Short stories falling leaves
1st October 1990
The season’s slow change was tangible in the air like icy fingers clawing through the inky blanket of the dead of night and taking up residence before the morning sun could melt their influence. I love this time of year, the smells of abundance and harvest, the lengthening darkness that promise crackling glowing fires in neglected hearths and the magic of memory of ghostly tales and impossible possibilities.
Not to contradict myself in complex dichotomy but I also always feel a lowering in mood and an irritating burn of quiet loneliness and passage of time at the start of autumn. As I walk home from work through the town square I’m assaulted by the sounds and sights of remembered potential and unseen futures. Groups of young children are kicking up clouds of crisp russet leaves at the wayside having made their first forays into ‘big school’. College kids are expounding on idealistic theories of philosophy and life enthused by the start of a new term and reconnecting with friends. Changing the world and friend’s forever doesn’t always work to plan.
At their age my head was a kaleidoscope of ideas and hopes; my purpose was sure and sure to be great. Not that I have a bad life by any means just a more practical and responsible one that seems to have slowed down and become stale.
I paused at my favourite bookstore, square windows frosting a little with condensation and spewing warm amber light from within. Jim, the grad-student in the little café there makes the best mochacino’s this side of the Atlantic and always has a kind word and understanding smile. I always buy take-out, that way I can sit lazily for a while immersed in a good book from the reading section but still have a warm container and liquid to take the chill from my hands and body on the rest of the walk home.
It was that night I met him as I huddled into my muffler and crossed through the park. The towering trees were balding, an endless flight of foliage breaking free and swooping and twirling to their mates on the ground. My boots stirred up rustlings and crinklings as I stepped swiftly through the innumerable hues of yellow, orange and red of crisp leaves my coffee cup still clutched in gloved hands.
On a wisp of wind a woollen cap blew and clung to my shins powerless to detach with the force of the weather and there he was, a tall dark stranger springing up from his last pounce like an agile, sleek cat and gaze fixed intently on my legs. It was clearly a good day to choose my floral black stockings and dainty ankle boots.
We both reached for the disobedient headwear at the same time clumsily clunking our heads together, though at least I was wearing a furry hat to absorb the impact. We missed, the cap speeding onward in its adventurous journey but it was now joined with my now empty coffee cup like two free birds dancing in oblivion to the cold and waxing hour.
We sighed and ran in unison to re-imprison the offenders ending up sprawled in a mountain of leaves that had been raked into a cushioning pile.
“Your coffee, well coffee cup m’lady.” He intoned with a smile.
“Your cap, good sir. Is its owner as mischievous?” I replied, glad that the dusk and biting cold would hide my blush.
“I probably shouldn’t commit an answer to that until I’ve at least bought you another coffee.”
He stumbled to his feet brushing down his heavy, woollen trench coat and offering me his hand. He pulled harder than I expected and I wound up being steadied in his arms. I knew at that moment that that man was trouble but that trouble might be exactly what I was looking for.
18th October 2009
A vehicle had skidded on squelched fallen leaves as it veered to close to the curb. It was an accident. The night was horrid, blustering gales pelting rain forcefully to the earth, trees shaking, roads blocked by those that had been shaken to hard and fallen and muddy landslides scattering rocks and foliaged debris across country lanes.
I had told him Bruce didn’t need a walk tonight, that one night off wouldn’t kill him but he’d braved the elements and strode purposefully out into the eye of the storm.
When the bell rang I couldn’t believe he’d forgotten his keys on a night like this but of course he hadn’t.
Maggie was forty miles away in an excitable student dorm but she needed to be told. I couldn’t do that over the phone but the thought of driving that distance on that nightmare of a cursed night was inconceivable to me. Matthew would still be burning the midnight oil pouring bleary eyed through text books unless he’d surreptitiously plugged his earphones into the playstation again.
I’d been so despondent and clingy with my eldest heading off to university and Matthew in his last year in school but for the first time in weeks I didn’t want to see my children. If I saw my children I’d have to say it, to make it real. While it was only my heart breaking it was contained maybe even consumed and rewritten in the face of my inconsolable grief and burning in my chest, stinging in my eyes, muted sounds in my ears and numbness of every other part of me that didn’t matter or register anymore.
I guess for once he had been studying as Matthew appeared at the top of the stairs and locked eyes with the drenched and miserable looking policeman standing in the doorway. Like someone had uncorked a bottle all sounds and sensations rushed back in and I feel to my knees and cried.
15th October 2014
“Oh darling it’s beautiful and you made it all yourself?” I cooed and glowed with pride and happiness.
“Mum helped a teeny bit but I picked the leaves. Happy birthday Grandma!”
Charlotte squealed as I gave her a great, big, sloppy kiss then proceeded to torture her with tickles as she squirmed and wriggled on the floor like a jellied eel.
“Here comes cake.” Maggie balanced a calorie chocked, choc-a-holic, iced cake on a silver tray while elbowing off the light switch and joining Charlotte in a disharmonious chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.
The delicious creation was placed on the table and the fair haired, pigtailed child ushered me over to sit down and blow out the candles arranged in the middle to dot out ’50’.
“Don’t forget to make a wish”, Lottie clapped and cheered.
That night I stared in quiet contemplation embraced in the thralls of memory at the homemade picture frame. Lottie had picked up the most perfect autumn leaves in the most unusual shapes and colours she could find and brought them home for Maggie to dry and press and place under glass to form a natural leafy border around the picture of me, daddy, Maggie and Mat in the park on a sunny summer’s day just down from that old bookstore I used to stop at on my way home.
As I switched off the lights and lay down I felt so content and blessed and blew a kiss as I relaxed into the mattress feeling like I was being blown and spun on a gentle breeze in a beautiful place where nothing could harm me and love could never end. I felt my body sink into a pile of crisp fallen leaves as the wind beat at my window and rustled through the trees.
“Goodnight my love”.