Valerie tossed a tangle of tinsel into the fire and cackled madly at the unnatural green flames that engulfed the ball of frustration. A decent depiction of her state of mind, she thought, as she turned her attention back to the tree. For a first attempt, and objective account might describe it as “not bad.” However, as Valerie only had her mother’s elegantly draped and perfectly lit decorations to compare it to, she saw only a hopeless failure that had gone from scraggly to tortured with increasing speed the longer she laboured. She might not have minded, but Ben’s family would be coming to join them for Christmas this year. She barely knew his parents, but could see their expressions of disapproval in her mind already.
She simply couldn’t get the garland to drape in any way that could be remotely described as elegant; her best efforts would be more at home in a low-budget bondage flick than a Christmas card. To make matters worse, no less than seven glass baubles had shattered as they fell to the floor during the process, each shaking loose a tumble of needles on its way down. At least the thick mat of needles on the floor provided a bit of cushion to protect some of the later ornament casualties. However, replacing the fallen ornaments had knocked still more needles from the tree, which was now looking more brown than green.
Placing another strand of tinsel on the tree, Valerie stood back to assess her work. The silvery strings helped, though she was beginning to run out of branches on which to place them and had barely used a tenth of the package. What did people do with all this stuff?
As if to underscore her frustration, A strand of lights mid-way up the tree chose that moment to flicker out. Valerie gaped at the bedraggled tree, that now seemed to gape back at her with the darkened section looking like a massive hole. “I quit!” she shouted, and threw the rest of the tinsel into the fire.
The green flames sprang to life again, and Valerie grinned in transient satisfaction- an expression that was quickly chased away by choking coughs as the fireplace emitted a strong chemical odor that told her in no uncertain terms that the burning of tinsel was decidedly Not-A-Good-Idea.
Valerie fanned her face futilely for a few moments before giving up and coughing and sputtering her way out the front door, pausing only briefly to gather her coat. She’d heard that taking a walk was a good way to deal with frustration, and now seemed like an excellent time to act on that advice.
Her head was indeed much clearer, and much colder, when she returned to the house an hour later. Ben’s car was in the drive, she noticed with a smile. With any luck, he already had dinner going, it being his turn tonight. She entered the house and was mildly disappointed at the lack of any cooking smells. Not nearly as disappointed as Ben looked, though, as he glared darkly at her from the sitting room.
“Care to explain?” he asked.
“Explain what?” Valerie evaded, running her recent activities through her mind in an effort to find the least-serious confession. Ben waited. “Sorry about the tree,” she continued. “I tried, I really did. I’ll fix it tomorrow. . . I hope”
“That’s not what I had in mind, and I couldn’t care less about the tree” Ben prompted, his voice patient but clearly upset.
Valerie glanced around the room, her eyes catching on the dying embers of the fire. “I burned the tinsel, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise it would make such a terrible odour. I had to leave- it might have been poisonous.”
“And you left the guard off the fire.”
“Oh,” replied Valerie blushing. It was a simple thing, and something he had told her before, and yet so easily forgotten. “I wasn’t thinking. Honestly. I’ve been working all day trying to make the house ready for Christmas. I can’t think of everything, you know.”
“I’m not asking you to think of everything, just to keep safety in mind. Christmas would be a lot colder if we didn’t have a house to come home to.”
“I know that, but if you knew how frustrating it is, trying to whip the tree into shape-”
“I don’t think it’s the tree that needs to be whipped into shape,” Ben replied, catching her wrist and leading her over to the sofa, depositing her over the arm. Valerie resisted, but he held her firmly down as he lifted her skirt and applied a few sharp swats to the seat of her panties. “I know you’re busy, but that’s no excuse for oversights when it comes to safety.” Valerie harrumphed in reply, but remained in place over the sofa, surrendering to the inevitable punishment but not yet suitably repentant enough to admit aloud that it was deserved.
She heard the distinctive whisper of his belt being removed and made a move to stand. Ben caught her just in time and firmly pressed her back into place. “Not yet, we’re far from finished. I won’t tolerate this sort of carelessness,” he scolded, keeping steady pressure on the small of her back.
Valerie stomped in frustration, but gave up her efforts to escape. Her obedience was rewarded with a firm lash across her bottom that made her eyes water and her stomping pick up in intensity. Ben held her still, well used to her typical early-spanking antics, and proceeded with the whipping, pausing every few strokes to let her catch her breath as he softly scolded.
Before long, her sobs became more deeply genuine, and her feet had lost the energy to continue stomping. “Are you finished now?” Ben asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. . .” Valerie meekly replied. Ben gave her three more firm lashes before gathering her into his arms for a long, sobbing hug.
