The children finally fell asleep. The parents unlocked the presents and positioned them under the pungent tree with its delicate glass balls and colored lights. Alongside that tamed tree the window framed the garden oak with the children’s swing. Faint stars shone between the black branches. No danger of a white Christmas, the children’s repeated wish. The children thought in terms of snowmen, not of fatal skids. The parents went to bed.
The wind woke them briefly at 2:36. At 3:18 he mumbled: “Blowing hard.” At dawn the house shook them stark awake. The grey light outside showed the big oak fallen close to the house, a chaos of broken branches. The gale blowing a few degrees more south-west and the tree would have swivelled on its tap-root like a fair-ground wheel of fortune and sent its tons on the roof. Pines cowered and whined. The house groaned. The noise almost covered the boy’s wails.
They groped their way toward the wails, she crying, “Everything’s all right, we’re here.”
In the living room the tree stood unlighted but intact, the colored balls reflecting minimized versions of the chaos outside. Busy with their presents the children didn’t look up. The boy had gone impatiently from package to package, in a welter of gay gift wrapping paper and was now pushing the fire engine, imitating its wail. The little girl had stopped at the first package and had already set up the doll’s house. She positioned the thumbnail dishes on the table in the miniature living room, straightened a chair, tugged a wrinkle out of the hanky tablecloth. Satisfied, she pulled back and contemplated the perfect order.