After Christmas dinner, after the dishes had been scraped and rinsed and stacked in the dishwasher; after the leftovers were relegated to their individual containers and placed on shelves in the refrigerator; after the turkey carcass had been boiled down for broth and the meat cleaned from the bones; after our youngest daughter left for her apartment and our younger son and older daughter left for Boston; after the sun had receded leaving the early evening darkness in its wake; it was then I donned a vest over my fleece and stood under the light on the back porch to flatten out the cardboard boxes, all that remained of the carefully wrapped presents that hours before had waited under the tree to be opened. I pulled apart and flattened the corrugated cardboard boxes and sorted the empty cans and bottles into bags and carried the plastic recycling bin, now all but overflowing, to the bottom of the driveway to stow it in the snow, then returned for the trash bin to find my wife on her way out with the dog for a walk.
“Why don’t you come with us?” she suggested. “The trash will wait till you get back.”
So we walked down to the end of the driveway and turned right and crossed the road and proceeded up the hill in the evening darkness.
Many of the houses we passed were lit up with Christmas lights; a few had ornate displays of snowmen or reindeer or Santas in the front yards. High overhead above the silhouetted mountain stars burned in the night sky.
“Look there!” my wife pointed to three stars in a diagonal line. “The three sisters!”
“That’s Orion’s belt,” I said. “He’s just coming up over the hill.”
“Is that the Little Dipper?”
“No, those are the seven sisters.”
“They’re seven? I thought they were three.”
As we walked by the individual houses, my wife told me stories about them. “This is where the pond used to be. You can tell because there’s always water on the lot. This family put an addition on sometime back. They had the whole house redone in wooden shakes; doesn’t it look nice?
“Oh, look—what’re those?” She pointed out two small white objects suspended from the branches of a tree in someone’s front yard. “Angels?”
She crossed the street with the dog for a better look and returned somewhat disappointed. “Just little ghosts left over from Halloween.”
“This house has the best view of the entire valley,” she explained as we walked past. “And this one is always dark, closed up; but sometimes there’s a car in the driveway. I wonder who lives there. Oh, look; the moon’s coming up!”
Sure enough a gibbous moon was making its way above the eastern horizon, bathing half the sky in mystical light.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said.
We stopped to take it in. The dog paused and lifted her head.
“Do you want me to show you where I found the white cat frozen in the tree?”
We walked down the hill and turned onto Center Street.
“It was right there.” My wife shined her flashlight onto a small tree at the back of an old house. “She was stuck in the fork between those two branches, poor thing. I pointed her out to the man who lives there and he took her down. I think it was the neighbor’s cat.”
Together we stood in silence to witness the death scene illuminated by the moonlight.
At the end of the street we turned the corner and passed another man putting out his trash and recycling bin. “Merry Christmas,” he said, as we walked by.
“I guess it’s all over for another year,” I said.
“Would you look at that moon!” my wife said.
“Yeah, I was watching it earlier from our deck out back. It’s a nice one tonight.”
We cut through the church parking lot and walked up the path to Maple Street. I rolled the trash bin down to the bottom of the driveway and locked up the car for the night.
My wife had the TV on when I came inside. I plodded up the stairs to the bedroom, pulled off my clothes and crawled into bed with a copy of A Child’s Christmas In Wales—a Christmas present from my older daughter—and barely made it to the last page before nodding off in the moonlight that streamed in through the window overhead.