Are you a keeper of the Trouble Tree?

 

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I typed this tale more than 20 years ago. A short, short story or a writing exercise, you decide? This is the first time I’m sharing it publicly. Hope you enjoy!

The Trouble Tree by me

“Jonathan Goodsby,” I shouted as the beast jumped up and choked at my throat. There would be no mercy today. “Can you see me for a moment?”

I could see clearly through the hazy window for the first time in days. I had procrastinated for nearly the seventh hour, and the minute was fast at hand. The time had come to let another one go.

I hated this part of my job, as times were unusually tight. A few years ago, I would summon the men, to bestow good tidings upon him and his family and to hand them a turkey ten-pounder. But now, when the factory’s intake wasn’t as plentiful as its expenses, I only summoned workers to caress them with words of wisdom, a petty severance and a colored piece of paper––the formidable pink slip.

It was cold, it was empty, and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. It was one week before Christmas.

Waiting for Jonathan, I stared out my window, glancing upon a familiar reflection. The reflection of an empty face that had lost its color, lost the pigment of life somewhere between frivolity and responsibility.

Within minutes, Jonathan Goodsby stood quietly at my door.

“Come in, come in,” I said as kindly as I remembered. “And close the door behind you.”

His black, tarnished physique could only be attributed to his years of working with steel.

“It’s been a rough year …” I said, rambling thoughts of nothingness. I gazed into his cold steel eyes and filled him with words of wisdom, words of advice, before cutting into devastation.

“We’re gonna have to let you go …” I added.

Jonathan asked for nothing, just the simplicity of an outstretched hand. “Thank you,” he said and paused. “For your honesty.” That was all.

He gathered his knitted cap and woven scarf, and with a stutter of his hardened feet, he was gone.

That was easy! Easy for me to sit back in my promising chair. Because I could, at least for today.

Within minutes, snowflakes blanketed my vision as I raced through the parking lot. It hadn’t snowed in nearly thirty years, from when I was just a boy, and for the moment, I felt a shiver of joy.

I cranked my car a little after five. I was glad to have had my luxury serviced recently, for I today was the wiser.

Just in the far distance, I made out a man standing under the hood of a car. From my vantage point, I could tell he was struggling.

Surely he has called for help. Someone was surely coming to help.

As I neared the street, I glanced into the wretched face of a helpless man. A face so dry and cracked from the whipping winds of the elements. A face that looked into mine and appeared very familiar. It was the face of Jonathan Goodsby.

I let go of the sudden impulse to ignore and slowed to a slithering halt.

“Can I offer you a ride somewhere?” I said, as if I hadn’t done enough.

A simple nod was all that he replied. The door opened and in propped Jonathan.

“Where to?”

“Home,” he replied with a harsh sniffle, “to my family.”

Family? I had known this man for several years, and yet I had not known.

I could tell he had been out in the cold for some time and that he required heat. Heat for the hands he cradled around his waist, which was all so easily warmed with a push of a button.

“Nice car,” Jonathan said. The way he dressed, the tiered layer of shabby clothing, reflected his dilemma––he obviously survived the commute without heat.

From then on he was not much for words, only a nod or two, here and there. I can’t say that I blamed him. I had taken away his days.

“You can drop me on the corner.”

“No,” I replied, “it’s no inconvenience.” But who was I kidding; some tradeoff.

As we neared his home, a stingy little flat with colorful dangling lights, I envisioned what he would say, what I would say given his situation. No job. A small petty severance. No car.

“There she is,” said Jonathan, pointing.

This is a man on the edge, as we sat in silence. A lengthy and uneasy and uncomfortable silence. Complete edge.

“Please, come inside. Come inside so we can thank you.”

Thank me? What exactly for?

I was uneasy in accepting random kindness. Gratitude I did not require, but I owed him something. I owed it to him to stand before his family, for the caustic sting I handed them earlier, to funnel their fury.

What would I say?

As we entered through a weathered screen door, Jonathan immediately took hold of a branch on a stingy holiday tree. Motionless he stood, as he closed his eyes.

“Honey, that you?” A questioning voice called out.

Rattling dishes grieved from the kitchen as I thought of exiting. When suddenly, I felt the presence of a lifeless soul, staring through me. But as I turned, a child with a majestic face stood along side her mother.

I … I … I waited with my hands on my hips, eager to explain why the company, why I had done this to them just before Christmas.

“Daddy’s home!” the little girl shouted, with a glowing smile. She lunged across the room and leaped into her father’s bearhug arms.

Jonathan stood, a transformed man, twirling his little girl in a glorious merry-go-round. “Merry, Merry Christmas, little Boo.” He repeated it over and over. “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

This man, who once sat in utter gloom, who lost his job, whose car was stranded, who was completely on edge, now simply smiled. He smiled and laughed and sang out a merry song with his daughter that only they had known.

“Will you be joining us for dinner?” said Mrs. Goodsby.

Perhaps she hadn’t known.

“Please, join us. It is cold outside and dinner is warm. Jon shred everything. We’ll get by. It’s what we do.”

A hug and a kiss for his wife. A twirl for his daughter. Peace for me. The moment was cherished, where everything, every care that this man had, that this family had, was gone.

Jonathan welcomed me, his daughter welcomed me and his wife––a heavenly, compassionate woman who cooked the most succulent dinner I had ever had––she welcomed me. The entire Goodsby family took me into their home, not for an explanation, nor for ridicule of my cruelty, but rather for the moment at hand.

“May I ask you something?” I asked Jonathan before my exit. “You earlier … at the plant and in the car … things changed when you hit the door.”

“Kid stuff.” He couldn’t help but grin. “Every evening I come home, I grab our tree and leave trouble on its branches. Each morning on the way out, I pick them up. Our time is our time. And at Christmas, trouble can wait.”

I envied him as Jonathan was truly the richer. So I stood there, amidst the merriment and good tidings that flourished inside this simple home, and wished. They shared with me more of a present than I could have ever imagined. For it was they who are truly the keepers of Christmas. The keepers of the Trouble Tree.