Christmas had ended several weeks ago. The days were well into February, but Elena couldn’t quite let go of the spirit of the holiday. She had begged her father to leave the tree standing in their living room for awhile longer. He had complied until her first day back to school after the break. When she came home, the living room had been put back the way it was before. The couch was where the Christmas tree once stood, the reading lamp next to it slightly angled away from the wall.
She sat on the couch until dinner, still bundled up in her heavy winter coat and gloves, staring dully at the floor, swept clean of pine needles. If she closed her eyes, she could still smell them. Her father had called her to dinner then, so she’d pulled off her hat and mittens, unzipped her coat, and walked slowly to the kitchen, turning around every few seconds as if the tree and the lights might reappear. Over dinner, her mother told her that it had been for the best- to tear everything down while Elena was away at school. She’d also said something about remembering this as a life lesson- to enjoy things because you never know when they’d be gone or something equally depressing.
It was an hour or so later, while her parents watched television downstairs, that Elena had crept out of her bedroom where she’d just finished her homework. Quietly, slowly, she balanced her weight on each wooden step, willing them not to groan under her weight, tiptoeing over to where her tree had once stood. After slight hesitation, she lay on her back and scooted herself quietly under the lamp by the couch. She’d done this with the tree except that it had been alive with color. She’d seen the sap of the pine tree on its trunk sparkle against the lights while the glass decorations hung clear and delicate against the branches. This wasn’t quite the same, she had decided at the time. But here she was in February, still creeping out of her room when her parents were too distracted to notice to lie under the lamp. She always left its lights off- they were far too plain. She imagined colors in their place, closed her eyes and immersed herself in the excitement she’d felt not so many months ago when she’d lain under the tree for the first time. When she really used her imagination, she could almost smell the pine needles.