Fragile: Handle with Care

by Stephen Patrick


You know, it used to be so simple. The twelve of us working together, the dastardly dozen we called ourselves. Every Christmas we’d get together and make magic.

It was easy at first. The tree was only two feet high and sat nobly on the wooden spool that doubled as a coffee table. When they pulled us out of the box, we each had our special place on the tree. They split us up, severing the trios: one red up top, one in the middle, one down below. Same thing for the rest: for blue, silver, and gold.

I was the middle red, front and center; a crimson God in a festive rainbow tree. Always in view and always ready to show my holiday spirit from my spot on the tree. Just another part of the five colored tree that marked that first family Christmas. We worked in unison, everyone pulling their own weight to make that Christmas the best ever in our humble home. Presents came to rest beneath us and were torn open with gleeful abandon. We kept our watch until we were returned to our special box on the shelf.

The next year we were joined by hot strands of blinking lights that were draped over us. Winking and laughing all night long as their tiny glass tubes burned away the sheen from my back. I endured them as best I could and they did seem to add something to our quiet little celebration. I even got used to the heat, but I still struggled with how much those little guys could talk. Just yammering and chattering all night long...

We got a surprise the next year in the form of a golden figurine mounted high at the top. Angel was young then, but she sparkled down at us from her perch at the top, her gold foil halo shimmering in the light of the artificial fire. She was beautiful. I can still remember how nervous she was that first night, always asking if she was leaning too far to the left or the right.

Everything changed when I saw the newest addition. A tiny ceramic plate that read “Our First Christmas Together.” It seemed too stuck-up for me and a bit too trendy. It couldn’t stand the test of time. It had the year stamped right on them. It would find its way to the trash when that year was finished. But I was wrong. It was back in place the following year, joined by a flood of new ornaments, each marking some milestone or simply an experience from the previous year.

The dirty dozen soon found themselves at the bottom of the box, pressed beneath the growing weight of the special ones and the lights. The other two reds went first. They were caught out of place, with little more than a thin plastic film to protect them. The others think they didn’t suffer, but I’m not so sure.

We lost all three blues and two of the golds the following year. They were taken out -literally and figuratively- by the new cat and that fluffy brown effigy that tantalized the feline from its hook just below me. I tried my best to warn them, but that cat was ravenous, hungry for destruction. That left only six of us, each with fading colors and broken dreams. We lost our special box that year and were forced into close quarters with a chipped and depressed “Love, 1998” and some sort of fragile foil snowflake that had seen better days.

“Baby’s First X-mas” appeared the following year. You can imagine my surprise when the ceramic photo hanger was chosen for my spot, front and center. I looked around, scrambling for another spot, but it was too late. The only space available was on the back, facing the wall. I was devastated. I couldn’t even see when all three silvers were knocked from their hooks and crushed beneath a large gift-wrapped television.

That left only two of us, me and the remaining gold. His name was Louis. He kept good spirits and reminded me of our special purpose. Somehow I made my way back to the front of the tree the next year. I didn’t see what happened to Louis, deep within the box, but when they pulled him from the cluttered mess, it was obvious that something was wrong. His hook was gone, snapped clean off. He cried out when he saw the stump, but no one heard him but me. They tried glue and tape, but nothing would work. He rattled around on the floor for a few days, being tortured by the baby and the cat.

Two years have passed since Louis was lost, somewhere out there beyond the couch. I hope he’s well.

Yesterday, I heard them talking about me.

“We’ve got a new tree, I don’t want that old thing cluttering it up. We don’t even have the rest of the set. Let’s just throw it away, it’s so old. We can get a dozen new ones for a buck at the Christmas store.”

“No, not this one. He’s the last of our first set. He was there when our family was young. We can’t throw him out. He’s been there for all of our holidays. I want him there for the rest.”

Somehow, I was saved.

Two strong hands wrapped gingerly around me, gently plucking me from the box. A shiny new hook was slipped through my loop and placed me front and center, where I belong.


Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Patrick

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