We ask about a tree for Christmas. The one we cling to is cut and dragged into our living room. Father props it against the sofa bed, where Beck and her new husband sleep that month. They had been parked in our drive in a white van until our mother requested they stay in the house, where the wood stove keeps at least the living room warm. The van is windowless in the back and equipped with a hot plate and television. They had spent the summer in there under a sleeping bag. My sister and I love Beck. She is our mother's younger sister, and she gives us her old clothes, rings and bracelets. Also, she lets us sip from her beer when our mother and father have gone dancing at the university Christmas party, and once she drove us in her white Taurus through the mountains and almost into a deer and laughed about it. In the mornings, she wears a green and blue flannel over a rose nightgown, her fingers looped through a coffee cup. We like this too. We keep a lot of secrets when Beck visits. We want to tell our mother some of them but don't. Our mother thinks we are all best friends. She is afraid of losing us to boyfriends or crack or car crashes or too much cold medicine. We sneak packs of cigarettes from the carton Beck keeps in the refrigerator. When she finds out, she buys us our own and tells us to hide them in the shed behind the bags of aquarium rocks. One night I walk through the living room on my way to pee and there is Beck's husband lying beneath her on the sofa, a strand of fake pearls in his teeth. I can see Beck's naked back and all her freckles. I pretend to be sleepwalking. In the bathroom, I make a bed out of folded towels and fall asleep. That month, we all step on pine needles. They stick to our shoes and bare feet. They collect in the corners of the rooms and in the breezeways and the sheets of our beds. Father peels an orange in one curl and puts the curl in a cup of water on the woodstove. The smell comes into our dreams. Christmas day we dress nice, and pose for pictures by the tree. Mother has pulled out the tripod and set the timer on the camera. We're all wearing belts and some shade of red or green. Beck stands in the middle, a perfect line in the center of the tree. Squeeze in, our mother says. Our father dangles a stocking over our mother's head and kisses her cheek just before the shutter clicks. I stand next to Beck's husband, too shy to touch him.
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This work is copyrighted by the author, Lydia Copeland. All rights reserved.