Published on December 23rd, 2013 | by Timothy Thomas McNeely0
The Holly and the Ivy, Part 4
Inside the squirrel’s ivy house, the adult animals cleaned up after the feast. Outside, on the branches of the holly tree, the children and the young squirrels played. It was getting dark now, so they didn’t play long.
When they were called again, Amos and Beatrice said goodbye to everyone. Beatrice hugged Mrs. Squirrel and Fiona Chickadee, and Amos was given a toy Super Squirrel by Felix. Esther waved a sleepy goodbye.
Mr. Squirrel walked with them, out and down through the intertwining branches back to the hole that would take them into the center of the tree. They walked through the opening and again stood on the wood platform where Mr. Squirrel unfurled the folded sheet he’d been carrying in his teeth. “Down might not be as easy for you two,” he said. “We usually just go down the outside of the tree, but I’m worried that you might slip and fall. So let’s try this.” He pulled up the length of ivy vine dangling down the tree’s center and tied the sheet to it, making a sling. “Here you go.”
Beatrice and Oliver sat in the sling and Mr. Squirrel slowly lowered them down the trunk’s interior. “Thank you!” Beatrice called up the tree. “Bye!” Amos said.
They ducked out through the opening. Instantly, they were back to their normal sizes again, standing in the wet ground by the fence and below the holly tree. They looked up and could just see a large squirrel running into what looked like only a mere tangle of ivy from below, but they knew it was the Squirrel’s house.
“That was awesome,” Amos said.
“Yeah,” Beatrice said, still looking up.
“We can’t tell anyone, you know,” she said, looking down at Amos. “We can’t.”
“I know,” Amos said.
They stepped out from the canopy of the holly tree. Amos wandered vaguely off in the direction of the sandbox. It was still raining. Beatrice went again to look at the clock inside their house on the wall. Just as she was coming up the steps, their mother opened the door. “It’s time,” she said to Beatrice and called to Amos. “You can come in if you’d like.”
“Ok.” Beatrice said simply, and walked in, with just a glance over her shoulder at the tree.
Amos, still distracted, hadn’t responded. He was staring up into the hemlock tree above the sandbox, wondering if there were other small, secret places up in the trees that he might visit.
“Amos,” his mother called to him. “I made hot chocolate.”
This broke him out of his revery. “Yay!” he cheered, turning. He came running up the steps and into the house. “Can we still watch something?” he asked.
The door closed.
Nineteen days later, on Christmas morning, Amos and Beatrice were up early, long before their parents. “Come on,” Beatrice said, catching Amos just before he went over to their Christmas tree. “Get your boots and coat on.” She had already pulled her coat on over her pajamas and was pulling on her boots.
“Oh, yeah,” Amos said. “I almost forgot.”
They hurried out the back door, down the steps, and over to the holly tree. Beatrice had a bag in her hand and a small blanket that they sometimes used for picnics.
“Here, put the blanket down by the hole, Amos,” she said. Amos took it and spread it out as best as he could.
“Hold this,” she said, giving him the bag. She laid down on the blanket and reached her arm into the hole. “Ok. Hand me the tree.”
Out of the bag, Amos pulled a very small Christmas tree. Amos had thought of it – to break off a small branch of their own tree and decorate it for the squirrels. With sharp scissors Beatrice had cut off a bit of branch from somewhere deep in the back of the tree where she thought it wouldn’t be noticed.
They’d glued little beads onto the branch and shaken glitter onto it, too. Beatrice had written a miniature card and tied it to the base of the makeshift tree. It said simply:
TO: THE SQUIRREL FAMILY
FROM: BEATRICE AND AMOS
She had used her best handwriting, and Amos had drawn a picture of a dragon on it for Felix.
Beatrice carefully took the tree with its card, tied it to the ivy she’d caught in her other hand, and then tied a bell to the end of the vine. She let go of the vine and backed out a bit. “Up,” she said, and heard the bell ringing up the trunk as it jingled on the ivy.
“Merry Christmas!” Amos shouted up the outside of the tree.
After a moment, they saw a squirrel peep out of the ivy house. They weren’t quite sure which squirrel it was at this distance.
“Cherrip, chip chip chip, cherrip,” it said, and they were sure that it meant “Merry Christmas,” too.