All eyes seemed to follow the smartly dressed young woman marching between the rows. Her head moved from side to side inspecting the finest of specimens. She stopped occasionally for a closer assessment.
‘Stand straight, Forester,’ the commander yelled. ‘What happened to you anyway?’
Forester leaned back as far as his twisted limbs could take the strain. ‘Sir, I…’
‘Hush, son. You’re a disgrace to the ranks.’
Forester watched farmer Stanley as he followed the woman who had turned into his row. Their conversation grew louder.
‘Ma’am, what kind of tree are you looking for? They all look the same to me.’
‘I need something… different.’
She stopped suddenly and pointed. ‘That one! It’s perfect.’
Staring forward, Forester focused on the woman’s jacket which blocked his view of the commander.
Stanley was scratching his head. ‘Why would anyone want a Christmas tree that looks like this? It’s just a mangled mess. It’s stunted and undeveloped.’ He ran his calloused hands over the branches.
A fearful Forester tried to keep still.
‘There’s too much space between these limbs,’ Stanley pointed. ‘There’s more on one side than the other. It’s worthless.’
‘Nevertheless, it’s the one I want.’
‘OK, Ma’am, but I’m not going to charge you. I don’t want you coming back for a refund or giving my plantation a bad name.’
Stanley removed his axe from its belt that hung loosely under his protruding belly.
‘Where are you going to put this…thing? There has to be a reason for choosing such a pathetic looking tree for Christmas.’
‘It’s was my son Sam’s idea.’ She took a deep breath then exhaled slowly. ‘Sam’s a paraplegic. He fell from his horse a few years back. He’s spends a lot of time in the children’s hospital and since I have to work over Christmas, well we have to make the most of it. I’ll be the pediatrician on call over Christmas.’
Stanley smiled. ‘A doctor, aye?’
‘Yes, Dr Anne Shepherd. Anne, please.’
She accepted his out-stretched callused hand before continuing in a more subdued manner. ‘Sam’s father is in the army and has been serving in Iraq but he’ll be home for Christmas. Anyway, Christmas with the children is going to be the only way we’ll spend any time together.’
Stanley was staring at the woman for a few moments before he shifted his attention back to the narrow trunk and lifted the axe.
With one crack Forester fell sideways and looked up at his commander. ‘Sorry, Sir.’
The commander glanced momentarily at his fallen comrade. ‘It’s all right, Forrester. I think you may be worthy of this important assignment after all. Do us proud.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Forester replied as he swayed back and forth in Stanley’s hand.
Stanley walked behind Anne to where she had parked her vehicle. There he waited while she opened the rear door.
‘Sam, I found one.’
‘Cool! Let me see.’
Hanging almost upside down, Forester appreciated Stanley’s strong grip and watched Anne climb into the back of the modified van. Anne pulled a small lever at the base of the boy’s seat and turned it around.
Forester became suddenly dizzy and almost lost his bearings when Stanley unexpectedly flipped him upright.
‘Here it is,’ Stanley called.
‘WOW! It’s perfect, Mum.’
Forester blinked and opened his eyes wide so he could see clearly a child who sat in a strange chair with big wheels. The boy was smiling broadly and Forester realized it was he, Forester, who Sam was so excited to see. Forester felt six feet tall.
‘Thanks, Mum. Thanks, Mister.’
‘You can place the tree here beside the wheelchair in a moment,’ Anne told Stanley. She turned Sam’s chair back into place and secured it before climbing back out through the rear exit. ‘Thank you, we appreciate your kindness.’
‘It’s my pleasure Ma’am and you have a great Christmas, Sam.’
Resting beside Sam’s chair, Forester was overwhelmed by the excitement that had glowed in the boy’s face. Forrester didn’t even flinch when the door closed and latched.
‘Come on, Mum. We need to get to the hospital so the kids can decorate it. It’s going to be a neat Christmas and with Dad coming home, everything will be perfect.’
Forrester heard the front door open and close. Anne’s sweet response and cheerful laughter sounded beautiful. When the engine started he felt Sam’s fingers wrap around his feeble trunk. He shivered with pride. His assignment had begun.
© Chrissy Siggee