Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Leaf

My good friend Sandy Ward (who's awesome raindrop picture I posted on my Comforts ... Poetry post) came across this idea a writer and photographer were doing in tandem where the photographer would take a random picture and the writer would have to weave a story around it. Well, we've decided to steal said idea and do something similar once a week. I haven't a clue where this is going to take me, but I'll just start writing ...

The Leaf

They were walking along one day when she came across it. Like a stark shot of sunlight amidst shadows, it pressed against the damp log. Its edges were frayed, its delicate stem intertwined with the bark, its veins spotted with age and wear, but the yellow maple leaf was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

She broke stride and unclasped their hands to walk over and gently peel it from its lonely dwelling and into her warm hand. Slowly, she brought it to her nose and inhaled. It felt as though the core of the earth itself filtered into her lungs.

He stood, several feet away, smiling softly at her, examining the way a single sunbeam streamed through the burnished tree branches, casting a glowing aura around her dark, wavy tendrils. Her sun-kissed cheeks and closed eyelids looked iridescent in the light as she took another deep breath against the leaf. He took a step backward, leaning against the tree as he propped up his right leg, crossed his arms and drank her in. Finally, as if coming to from a long, dream-filled doze, she opened her eyelids and found his eyes. She quickly blushed under their intensely penetrating gaze and bashfully looked down, lowering her arms while still cradling the leaf.

A nearly translucent mist existed her flush lips as they spread into a deep smile.

"We can add this to our collection," she said in a gravelly whisper before reaching into her knapsack, draped over her right hip, and pulling out her leather bound journal.

She opened it to a blank page and gingerly laid the leaf between the flaps before shutting it and tucking it away. The corners of his mouth pulled back into a warm smile, yet his piercing eyes never wavered from hers. Once again, she coyly looked away and into the distance, furrowing her brow in faux concentration. This caused him to finally break, softly chuckling before stretching his arm out to her, beckoning her to come back over to the leaf-covered trail so they could continue their walk. She practically skipped over to him, a playful bounce in her step that only deepened his smile and swelled his heart. He let out a long, steady exhale that could have passed for utopian contentment as she looped her arm in his and they continued on.

A moment later, they heard a faint rustling in the woods near them and spotted a female deer with a baby fawn next to her, dusted with white spots. The deer both raised their heads, ears and eyes fiercely alert to the couple, yet unmoving. The man and woman continued the standoff for a few more moments, mesmerized by the gentle grace and beauty of the creatures staring back at them, before slowly walking on, intent on not disturbing them any further.

Before the trail wound down to where they were parked, he stopped and turned toward her, bringing her in for a gentle kiss as he untangled his left arm from hers and cupped her face in both his hands, deepening the kiss. He opened his eyes and gazed down at hers, still shut against the red hues of the leaves in a dreamlike trance, her lips slightly parted with a hint of a smile. Finally she opened them and he saw they were glistening with emotion.

The leaf, momentarily forgotten as she thought, he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

No words were spoken for fear of bursting the surreal bubble they found themselves in. But like all moments, it was whisked away by the tepid fall breeze and they turned to walk toward the car, both inhaling the sweet, earthy air one last time.

Once home, she scampered to the den, grabbed the worn, chipped stepping stool her grandpa had made for her when she was a little girl, stepped up to the top shelf and plucked out the large, burlap book at the end of the row. Meanwhile, her fiance put away their coats and strolled into the den just as she hopped off the bench and pulled out her journal. Carefully, she removed the yellow leaf, now dried a bit and practically glowing against her skin as she opened the burlap bound book and sifted through the laminated pages of autumn leaves they'd collected over the years. Finally, she found an open page and placed the leaf over top of it, carrying the entire book to the window sill and leaving it open against the rays of sun pouring through.

"We really ought to wait until it completely dries," she said, as though he knew nothing about preserving leaves.

It only made him love her more as he walked over and enveloped her in his arms, bringing his nose to just above her ear and breathing her scent in.

"I can't wait to fill that entire book," he softly whispered into her ear, causing gentle butterflies in her stomach.

Many autumns later ...

Feeling the crunch of decaying leaves giving way beneath his boots and cane, he ambled on, noticing now more than ever the slight hitch in his step. His wool cap vibrated against the breeze, much brisker than it had been those many years prior. He took a different path this time, however, spotting a fallen tree across the trail ahead.

