civic. He cuts the engine a block away and it coughs and shud­ders into a park­ing space on a res­i­den­tial street behind the tree lot. There’s an open­ing in the fence just wide enough to slip through; he’s made sure of that. And there’s cloud cov­er.

Keep to the shad­ows,” he whis­pers. Gina’s shoul­ders trem­ble. “What’s wrong?” he asks. 

So cloak and dag­ger,” she splut­ters.

Shh­hh.” He hears foot­steps and puts a hand over her mouth. “Heads up, troop­er,” he hiss­es, then drops to the ground and pulls her with him. A flash­light beam cir­cles over their heads. 

The foot­steps fade. It’s dark again. They skulk along the fence.

I know you’re there,” an angry voice booms. 

Again they drop to hands and knees, crawl behind a large trash bin, peer out. They are still nowhere near a tree. The guard is maybe fifty feet away when the moon breaks free from the cloud bank, and they see the man clear­ly, huge as a full­back yet light on his feet. His skin is ebony. Dan sighs inward­ly. This is not the one per­cent.

Gina clutch­es his hand. She mouths, “Let’s go.”

He shakes his head, points toward the street and his car. You go, he ges­tures.

She hes­i­tates, wait­ing for cloud cov­er, then kiss­es him and glides away with­out a fum­ble, as if she had a nightscope. He has to admire that; she’d have made a crack infantry­man.

Dan stud­ies the night watch­man, his wary stance, the tilt of his head and the way his uni­form stretch­es across the broad back. It isn’t going to be pos­si­ble to filch a tree under this man’s nose. He can feel his own heart pound­ing, he’s sweat­ing like he just did a hun­dred push-ups. If he’s caught, he’ll spend Christ­mas in jail. But he’s not going home tree­less. He leaps up sud­den­ly.

The man whirls around, eyes glit­ter­ing. The flash­light shines into Dan’s face.

What’re you doing here?” 

Good evening, sir,” Dan puts out a hand. “I’m Cor­po­ral Foley, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 113th Field Artillery Reg­i­ment. Retired.”

The guard ignores the hand, but his face soft­ens. “State your busi­ness, sol­dier,” he says.

 

 

Gina is doz­ing in the back seat when he throws the tree on top of the car. She wakes as he pass­es the rope in through the win­dows, and gets out and helps him tie a knot.

How did you do it?” she mar­vels.

I told him my wife real­ly wants a Christ­mas tree and we’re flat bust­ed and can’t find work, so he gave it to me.”

Your wife?”

He shrugs that off and instead tells her the guard had been a mas­ter sergeant in Viet Nam, and they’d sat down and talked about their respec­tive wars and what a crazy-mak­ing bitch war is. 

‘You nev­er get over it,’ is what he said.”

Well, that’s cheery news.”

 

 

It takes a while to fig­ure out where the tree should go, not that there are many options in their tiny base­ment stu­dio. Fur­ni­ture has to be moved around. They don’t have a prop­er basin. Dan finds two flat pieces of wood, nails them in an X and then nails the tree to that.

Poor tree,” Gina sighs. “Nailed to its cross and dying of thirst. But it smells won­der­ful, doesn’t it?”

Dan takes a joint out of his shirt pock­et. “Mer­ry Christ­mas, sweet­ie.”

He lights it up. Gina gets out pop­corn seeds and pops a huge bowl full so they can dec­o­rate their tree with strings of pop­corn. But then they get the munchies and Dan eats most of it before she can thread a sin­gle skin­ny string. She drapes it over three branch­es.

It’s a min­i­mal­ist tree,” she says, her smile radi­ant.

He takes her in his arms and they fall into the bed, laugh­ing. Hours go by or min­utes. After­ward, he can’t restrain his joy. “Oh Jesus, oh god, I love you, babe,” he says. “I could fuck you to eter­ni­ty and back.”

You just did,” she says. And after a dreamy pause, “I could have your baby, Dan Foley, I real­ly could.”

He says noth­ing. Where is that com­ing from, he won­ders. Isn’t the god­damn tree enough?

 


This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the sum­mer 2013 issue of the Adroit Jour­nal (Issue 7).

4 comments

From Guy M Biederman

Love this sto­ry!

From Nancy Bourne

Great sto­ry. This Jo-Anne Rosen is a first rate writer.

From Suzka

Nailed Jack on the end­ing..

From Sam Silva

i loved this sto­ry!

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