Miss Havisham’s Christmas Tree

She decided to keep the Christmas tree up late this year, well into January. Even though it was a drain on her energy bill—and yes, she chose to turn the lights on every night. It made her feel “festive.” And if she felt festive, then maybe he would come back. Sense her “positive aura” and just…materialize. Of course, Elaine knew that Reg had left her for good. She wasn’t so far gone as to have erased that little detail. But maybe what she had chosen to blot out was the fact that he chose to up and leave her after almost six years of living together. They were common-law, in fact—if only Reg had wanted to file the necessary paperwork. But he never did. As though he knew he wasn’t ultimately going to stick around too much longer to reap some of the tax benefits of such an act. Why bother?

That was a question Elaine was starting to ask herself as she went through the motions of her day, pretending as though her life hadn’t fallen apart the day Reg chose to walk out the door. Except that he didn’t walk out—he skulked. Left in the middle of the night without even packing a bag. That’s part of what hurt the most: that he wanted to get away from her so badly that he left without any possessions, Ronnie Spector-style. That made her fucking Phil. She was apparently that scary and insufferable. But she never saw herself as such. She actually always thought she was quite pleasant toward Reg. Indeed, he was the only person she could be pleasant towards. Everyone else made her feel incensed, like she could easily punch them right in the face. There was even a time when she actually did, and Reg had to come pick her up from the station to bail her out. Maybe that incident was part of what sent him running. But the person whose lights she punched out deserved it, she swore up and down. It was a mean, middle-aged fat man who thought he could “just pretend” he didn’t see her in line and cut in front of her at the grocery store. Like he somehow deserved to go ahead of her because he was middle-aged, fat and a man. Well, it was a straw that broke the camel’s back as she had already swallowed her rage for the day in her horrific cubicle job at an insurance company. That’s when, without a second thought, she tapped him violently on the shoulder, waited for him to turn around and socked him right in the kisser. The motherfucker. 

To Elaine, it was worth police apprehension. To Reg, it was yet another sign that she couldn’t regulate her emotions like a “normal” adult. But who wanted to be a normal adult? None of them were having any fun or enjoying themselves. Elaine figured she might as well try every once in a while. Which was more than Reg could seem to say in those days toward what she didn’t know was the end of their relationship. She couldn’t quite pinpoint the moment when he had become such a stick in the mud, but she certainly knew it wasn’t her fault. She was the only one trying to keep any sense of “light-heartedness” alive. Reg, well, now he was just another person who she was starting to want to punch in the face. Yet even though his moods were constantly infecting her own, she still loved him. She never would have wanted to envision a life without him in it. But apparently, for some time, he had been imagining one without her in his. Plotting quite methodically to get it. 

How had it all gone so wrong? She could remember the very first instant they had laid eyes one another. It was near the giant Christmas Tree in Union Square. She had just purchased a hot chocolate from the Sutter Street Café, refusing to go to the Starbucks that was closer to Union Square. Her principles, some said, would be her undoing. But as far as she was concerned, they were keeping her physically fit. Plus, if she hadn’t taken longer to get to Union Square by going to the Sutter Street Café, destiny wouldn’t have timed the exact right moment to encounter Reg by the Christmas tree. As they both stood there admiring it while everyone else seemed to bustle around them in a hurry, Elaine was bumped violently right into Reg’s chest, sending some of the liquid in her cup spewing through the hole in the lid and onto Reg’s black wool coat. She gasped in apology and started to instinctively wipe at it with her glove. “I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, not noticing that he was smiling at her as though she were the dearest creature in the world. Little did he know…

It was only a few months after that when Elaine and Reg found that they were living together in a small Nob Hill apartment. Elaine loved to joke about the word “Nob” every time it came up, but Reg just wasn’t enough of an Anglophile to find it amusing. Though she never would have imagined herself as the type of person who could live—nay, afford to live—in this type of neighborhood, Reg’s friend just so happened to need someone to sublet his rent-controlled abode for an indeterminate period while he went off to immerse himself in oenology somewhere in Italy. And that’s how, before either of them knew it, they were inhabiting the same space. Elaine would later come to suspect that Reg would have just as soon lived there on his own if he didn’t need Elaine to cover half the cost. Such was the main perk of a domestic partnership. Or so Elaine would have believed… until Reg lost his job at Eventbrite. Sure, he hated it, but he was getting more money by working there than from unemployment, which was due to run out any day now. Then all the pressure would be entirely on Elaine. And of course, the heating and electric bills were going up because it was winter. A period that Elaine would have found romantic as it signified her initial meeting with Reg, but now only found to be a freezing nuisance as she refused to turn the heat on and pay extra to do so. 

Reg did his best to make her forget that he wasn’t “contributing” by instead contributing in other ways—being as domestic as possible and performing all the chores a hausfrau would be expected to. He was also certain to give her head as often as possible, in addition to numerous foot and back rubs. It was all seeming to do the trick as they rolled into the new year. In fact, Elaine was even starting to enjoy having a “stay-at-home husband.” So when she came home one evening from that thanklessly boring insurance job to find that Reg wasn’t waiting by the door with a martini ready for her, she was more than somewhat floored. Where the hell was he? The hours passed, without any reply to her calls or texts. And just when she was considering a call to the police, Reg flounced in with a huge grin on his face.

“Reg! Where have you been?” She could hear herself sounding like a nagging 50s housewife, but she didn’t care. An explanation was owed. 

“Got myself a little gig, baby girl.” 