“I promise I’ll be more careful with the fire,” she managed at long last, “and I won’t burn tinsel,” she added as an afterthought.
“Good,” Ben smiled, “you know what burns well?”
“Other than my bottom you mean?”
“Well, that too,” Ben replied with an appreciative chuckle as he squeezed her glowing cheeks. “But I was thinking of pine.”
The tree did, in fact, burn very well once it had been divested of ornamentation. Valerie snuggled closer to Ben as she watched the flames and felt immensely satisfied. She had indeed defeated the tree, albeit hardly in the manner she had originally intended.
Still, as she watched the flames devour the tree, she felt a sharp prick of panic. Ben’s parents would be calling this year for Christmas. What sort of wife would they think she was if she couldn’t even manage to set up a tree for the occasion?
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked, feeling her tense up against him.
“What are we going to do now?” Valerie asked. “We needed that tree.”
“That tree was a dried up problem. I guess that’s what we get for bargain-hunting. We’ll try again.”
“But it will still look awful,” Valerie moaned. “You saw what I did to it. Even if it was the best tree in the world, it would still look horrible by the time I was through with it. I can’t figure out how the garland is supposed to work. The ribbon is a wrinkled mess. It’ll take me at least an hour to untangle the lights again, and that’s assuming I can get them to work at all. It’s no use!” Valerie almost shouted in frustration.
“Stop that,” Ben chided as he brushed away the tears that had started to run down her cheeks during her frightened rant. “I’ll take you back over my knee for another adjustment if I need to, though I can think of any number of things I’d rather do.” He kissed her tenderly in promise, and, angry and frustrated as Valerie was, she couldn’t keep up her resistance long.
Valerie returned home late the next evening, having lingered in town to pick up a few things Ben had requested that morning. She had been mildly resentful at the imposition. It wasn’t as though she didn’t have enough to do, what with getting the house ready for Ben’s family, but she had to admit that an evening away from the house was welcome after the previous night’s disaster. Best to take a bit of time to clear her head before attempting to tackle the decoration issue again.
Still, as she shuffled through the slush on the front walk, she found her mind already churning. “Would wreaths be any easier to decorate?” she mused. She allowed herself a moment to picture the sitting room decked out in rings of pine boughs before dismissing the idea. No, there wasn’t much difference between hanging ornaments on a wreath and a tree. As nice as the previous evening’s fire was, she doubted Ben would be as indulgent if a second project failed for the same reasons.
Feeling her frustration mount again, Sarah stamped her boots off on the mat, set down her bags, and froze in awe as she turned to see the sitting room.
In nooks and crannies throughout the room rested fluffy clouds of snow- which Valerie recognised as bits of tulle and fluff from various attempted craft projects- with colourfully wrapped gifts nestled in their softness.
But the magic was in the lighting, in the dozens of flickering electric candles suspended above the room, appearing to float on thin air. Closer inspection revealed a network of fishing line criss-crossing the ceiling, tied to tiny hooks anchored discretely under the crown moulding.
“Best part is,” Ben said smugly, “fishing line is cheap. No need to try to keep it from tangling. Just cut the candles off, chuck the whole mess in the bin, and start with a new reel next year.”
Valerie gaped at him. “It. . .it’s beautiful,” she exclaimed.
“I told you we’d think of something,” Ben replied with a grin.
“We didn’t- you did,” Valerie acknowledged as she explored the wonderland Ben had created.
“I put the pieces together, but all this stuff was sitting around in the basement. Just needed a bit of creative thinking.”
“Still,” Valerie replied, “this is very impress-” her breath caught as she noticed the stockings hanging on the mantle. Most were hanging limply empty, as was suitable for this time of the month, but protruding from one was the business end of what looked to be a rather hefty crop.
Seeing where her attention had been caught, Ben smirked. “I know switches are more traditional, though I thought we could do with something a bit more sturdy.”
“I see that,” Valerie huffed in a parody of indignation as she lifted the implement from the stocking. With a candy-cane striped handle, it was impossible to take the implement seriously. True, it would sting plenty, though she couldn’t imagine such an implement being used for anything approaching a sombre punishment. “However, aren’t such ‘gifts’ supposed to show up on Christmas day?”
“We still have two weeks until Christmas. We might need it before then,” Ben said in a tone that might have been frightening, had he not followed it up with a playful swat to her bottom, eliciting grins from them both. “Besides, best not let things fester. In fact, I’m feeling a bit proactive about now,” he declared with a suggestive twinkle in his eye.