I was four and a half years old, and very small. I remember dragging a chair out from underneath the table to the kitchen bench, to get into the cupboard where Mum kept the sugar. I remember tugging on her skirt when we were out at the supermarket, just to make sure she was still there. I remember walking along a short brick wall, slipping, and splitting my chin open. Dad gave me his hankie to use as a make-shift bandage. I had to get two stitches, and the doctor told me I was brave.
That was the year that Henry came to us.
It was December. My older sister Clancy was on school holidays and Mum and Dad kept chatting about ‘time off’. To me, time was endless, and the thought of time suddenly being switched off was strange, unfathomable.
Then, Henry arrived. My father brought him home one night. We all gathered around to glimpse the newest addition to our household. Henry was very tall, even taller than my Dad, which was impossible. There was something about him. He was naturally handsome, but not in an ostentatious way. He seemed quietly assured, sometimes a little on the dark and broody side, but mostly easy going. The thing he was best at was bringing all of us together. Previously, Dad would be in his study, Mum would be in the kitchen, my sister would be on the phone, and I would be underfoot somewhere. But now in the evenings we would all sit around the lounge room, and talk, and laugh. It was a different world. Understandably, it was not long before Henry felt like part of the furniture.
The days rolled by and I soon struggled to recall a time before Henry. For someone so quiet, he was often the centre of attention. At Christmas, the earliest one I can remember, Mum told me that this would be Henry’s only festive season with us, so we should all get really dressed up to mark the occasion, especially Henry. So we did. And Henry looked beautiful.
For a little while after that, our newly lazy routines carried on in the same way, until one day when Mum and I were going to do the shopping. As we walked through the front door and out to the car I heard a loud crunching sound, over the top of a guttural engine hum. There was a huge truck sitting in the middle of the street outside our house. As we neared the gate I gasped in dismay. Henry was lying on the footpath, but he did not look like himself. He looked sick. He looked weak and forlorn, and so helpless.
“Henry!” I cried.
“Who’s Henry?” asked Mum.
I looked at her, aghast. Then my gaze flickered back towards poor Henry, and the men from the truck that were now looming over him. They swept him up off the footpath, like he weighed nothing, and threw him into the back of the oversized lorry.
“Mum, no! What are they doing? Stop them!” I wailed.
“Darling, calm down, it’s OK. The men are just recycling the Christmas trees.”
“They’re recycling the trees, little one. It’s better for the environment that way.”
With a shudder, the truck lurched forwards and stopped again outside the Thompson’s house. There, on the footpath, was another tree that looked just like Henry. I was in shock. I thought Henry was one of us; I thought he was there to stay. But now he had been discarded, thrown out with the rubbish. How could that be?
The following Christmas, Mum and Dad bought a fake tree. They kept it for 20 years, until the synthetic needle like leaves were so bedraggled that it looked no more than a woebegone stick with a few fronds of greenery. It smelt funny, and it wasn’t Henry. But then, it never could be.