A simple sign, written in Texta, hanging on a pine tree in a park.
Lauren sees it on the way home from work. She is the first to answer the call.
Others follow, and the pine tree soon becomes a beacon of hope for families doing it tough. Soon the tree is a riot of decorations.
But for some, the tree is more than a community project. For some, it will change their lives forever.
A heartwarming tale of the spirit of Christmas and the power of community.
Formats: ebook $2.99
Length: short story
Available from your favourite retailer here.
Lauren Johnson noticed the sign on the way home from work five days before Christmas.
Lauren slowed to a stop and looked around, vaguely suspicious. Cranbourne Street was almost like a manmade canyon. High-rise apartment blocks flanked the four-lane road, except for Grant Sager Park, a small green space which had been left between three thirty-storey towers. It was filled with shady trees surrounding a kids’ adventure playground, now dusted thickly with the snow which had been falling steadily all day. The tree carrying the sign, a pine about nine feet tall, was at the corner of the park, close to the sidewalk; it was how she’d noticed the sign in the first place.
It was written on a square of cardboard – when Lauren flipped it over she saw it had been cut neatly from a Coco-Pops packet – and contained just four sentences.
My brother Jason is five years old.
The doctor said this will probably be his last Christmas.
He can see this tree from his window.
Please help me decorate it for him.
Could be a prank, she thought. Or maybe not. A lot of rubbish accumulated around the park – the street was a natural wind tunnel, and a lot of paper and plastic waste got caught in the trees. But this sign was different. The string which held it to the tree was tied tightly and deliberately, even though it was worn; it could have been rescued from something else. The letters were printed with black marker pen, and although they were childishly rounded they were written neatly and spelled correctly. And there was something young and innocent about the plea.
Frowning, Lauren walked around the tree. On the other side she found two foot-long candy canes made from several red and white pipe cleaners twisted together. They were tied tightly to two branches about five feet from the ground.
She knew Jason’s sister or brother had hung them there.
They’d used the same worn string as they’d used on the sign.
Lauren lived in one of the three blocks surrounding the park, in a ninth-floor apartment she shared with the two cats she’d rescued from the streets. She wasn’t supposed to have pets, but she reasoned they needed the home, she needed the company and besides, what the billionaire landlord who owned most of Cranbourne Street didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
There were families who broke the rules here worse than she ever had.
Her place was tiny, but it was hers. One tiny bedroom, a bathroom like a shoebox, a kitchen just big enough for a fridge and a stove, and a tiny living room which contained an old, saggy couch, a TV and a huge wooden bookcase scrounged from the second-hand place around the corner.
But it was full of colour. Paintings hung on every wall, mostly landscapes, real and imagined, but Lauren also painted scenes from the city, people, animals – her own cats featured prominently, both in real and fantasy settings. Canvas was expensive, so she painted on anything she could find, various pieces of wood she’d found and sanded down, metal trays, even a saw.
Usually when she got home from work she spent an hour or so painting, trying to forget the irate customers, the grumpy ones, the ones who insisted it was her fault that their cable service had been disconnected even if it was their fault because they’d neglected to pay. She hated her job at the call centre with a vengeance, but it was all she could find and a girl had to eat. And buy cat food. And painting supplies.
But that night the thought of the simple hand-lettered sign just wouldn’t leave her alone.