The Tree

Mark J. Chiusano

We were heading out to buy a Christmas tree off Knapp Street. "I thought we were going to Marine Park," my brother said. "Tuh," responded my mother. "We never go there," she said. "We haven't been there in years," she amended: "They're too expensive." I thought I remembered always going to Marine Park to get our Christmas tree—sawdust on the ground, a pile of old cut-up trees in the corner of the parking lot, which would stay there until spring, when the Parks Department trucked them away: same weekend they dragged the baseball fields—but I guess we hadn't been there in a year or two, and three's a pattern for my mother, a math teacher. My father just kept driving. "Is this Katy Perry," he asked Z100 Radio Station.

Avenue R forks like an ornament hook, when you take one out of the box from the basement, and we went left onto Gerritsen. You follow that far enough, you get to the end of the world, where Brooklyn drops into the water, where the houses are small and waterproof. We used to play baseball there, my brother and me, in socks too big for our feet. Across the street from the diamond is the library, where I went a few days ago, but they didn't have power outlets next to the desks, for laptops. I sat on the ground against a bookshelf for a while, not filling out job applications, looking at end-of-year news wrap-ups on the important things people had done in other places. I went home and sat at the dining room table and waited for someone to get back from work.

The tree was easy this year. They didn't have many left. "Got any Fraser Firs?" my mom asked. "We always buy Fraser Firs," she confided to the tree attendant in an elf hat. "Good trees," he said, the felt ears jangling. "Every year," she said. "What about this little one," my dad asked, pointing at a Charlie Brown-sized one. It was small and squat, wilting, in the warm unseasonable weather.

We got the tree tied on top of the van, this old green minivan we've had for a long time, and we started driving back. It was all easier than last year, or was it the year before, or the year before that? It was one of those three. That year, we got to Knapp Street and got the tree on top but couldn't make the car start. We called Triple A. Meanwhile, a blizzard started. Soon the snow was up to our ankles, and we were getting cold, and Triple A wasn't coming. I remember walking back to our warm house, all four of us with our hats and gloves on, Avenue R disappearing beneath our boots. The news said things were happening elsewhere, but we couldn't tell. I almost didn't recognize our house until it was upon us, strange and framed by snow-drifts, crowded in by all the other homes. The Christmas lights were on in the window but there was an empty space in the center, for where we would put the tree.