The Christmas Tree is Broken

The Christmas Tree is Broken

I went walking with Riley last weekend. We walked around the block. She stops when we leave the house to inspect the plants. She has on white shoes, the model of shoes that she wore during her first year of life, but she hasn’t worn these shoes through the summer and in the fall she got a new pair of dark blue shoes, and she generally wears these but we left them at our friends house after New Year’s. She wears her white shoes outside. We live in a duplex, on the bottom floor, next to a street named Ruffner and an alley. The alley travels behind peoples’ houses. In the last couple of years the large backyards, once filled with old orchards of twisted fruit trees with gray branches and yellow leaves for most of the year, except for the profusion, suddenly in the autumn, of pears and apples. The apples sat on the tree this year until a November rainstorm knocked them down. They were bright yellow with thick brown bruises against the faintly blue sky and the gray tangle of brittle stick branches. A row of new duplexes has gradually moved over the orchards and stands of cedar trees. We live in one of these. Construction trucks drive up and down the alley. They have left deep ruts that fill with rainwater. A stream trickles. And Riley unaware that anything in the world has changed because her presence in the world is as much a part of this change as the ruts and the overgrown density of buildings, stops to admire the brilliant red tomatoes on the long dead tomatoes plant. She stops to pick up a stick. And then she picks up another stick, and says, “Here, carry this for me,” and hands it to me. She stoops over the stream and riles the water with her stick. We pass Christmas trees that have been set out. “Look,” she says. She stops in front of a Christmas tree. “The Christmas tree is broken.” She looks up at me as she makes a preliminary stomp into the shallow edge of a deep pool. “Do you want to go back to the house and get your lady bug rain boots? You can splash in the mud puddles if you have them.” “No,” she says, and then stomps into the pool anyway, and I pull her up. “I want to splash,’ she says. I explain about the boots again, and she says, finally, “Okay.” A woman passes us, and she says she passed some children making mud pies. We come to the blocked storm drain, clogged with leaves. I show Riley what happens when the leaves are cleared, making a pile of mud and leaves on one side of the drain with my bare hands. Riley and I dig our fingers into the muck to make a channel. “It’s cold,’ she says. And we pull our hands up, covered in old leaves and grains of gravel. “Dirty,” she says. I think at that moment that I should make sure she doesn’t put her hands in her mouth — although she doesn’t do this much anymore. The water slips down the channel we’ve made. We watch the pools sink to puddles, and then a little rivulet trickles down the middle of the alley. My daugther is calibrating the Christmas trees, the movement of water, the feel of one stick and another in her hands; these are things and objects in the world as she is an object in the world. She knows more than she knows because of the odd connection of one word to the next, but her fluency in the world is gained through her fluency in the word, this tying down of word to thing and thing to word.

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