Le Sloth et Le Sapin (The Christmas tree) Rusty Gladdish
Le Sloth et Le Sapin (The Christmas tree)
The Sloth swept through the door, his face a brilliant crimson from the biting cold, grinning from ear to ear. Stepping out of his muddy boots and rubbing his hands he walked over to the wood burning stove. He held his numbed fingers near the flames shooting up into the chimney behind the glass. ‘I’ve just bought a Christmas tree from the farm shop down the road. A very good deal too, if I do say so myself. Had a bit of a chat with the mademoiselle and she agreed to deliver it toute suite, well in the next hour anyway.’ He slumped down in the chair next to the stove and stretched out his long legs. He wriggled the toe that poked out of the hole in his sock. This was a clear indication of pleasure at his purchase. ‘Ten euros, and that includes delivery. Nice looking little woman, dark hair and a proper figure. None of this size zero nonsense. I could see she was impressed with my French. Has the kettle boiled?’ ‘So when are they bringing it over then?’ I asked innocently. He glanced at his bare wrist. We had taken the decision not to wear our watches. We no longer wanted our lives to be dominated by time, staring us accusingly in the face: measuring our every move, ticking off our list of actions. We wanted to believe that we actually had some control over our lives. ‘They’ll probably bring it round about lunchtime’ he said vaguely, trying to thaw out his fingers on the steaming cup of coffee I thrust into his hands. I busied myself with preparing the vegetables for our evening meal while the Sloth went outside to chop some firewood. At around 4.30pm.the winter darkness had draped its dripping cloak over the roofs of the houses and obscured the trees. There was still no sign of our Sapin. Sloth however, remained optimistic but being a born cynic I knew deep down that it wasn’t going to arrive that night or indeed any night if it came to that. I stared gloomily at the box of Christmas decorations we’d bought from Carrefour on the previous morning. It sat there on the pine table looking forlorn. I got up and put the lid back on the box. I just couldn’t bear to look at it a moment longer. It’s a strange thing about disappointment. You think that by the time you’ve become an adult you can handle the sinking feeling that follows that plummeting euphoria when something you’ve been looking forward to, doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t work like that though. The fire had died down and the room had become chilly in spite of the central heating. The Sloth got up wearily and went outside. For a moment the ice laden air entered the room by stealth through the open door. Sloth staggered back into the room hidden behind a pile of logs. He threw a couple of them on the fire and a shower of sparks produced a mini firework display. I had made one of my Pot-au-Feu things. I throw everything into a large pot with some stock cubes, chicken, leeks, carrots, shallots, parsnips, potatoes, courgettes, lentils and at least three glasses of red wine. A couple of bay leaves and a scattering of herbs then leave it to simmer on the stove until the chicken slides from the bones. The Sloth’s favourite. We ate it with large pieces of bread from the boulangerie in the village. The Sloth fell on it like a hungry wolf. Sheer blighted hope had taken the edge off my appetite. ‘How do you know they’re going to bring that tree here? Did you get a receipt?’ I said grumpily. He shook his head, mouth bulging with chicken and dumplings. ‘Did you write the address down for them?’ Again, an emphatic shake of the head. ‘Well how on earth are they going to find it? The husband probably came home late and his wife told him to deliver the tree. He just told her where to get off and went out to the bar for a game of billiards and a brandy!’ The head continued shaking like the proverbial nodding dog.’ Or they probably thought you were another English incomer with more money than sense. We’ll never see that tree you know!’ I was rock bottom by now. ‘Of course we will. Don’t be so negative. I told her the address twice and she said she knew where it was.’ Resigned to our first Christmas in France without a Christmas tree I cleared away the dishes. As the night drew on the wind got up and moaned around the house rattling the wooden shutters and sneaking through the gaps under the door. Without a television to mesmerise and hold sway over our senses we bickered some more before finally falling asleep in front of the fire. * * * * The bedroom seemed unnaturally bright when I woke up. The ceiling had a newly white-washed look to it. A thick, deafening silence had pulled me into consciousness and I turned to the Sloth only to find an empty, hollow space. The little red clock on the chest of drawers said 8 O’clock. I got out of bed and went to the window. The sky was a greenish grey with a mauve tint to it. The air was thick with snowflakes, whirling crazily around the telephone wires. The little houses were camouflaged under a snowy blanket and the cars slumbered on the drives, cosy under their goose feather quilts. All sounds seemed to have been absorbed by the density of snow. Somewhere in the distance I could hear the metal scraping of a shovel on someone’s drive as they cleared away the snow. I suddenly noticed the cold tiles striking up through the soles of my feet and went to get dressed. There was no sign of Sloth in the Kitchen but there was a blazing log fire in the wood burner. He couldn’t be far away. Especially when he hadn’t had his breakfast. I put the kettle on the kitchen range and then as I was looking in the fridge for the makings of a cooked breakfast I heard a commotion outside in the yard. I opened the back door and was treated to the sight of the Sloth manhandling an enormous Christmas tree while trying to engage an attractive dark haired girl in conversation. She was standing very close to him. He was leaning down towards her and she was smiling up at him. I could see from where I was standing that he thought his luck had changed. I have to own up to being very territorial and that includes Sloth so I called over to them. Jolie Madame looked up immediately and sensing trouble, shot me a look then jumped into her Land rover and shot off down the road in a flurry of muddy snow and gravel. The Sloth frowned for a few seconds then, seeing the game was up, staggered over to me clutching the tree triumphantly. Snow covered every part of his anatomy. Icicles clung to his eyebrows and lashes. ‘See! I told you didn’t I? What’s it like being married to a genius?’ he grinned. ‘ I don’t know! You tell me’ I grimaced. He dumped the tree and came into the warm kitchen and began melting like the abominable snowman caught in a heat wave. The kitchen floor began to stream with water. Then suddenly he began sneezing…. Poor old Sloth! ‘It was good of her to give you a lift’ I said sniffily. ‘She didn’t,’ he paused to take a breath. I passed her on the way to the shop. She had the tree on the front seat. She stopped and asked me the address again and drove off. I had to walk back. We arrived at the same time because she went past the house.’ ‘What! She let you walk back in a snowstorm!!! The heartless cow! You’ll catch your death!’ He smiled his little boy smile that has charmed hundreds of women. I wonder why it hadn’t worked on the French femme fatale!! Rusty Gladdish wishes to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents 1988. All characters in this story are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.