She sneered. “Don’t call me that.” Staring at him up and down for clues, she then asked, “What kind of gig?”

“Gonna be a Lyft driver, what else?”

“Using whose car?”

“Let’s just say I came into one, all right? Now will you pipe down with all the questions? I ordered us a pizza from Del Popolo and it’ll be here any minute. I just wanna fuckin’ relax without you breathing down my neck for one goddamn second.” 

She guffawed. “Is that what I do? Breathe down your neck?” 

“That is exactly what you do and it’s time for it to change now that I’m an exceptional earner around here again.” 

“‘Exceptional earner’? Who are you, Britney?”

“I fuckin’ wish. She probably has more freedom than I do living with you.”

Elaine really wanted to smack him across the face for that comment, but she restrained herself. She took a deep breath and retreated somewhere inside of her mind that was safe and tranquil. She counted to ten and, just as she was about to decide to really let him have it, the door’s intercom buzzer went off, indicating the pizza had arrived. 

Barely registering her presence, Reg scampered past her to go collect his order. She didn’t care for this shift in him. The shift that signaled he suddenly remembered what it was like to have agency. To feel as though he could come and go as he pleased because he made his own money. Then she reminded herself, “It’s Lyft, how much money he could really make?” 

The answer came soon enough, with Reg burning rubber from dusk till dawn. He made quite a pretty penny—in large part, thanks to how well people tipped him for his “service.” To Elaine, that made it sound as though he was only going the “extra mile” in a certain way with his female passengers. But maybe living in San Francisco for so long had simply turned her mind sordid… 

The less she saw of Reg, the more money he made, therefore the less nice he became. And yet, he continued to stay with her. And she with him. They had become comfortable old shoes to one another, too amenable to their tense setup for the sake of staying in the apartment. They both knew they would never find something cheaper and, besides, it’s not as though they had to see one another very often. For Elaine, however, that was the problem. That was what was really eating away at their relationship. Yet to Reg, it seemed to be the only thing that was saving it. Their overtly differing views on why their once-great love had unraveled added further fuel still to the fire of their respective disdain. A disdain that was even beginning to color Elaine’s work performance as she trudged in with a black cloud looming over her head each morning. 

After too many months spent being rude to both coworkers and customers on the phone, Elaine was fired. And it was on that day, upon arriving home early expecting to find an empty apartment, that she stumbled upon Reg and one of his “clients” going at it on the couch. So this is why he was making such good tips, was it? Reg froze mid-thrust and tapped the woman he was fucking on the shoulder to get her to stop. She was on the verge of an orgasm, though, and nothing was going to stop her from finishing—not even the potential threat of a knife in her back. As she did, Reg laid back and let her, looking as though he was giving a silent prayer that, somehow, Elaine wasn’t actually seeing them. And maybe, in some sense, it worked, because Elaine backed up and closed the door. She went outside and wandered the streets for a while, ending up at the Ferry Building. She milled around among the tourists and decided to pick up two sandwiches to go. She brought them back to the apartment as if on autopilot. 

When she arrived, any trace of the woman who was there had vanished, and it was just as Elaine had never seen her in the first place. Never seen anything untoward, in fact. It was like she had chosen to wipe the entire incident from her mind and put on a Stepford wife performance as though it would make Reg think twice about 1) whether he had cheated at all and 2) prevent him from ever doing it again because of how creepy she was acting. The one reality she did choose to acknowledge to him was that she had been fired. 

Reg seemed to return to his old self when she confessed this: understanding, comforting and kind. He even rubbed her feet that night. Taking her lead, he never addressed the infidelity she had witnessed, nor the obvious Pandora’s box that would open up in terms of how he fucked most of his passengers—that was his whole “thing.” And from that point forward, Elaine became the “housewife.” Even if a deadbeat one who perpetually dressed in her dirty, floor-length silk robe. Once white, it had become a sort of beige. This was the early trace of the Miss Havisham quality within her, and it was also around the time, she surmised, that Reg really started to plot his escape. But never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined that Reg would up and abandon her during the Christmas season. That was their time. Did he not understand? Did it mean nothing to him? She got her answer when she turned around in Union Square—where she had dragged him to look at the tree again—and could see him flirting with some woman at a stall that sold hot chocolate and assorted candies. She turned the other way again so she couldn’t see it. She refused to see it. Instead, she slipped away and went back to their apartment where it was safe. Where she could put her white-beige robe on once more. 

It was only a week later, just before Christmas, that Reg disappeared into the night. When she tried to contact him, she found that his number was disconnected. It was the most bizarre thing. And, because he had been the breadwinner for so long—allowing her to believe that she didn’t “need” to work anymore—it didn’t take much time for her to become deemed a squatter in the space, much to the oenologist’s chagrin. Luckily, San Francisco takes rather kindly to squatters, and it could be decades before the landlord managed to get her out. In the meantime, she would keep the tree up. In the vain hope that it might somehow cajole Reg to come back to her. This symbol of what had brought them together in the first place. 

As Joe Gillis had once compared Norma Desmond to Miss Havisham, so could Reg easily compare Elaine to her now as she pathetically roamed the apartment with the Christmas tree fully intact, even if a bit mangy. Some sick, deranged part of her still waiting, still expecting. She didn’t take it as an omen when she accidentally slid too closely against the decaying branches to get to the kitchen and sent a smattering of ornaments crashing to the floor. Instead of picking them up, she merely stepped on them, trailing blood throughout the halls to add to the grim flair of it all. 

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