Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.
If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.
Ben used to hate us picking him up from school. I think we embarrassed him. I don’t really know why. River tried to explain, but it’s hard to understand why anyone would hate us, or even hurt us, just because of who we love. I’ve never really thought about it; it’s easier not to.
Today, Ben is excited to see me, and that makes me happier than anything but River.
“Where’s River? Are we going to get the tree now?”
“He’s borrowed a thing from Sam, and he’s going to drive us.”
“Yes. It’s around the corner. I wouldn’t let him bring it too close because I know you get embarrassed about us picking you up.”
Ben bites his lips and looks at the ground as we walk. I’ve come to recognise this as Ben being upset about something, and I wonder what I’ve said or done. I can’t think of anything.
Ben looks up. “Sorry for what?”
“For whatever I said that upset you.”
“You didn’t upset me. Why would you think––Oh. No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ever said I was embarrassed by you. I didn’t mean it. Not really. I could never be embarrassed by you. I love you too much.”
That floors me. Ben’s not one to express emotion. River says he’s a typical teenager. That’s not my experience. When I was a teenager, I was a slave, and I didn’t have the option of expressing emotion. Still, it’s the first time Ben’s told me he loves me, and it makes my eyes sting. I don’t know why people cry when they’re happy. It never used to happen to me. I never used to cry at all. It’s surprising how quickly you can stop doing something when you’re hurt every time you do.
“Will it embarrass you if I hug you?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ben says, his voice gruff.
We exchange a glance. That’s enough.
We hear the engine before we see the…thing. It’s like a car, but it has a long, open back. I think Sam called it a truck. River says I’m spoiled because, before I met him, the only vehicles I can remember travelling in were limousines. I was quite famous, and only rich men could afford me. My masters almost always treated me well. Other slaves weren’t so lucky.
“What the hell is this thing?” Ben asks, climbing into the front. I can ride in there with them, because they have three seats. Well, more like a long bench. I’ve never seen a car like this.
“It’s an old American truck Sam’s doing up. He hasn’t got to the engine yet.”
“I can hear that,” Ben says. “Let’s get going before anyone sees us.
“Still embarrassed by us?”
Ben shoots me a glance. “Not by you, but definitely by the truck.”
The journey isn’t pleasant. Enough said. Leave it at that. Eventually, we arrive at a place in the middle of nowhere, with a cabin, a fence, and lots of trees. I don’t have time to look around before I get out, because Ben’s bouncing with excitement. He almost pushes me out of the…truck, then bounds off toward the cabin. River is slower.
“My parents used to bring us here,” River says, his sadness shining in his eyes. He hardly ever talks about his parents. It’s been less than a year since the accident that stole them from him. Ben seems to have recovered much more quickly. “We’d come out the first weekend in December every year, no matter what. Dad would tie the tree to the roof. He was always complaining about it marking the paintwork.”
“That would be interesting. Why haven’t we tied ours to the car?”
“Because it did mark the paintwork, and we’d lose half the needles before we ever got home.”
“Needles?” The word makes me shiver. I don’t like needles.
“The little green leaves. They’re called needles because they’re thin and sharp.”
By this time, we’ve arrived at the cabin. A man is talking to Ben. He is smiling and he seems friendly.
“Come on.” Ben grabs my hand and drags me around the side of the cabin. I glance back, but River is talking to the man. I suppose he’d stop us if we weren’t allowed.
Behind the cabin is a little yard, then rows and rows of little trees of differing heights. Ben starts to run up and down the rows. His enthusiasm is contagious, and I run after him. He pauses before one of the trees.
“No, too big, we won’t fit. River’s ceilings are too low.”
He races on until he finds another one. It’s as big as he is.
“Hmm. Almost, but it’s not fat enough.”
Three trees later, he finds one he likes. By now, River has joined us, along with the man, who tells me his name is Rob. I think he owns the trees.
“This one,” Ben says firmly, pointing to the tree.
River gazes at the tree, with his head tilted to the side. “Isn’t it a bit too big at the bottom?”
“Stop fat shaming. You’ll hurt its feelings.”
“You won’t be saying that when you have to help us move all the furniture to fit it in.”
“I don’t care. You won’t have to move much. We can put it in the corner next to the window.”
I try to picture the room in my head. I can’t imagine what it would look like with a tree in it. The one in the shop is much smaller than this and it’s not real, but this tree would probably fit next to the window, if we moved the sofa over a bit. “That would be a good place. The lights have to go in a plug, don’t they?” River nods affirmative. “There are two plugs next to the window, so we can put one string of lights on the tree, and one around the window, like at the shop, to light the little houses.”
“What little houses?” Ben asks.
“The little houses Silver’s going to bring home from the shop for us to build.”
“Oh wow. Can we do it today?”
“I haven’t got them yet.”
“Okay. So, can we have this tree?”
River glances at me. I smile and nod. Ben’s excitement is contagious, and I so want to see this tree in River’s house.
River tells me it’s our house, but I can’t think of it like that. It’s too big. When I was a slave, I was not allowed to own anything, even to share. I was owned. I was a possession. How can one possession have ownership over another? I wasn’t sad about it. I wasn’t anything. It’s just the way it was. River says I’m too accepting, but what else was I supposed to be? What else am I supposed to be? Since being free I’ve been told all kinds of things that I must or mustn’t do “to fit in” and I’m still having a hard time understanding how that is different from what my masters did to me. There’s not so much pain this time, but I still don’t really have a choice.
Rob goes away, then comes back with an axe to chop down the tree. That makes me sad. Trees are beautiful, and although I want to see it with pretty lights on, I can’t help thinking that this is where it belongs and my brain makes uncomfortable comparisons with a child, torn away from its roots and dragged off to be decorated and used, then thrown away.
It takes all four of us to get the tree on the truck, even though Rob has put a green net on it that hold the branches closed and contains the needles. Traumatized and bound, the tree is thrown onto the truck bed, then the door at the back closes and we walk away. Part of me stays with the tree.
I’ve seen so many things, and many memories have been shoved down and out of the way. If I let it all in, I won’t be able to live here, in the present, with River and Ben. There is a place inside me where I go when things get too hard. I was living there when River found me. He brought me out, but I slip back sometimes. It happens less and less but it’s harder to come back every time. There are so many things I don’t understand in this new world, so many things that scare me. And then there are times, like now, when it’s not the present but the past that threatens to send me running for my safe place.
The sound of the axe chopping the tree had been like the thud and crack of bones being broken. I’ve seen that often enough. I hear the crack of gunfire in the silence over the trees. I glance at the truck and see a body lying there. Once, it was me. Not in a truck. It was big car. At least that’s how I remember it. Leo was dead and I wanted to be. I wanted the pain to be over, but it never will be.
River touches my arm and I actually jump. He looks worried.
“Are you alright?”
“I…” I want to talk to him, to tell him about everything, but I remember that this is the place where I’m supposed to lie. If I don’t, River will get that expression that’s part anger, part fear, part I don’t want to hear this, but mostly anger and this isn’t the right time for that. It’s not fair on Ben. So, I smile and nod.
“I’m fine. I’m just cold and it’s a strange place. I don’t remember ever doing this before. I didn’t even know that people put real trees inside their houses.”
Ben bounces and chatters about how we’re going to decorate it and how lovely it will smell and real Christmas trees are so much better than fake. River just looks at me quietly, and I know he knows.