Sunday, October 9, 2011

autumn winds

Her hair matched the color of the changing leaves in the trees. We’d been holding hands out on a little couple’s stroll, but when the wind picked up and started to swirl the leaves around her, she let go. Her feet made muffled crunching noises on the leaves as she ran and twirled in time with the wind, firm enough to stir up little cyclones of fall colors and turn her sculpted auburn mane into a disheveled, leafy mess. After a few minutes of running and twirling she dropped to the ground and rolled in the leaves, with frequent fits of giggles robbing her of breath.

With summer on the way out and the breeze blowing the fall in quickly, we’d both bundled up for the first time that year. Her fleece jacket was doubling as a leaf magnet, with little pieces of crushed autumn clinging to her clothes as she frolicked in the field. She stopped suddenly and sat up to give me a green-eyed glare that said, with mock gravity, if you don’t get in on this fun you’re the most boring person I’ve ever known.
Powerless to resist, as I always was, I ran and slid onto the cold, leaf-strewn ground, laughing just as hard as she was as I lifted myself to a kneeling position and spat out a mouthful of leaves. In reality maybe one leaf had brushed the side of my lips, but the dramatization had the desired effect. It made her laugh, and that was all the reward I’d ever need.

“Grampa?” the quiet, mousy interruption came from a red-headed little girl, no more than 6 years old, and one I knew quite well. She’d inherited the familiar green eyes, and playful personality. The quiet, mousy lead-in was masking a more diabolical scheme.

“Yes, Maggie?” I turned to face her and widened my eyes, pretending like I was completely fooled by her demure manners.

“I know mommy and daddy said no, ‘cuz they just finished fixing the yard, but we were all wondering…” her hands were clasped behind her back,  and she was slowly fidgeting back and forth, refusing direct eye contact, “If we could—“

“Now Magdalene,” I said with carefully controlled severity, leaning forward and using her proper name for emphasis, “If your parents told you no, why would you ask me?”

“Well they went out for their date-night…”

“And their rules went with them? And why did the rest of the children send you to ask me, hmmmm? I’m sure they all want to play in the leaves, but you were the one they picked for the job,” I leaned back in the chair, and raised my eyebrows, “Why do you think that is?”

“Because you can’t say no to me,” she giggled and smiled, all angelic semblance thrown to the wind. She climbed into my lap and wrapped her arms around me in an embrace I would never tire of, and I hugged her tightly.

“And I still can’t. Go ahead and mess up all those leaf-piles in the yard with your brothers and sisters. I’ll just tell your parents the wind kicked up while they were out,” I gave her a conspiratorial wink. She hugged me again, said thank you in the same practiced way all six-year olds do as they learn to make manners a habit, and ran off.

I sat and watched as the children giggled and screamed, dove into the leaf piles, and held mini-leaf fights, one of which I had to briefly mediate before it became a full-blown war. When I came back to my chair after negotiating an uneasy truce, I found that the gentle afternoon breeze had managed to land one lone autumn leaf onto my chair. It was perfectly shaped, apparently escaping the ravages of the playful grandchildren, had turned to an auburn color that was strikingly familiar.

I picked up the leaf to inspect it, and then lowered it so I could see into the house. Above the fireplace, I saw the urn, still far too new for me to be used to it. Through the windows and the patio screen, I could still make out the hand-painted design on the porcelain. It was a proud Maple tree in the middle of fall, with yellow, orange, and red leaves. I looked back at the leaf in my hand and felt my throat tighten up, but the delighted laughter of the children pulled me out of my reverie. I sat back down and carefully cradled the fallen leaf, and I watched my grandchildren run, roll, giggle, and twirl in the sea of autumn, and felt the cool brisk wind of the fall on my face. The wind tugged at the fallen leaf in my hand, but I held it, and wouldn’t let go.

-James Konst