10. Caught!

10. Caught!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Caught!

Never say, “Oops.” Always say, “Ah, interesting.”

~Author Unknown

Our car slid to a slushy halt in the circular driveway of the Park Street Tower. We piled out, bubbling with the joy of the season. The four of us: Ben Hansen and his wife Lynn, and my wife Carol and I lived in balcony suites on the seventh and tenth floors. We were all newlyweds so this would be our first Christmas together as husbands and wives and as friends. We had just returned from cutting our Christmas trees and now we proudly carried them into the lobby.

That was as far as we got! Our progress was halted by Mrs. Watson, the building superintendent. She pointed to the sign posted by the elevator.

“No LIVE Christmas Trees Allowed!”

Oh no! This couldn’t be. We did not want artificial trees. And we had already cut these trees and hauled them back to our building.

There was only one solution. Sneak them in!

We couldn’t sneak them in through the lobby and take the elevator or the stairs because we would leave a trail of needles right to our doors. But Ben had a long coil of rope in his storage locker, so we formed an outdoor plan. Simple — or so we thought.

Shortly after midnight, we went into action. Quietly, we snuck the trees onto the front lawn of the building, secured the rope to the railing of our balcony and lowered it to a waiting Carol, who attached the first tree. Hauling an inverted Christmas tree straight up, from ten stories above, was no easy task. Ben and I struggled as foot by foot the tree inched upward, brushing lightly against balcony railings as it passed each floor. At the seventh, Lynn pulled it onto their balcony and the Hansens had their tree!

Now for our tree. Panting and sweating, even in the sub-zero temperature, Ben and I were straining, inch by inch, to raise the tree to the tenth floor. Then… disaster struck.

Our tree got hooked on the railing of Apartment 805 and, before we could do anything, dropped onto that balcony and stuck fast. We discussed our options for getting it back, including using the rope to climb down the outside of the building. Thankfully, we had a better idea. We would wake the tenant in 805.

The building’s internal communication system listed an R. Pearce as the tenant. Our wives recognized her as a woman they had met in the communal laundry room. Mrs. Pearce was a recent widow. How would she react to being roused in the middle of the night by a couple of nuts who had stranded a Christmas tree on her balcony?

Carol buzzed apartment 805 on the intercom and eventually received a sleepy, “Hello?”

Carol identified herself and thankfully Mrs. Pearce remembered her. She explained our predicament. The intercom went silent, then: “Well, there is a tree on my balcony; I guess you’d better come and get it.”

Carol tapped softly on the door of 805. It opened to the length of the security chain and the lined face of an older woman appeared. She smiled at Carol and then her gaze rested on me.

“It’s okay.” reassured Carol. “He’s my husband. May we come in?”

Mrs. Pearce nodded, “Yes, dear.”

The layout of the apartment was similar to ours. I sheepishly made my way to the balcony door. Carol paused to chat and to reassure our benefactor. I freed the tree, mumbled “thank you,” and left Carol chatting with Mrs. Pearce as I hurried upstairs to help Ben. We hauled away and having no further glitches, soon squeezed our tree through our balcony door and set it in the waiting stand. Mission accomplished!

Carol returned. “Did you notice that there were no Christmas decorations in Mrs. Pearce’s apartment?”

I hadn’t. During their chat, Carol learned that the lonely widow was quite sad. Her husband Jack had been her sole companion. They were childless and all of their friends now wintered in Florida. Mrs. Pearce explained that she wasn’t expecting any visitors so it seemed pointless to decorate. With only a week to go before the big day our helpful neighbour was facing a bleak and solitary Christmas.

It was back to work on Monday, but the last days before Christmas flew by and we soon found ourselves stuffing stockings and placing gifts under the tree.

On Christmas Eve Carol and I gathered some of those gifts and visited the Hansens. Our main topic of conversation was of course our adventure with the trees. We recalled and relived the humour and tension of our escapade, gloating not a little over our success in outwitting the Watsons. Ben and Lynn saw us to the door, where we exchanged hugs and wishes for a Merry Christmas. They would be hosting Lynn’s parents for Christmas Day, but both Carol and I had parents who lived out of Province, so we planned to have our own turkey dinner in our apartment.

I noticed Carol was still carrying a gift. She explained we had another present to deliver — to apartment 805. She knocked. “It’s me, Mrs. Pearce.”

The door swung open. “Merry Christmas!” we said in unison. She motioned us to enter.

“Christmas is for children, young people like you, and families — not old folks like me.”

“Christmas is for everyone,” said Carol, “including you! And here’s a present to prove it.”

“But I can’t accept a…”

“Nonsense!” insisted Carol. “It’s Christmas Eve! Please open it.”

She did. It was a ceramic Christmas tree Carol had crafted for our apartment.

“Oh, thank you. It’s lovely; but.”

“No buts. You helped us with our tree; this one is for you. It’s special. Here, look.”

Carol plugged in the electrical cord and the tree came to life, with tiny coloured lights twinkling from the tip of each branch.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“And that’s not all. We’d like you to join us for Christmas dinner.”

“But I can’t…”

“I said no buts. You told me that no one would be coming to visit you.”

“Well, that’s true. But I do have some family here. Actually quite close by.”

Carol challenged her claim, “Who?”

“My sister and her husband live right in this building. Now that my Jack is gone, I’ll be eating with them, this year.” In fact I think you know them — the Watsons? They’re our building superintendents.

“The Watsons?” gasped Carol.

I groaned and looked at Carol. We stood to leave, embarrassed, and thinking about being evicted.

Mrs. Pearce was concentrating on her tree. Positioning it just so, she gave a murmur of approval. Then she turned and looked up at us from her chair. Her bright blue eyes twinkled merrily as she grinned from ear to ear.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your secret is safe with me! Would you like some tea?”

~John Forrest

More stories from our partners