As he drew nearer, his misty breath slightly wheezing with each stride, he decided to stop a moment and sit on the log, betraying its age with a slight crack under his weight. As he collected himself, something caught his attention out of the corner of his left eye. He turned his gaze toward it and saw, buried in a hollowed out section of the wet log, a tattered orange leaf. Without another thought, he reached in and gently pulled it out, one of its corners slightly tearing. He held it flat in his palm, examining it, bruised and browning by its slow demise, its stem curving toward the pulse in his wrist. He then looked at his other hand, resting on his knee, bruised and spotted with age as well. He tenderly brought the leaf to his nose and lips, shutting his eyelids against the trees, causing tears to roll down each of his cheeks and glisten against the pale light shedding through graying skies.

After a few minutes, he brought the sleeve of his coat to his nose, sniffling against it before wiping away remaining tears with his chapped fingers. With great effort and the help of his steadfast wooden cane, he rose from the log, stepping over it and continued down the path with the leaf in hand. He stopped just before the clearing and peered into the woods, hearing a rustle in the leaves ... or perhaps merely a phantom rustle. There was nothing.

Once in the clearing, he limped over to the right, pulling the bundle under his arms closer to his heart. He spotted the arched headstone, crowned by a wreath of autumn leaves and cloaked in the morning fog. He stopped a few feet away and just stared at the wreath, holding strong throughout the season's rough worn rainstorms.

"I found something today," he said, his voice slightly cracking. "It was buried in the hollow of a tree trunk in the path. If I'd have known better, I'd swear you left it there, tucked away, just for me."

He paused then, feeling the warmth of fresh tears trek down his cheeks, falling to the dead leaves beneath him. He walked over and pulled the plastic off a wood-chapped stepping stool, never having the heart to refinish it. Feeling his bones crack, he leaned his weight against the cane as he descended, sitting just to the right of her grave before pulling forth the leaf. He took the bundle from under his arm and laid it on his lap, removing the cloth it was wrapped in.

Tentatively, he opened the burlap cover, revealing the first leaf they'd ever found together, it's blazing crimson color as breathtaking as it was that day, lying atop shrubbery hidden in the shadows. But she spotted it. She had always spotted them.

In a trance-like state, he meticulously turned each page. Every leaf, every vein, marking, scar, bruising, shape igniting a separate memory -- like an ember catching flame once more. Tears softly fell onto the plastic pages as he continuing turning them, until he finally reached a clear one -- the final one. Just as he was about to place the leaf in the open sleeve, he paused and glanced up at his wife's weathered gravestone.

He felt something inside him shift, like death's whisper, a knowing ... only it did not scare him as he continued to look at her beautiful name etched into the granite stone. He closed his eyes and pictured her that day she discovered a fall leaf much like this one, only a radiant yellow and filled with more life. He saw her dark eyes glisten against the sunbeam before she closed them to the leaf's scent. His old heart swelled so much, it hurt.  He let out a deep exhale, laced with love, yet tethered with anguish and despair as he cracked his heavy eyelids open and brought them back to the leaf in his hand.

Before placing it inside the sleeve, he laid the leaf on his lap, studied it a moment, then carefully tied its stem into a knot. He lifted it to his nose one last time, gently bringing his lips against it in a kiss before placing it in the plastic sleeve. This last one would not be ironed. It would succumb to the ails of oxygen and age, just as it should, he thought, before looking back at her headstone.

"We finally finished it ... my darling," he said, straining against the knot of sorrow burrowed in his throat.

He closed the book and wrapped it back up with the cloth as he gradually got back to his feet and covered the stool back up. However, just before he turned to go, something stopped him, bringing his eyes back to the brown, dead leaves beneath his shoes. The overcast skies ebbed, letting a beam of sunlight shine down near her tombstone. He saw something buried there beneath a mound of dull, amber leaves. Using his cane, he bent down to uncover it. And as he pulled the last decaying leaf aside, there it was, brilliant as the sun.

A yellow maple leaf.

~ C ~


  1. i love these literary/photo stories! such a beautiful piece stemming from one little photo.

  2. Thanks :-) Yeah, I never know where they're gonna take me ...