No. 192. This is Not a Christmas Tree.

He rather wanted a tree--mostly because it reminded him of the warm Christmases of his past, when his children had been young and there had been a turkey the size of the family dog (he was a vegetarian now) and steaming plum pudding with hard sauce (no reason to make it just for himself). But he wasn't about to buy a tree that had been cruelly cut down specifically for this compulsory two-week period of mandatory frivolity. Nor could be bring himself to purchase a fake tree--made of god knows what horrifying space-age material--and then put it away in a box, like a body in the morgue, until next year.

What he finally did was to cut himself a tree from a big piece of packing-case cardboard. His original intention had been to paint it lavishly with convincing ornaments and tinsel--an impulse that, however, predictably failed him during a moment of crumpling lassitude.

All he could manage, in the end, was to haul his cardboard tree up onto the wall in a tip-down position and leave it dangling there. This was not some para-anthropological attempt to negate Christmas the way certain demonic cults mount crucifixes upside down during their anti-rituals. This was more a palpable gesture of Christmas despair, of holiday depletion. Hanging listlessly down into space, his cardboard tree hung there like a jagged tear. In the end, he couldn't bear to look at it.