“The doctor said he was surprised I didn’t break it.”
Dan Hewett, Joan and Harold’s eldest, held his swollen wrist aloft for all to see.
“It’s only sprained,” Harold said matter-of-factly.
“A bad sprain, the doctor said.”
“Still only a sprain.”
Dan shrugged and looked affectionately at his wrist. It was the first year his parents had permitted him to run the church dash by himself, and he seemed to view his subsequent injury as a badge of honour.
Dan’s best friend, Jack, tried to poke the spongey flesh with his forefinger. Dan laughed and slapped him away with his good hand.
We were all trudging slowly through the thick, wet mud at half past three this morning. Today’s door had been the painting of a Christmas tree, so we immediately went into the woods to find one to cut down and decorate. There were no real rules with this activity, only that William had to pick the tree, and it had to be cut down using the traditional method with a two-man crosscut saw. William would also decide which two men (and it was always men) would do it.
I was aching from yesterday’s run and not in the best of moods. My exercise usually only consists of walking to and from the library for work, or the occasional stroll to the pub or greengrocers. God knows how Mrs Lassiter and my aunt felt – I imagine they must have walked for the majority of their laps, but I had seen both attempt to jog at the very beginning. Mrs Lassiter is at least ninety, it’s a miracle she’s still alive.
“Did you get a seat yesterday, Margaret? I didn’t see you there.”
Lucy, the owner of the Purple Petal café, had somehow materialised by my side. She was the year above me in school and has always tortured me in the most mundane, senseless of ways. Her smile makes my teeth clamp together.
“No, Lucy, you know I didn’t.”
“Don’t tell me, you didn’t bother trying again.”
“No, I did not.”
“Was it because you knew you wouldn’t get there in time, even if you did try?”
“Yes, that’s exactly it. You are obscenely intelligent.”
As Lucy opened her mouth to retort, the row of people in front of us came to a sudden halt.
William had chosen a tree.
I can’t have been the only one to feel confused. The tree in front of us was thick, but not very tall – not much more than six foot. And yet William patted the trunk as though it were the neck of a handsome horse.
“Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to this year’s Morkwood Christmas tree, isn’t she a beauty?”
That inspired the villagers to clap, as if William’s choice suddenly made sense to them. I only joined in so as not to call attention to myself.
“And now it’s time to pick our cutters. Mr Terrence Jordan, will you be the first to step up, please?”
There was more polite applause as Terry, a skinny, balding man who works in the hardware store, came forward to pick up one side of the saw. I could tell he was beside himself with joy. He was a quiet, proud man and not often picked for community events – except for the cricket match every summer, for which he was always the umpire.
“And now for our second cutter. Mr Daniel Hewett, could you please step forward?”
Of course he would pick Dan. It was so obvious, I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming.
There were mutterings as Dan stumbled to the front, bewildered to hear his own name called. Joan pushed her way through the crowd after him.
“William, I’m so sorry, would you be able to pick someone else?” she asked, stepping in front of her son. “As you can see, my son has injured himself quite badly and I don’t think he’ll be up to the job.”
William snorted. “Well, well, well, Daniel, your mother says you’re not up to the job. I haven’t done this in twenty-three years, but if you have to do what mummy says, I could always pick someone else…”
Dan looked disdainfully at his mother. “I’m fine, it’s not even broken.”
“I said I’m fine.”
Joan looked to Harold for support, but received nothing in return.
“That’s settled then,” William said. “Men, if you could grab the saw at each end, we’ll get cutting.”
Dan bent over and picked up the saw with his good hand.
“You’ll need both hands for this, Daniel,” William said.
Dan nodded. He tried to pick up the handle again but his injured hand spasmed immediately and he let go. He tried again and the same thing happened, only this time a pained grunt escaped his lips.
“How about Stanley,” Terry offered. “Or Milo, or Niles, or…”
“I chose Daniel,” William said.
Dan dropped the saw a few more times. Then he jutted out his chin and, with a strangled yell, forced himself to grip tightly onto the handle with both hands. He moved quickly towards the tree, his face reddening with the effort.
Terry looked like he was about to weep. “Dan, son, maybe we should…”
“No,” Dan said. Tears were falling down his cheeks as his whole body began to tremble.
Two hours. We all stood still and silent like the trees around us for two hours, listening to that boy sob as he slowly sawed through the bark, millimetre by millimetre. With each push and pull he winced and cried out, incapable of hiding the agony.
I closed my eyes, willing the tree to crash to the ground.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, I heard the wood began to snap and creak. As the sun began to rise, the tree finally made its descent.
Read yesterday’s The Festivities of Morkwood.