L'automne

October 28, 2009
L’automne

I sit upright in bed at four fifteen in the morning; forty minutes before you are supposed to show up. As slowly as I can, I peel the sensor from my chest and slide the I.V. out of the crook of my elbow. I shut off the machine next to my bedside, disconnect the small rubber tube from the port on my chest, and slide out from under crisp sheets. I creep shakily up the stairs, past my mother sleeping softly on the couch, careful to avoid the creaking step. I shouldn’t be walking on my own; I could take a tumble and end up in the hospital again. Not that it would make too much of a difference.
I open the door of my closet and slip out of my blue plaid pajamas. It’s silly that my mother still buys me matching sleepwear, but I suppose it helps her feel like I’m still her little girl, able to be kept safe. I reach for my old favorite blue jeans and pull them on. I think I can fit two of me in these pants. I pull a belt off its hook, and wrap it tight enough around my waist. I slip three shirts over my head: longsleeve, shortsleeve, sweater. I run my hand over the wispy velvet that’s left of my hair as I sneak back down the stairs, grabbing the charcoal-grey beanie you bought me from the counter. I haven’t been allowed out since the day they told me I was going to die, and the weatherman said today would be a cold one.
I brush my teeth in the downstairs bathroom as quietly as I can. You pull into my driveway with the lights off, and I slowly turn the lock as I slip my shoes on over the thick red socks I found in a laundry basket. I hold my breath as I turn the doorknob, and slip through the front door as mother turns over on the couch. You get out of the car, careful to leave your door open, and walk toward me, taking my arm as I nearly stumble down the porch steps. Your voice is warm and quiet in my ear. We shouldn’t be doing this, Kate, you tell me. I shake my head. You sigh and open my door for me and I pull it almost closed. You climb in, careful. We can’t wake up my mother. You put the car in reverse and we wait until we are two streets over to stop and close the doors. The port in my arm throbs with pain as I pull mine sharply shut. I should have taken my meds, you say. You lower your eyebrows, your lips making a tight line. It’s okay, Ben, I reassure you. I want to do this. I reach out to smooth the concern from your face, and you lean toward me. We kiss. This is taboo. When I open my eyes, there are tears in yours. I look away. I say I do not want to see mourning when I am still here with you. You nod and we drive for an hour in the dark and quiet morning. I can hear you hum while I doze, my hand entwined with yours. When I hear the crunch of gravel under tires, I open my eyes. You bite your thumbnail and ask if I really think I’m up to this. I smile, and pull you toward me, pressing my face into your neck, my arms wrapping around you. You sigh, shaking your head, and get out of the car. You open my door and help me to my feet.
Walk with me, you say.
The trail is long and winding, pockmarked with footsteps. Leaves blow brown and crunchy under bare feet. I move my toes in the springy moss, glad to have left my socks on the gravel creek bed. I open my mouth and taste the air. Yesterday, I was filled with the sickly smell of flower arrangements, the air choked with too many goodbyes. Now what I breathe is loose and free, smelling sweetly of crumbly decay. We slip our feet quietly into the stream, the water whispering over my ankles. The hem of my jeans bleeds upward dark blue. I watch to see how high the wet will climb. The dark clover bruise on the top of my foot reminds me of why we shouldn’t be here.
You smile and pull me along, come on, come on. You’ve got something to show me in the forest fortress, even though this will get you in terrible trouble when we get back. Invisible fingers reach to tousle my hair and sneak through my sweater. I shiver; stop that. I turn back, cheeks flushed, and watch the trenches dug by our wandering feet fill up quickly with tree rain. You tug at my hand, feeling the thin bones. I see guilt in your eyes when you realize you were squeezing too hard. I smile and reach out to put a leaf in your hair. Lost boy. I trace the line of your jaw. We move our feet through the sea of tree scales, our feet digging furrows, our eyes trained on russet and amber and gold. I feel an acorn sharp in the bottom of my foot. There is dirt under my fingernails and goose bumps on my exposed skin. I am autumn, I say, and December always follows. You bite your lip. Don’t talk like that, you say, and your thumb moves against the ridge of my spine. I shiver, and you start to take off your sweatshirt to drape around my shoulders. I shake my head; I like the cold. I want to feel this day.
You push aside the scratching hand of a tree branch, I move quicksilver quiet past. We walk in silence, though in my mind I am singing a song of fall, of branches and creeks and you. The trail pulls away from us as we make our own way, wading through the crackling leaves. I reach the top of the ridge first because I am not afraid to fall. I pull the sleeves of my sweater down over my hands, holding the cuffs in my fists as I balance on the rim of the rock. I spin slowly on the spot, arms outstretched. Come away from the edge, you say, I’m scaring you. I step lightly on the impressionable ground and slip my hand back into yours. I cough, and we both hear the rattle in my chest. I choose to ignore it, but you say that maybe this was a bad idea. I disagree. I’m glad you stole me. You smile at that, press your lips to my forehead and tell me it’s just a little further. I pull you closer and tell you that I love you too much.
We walk, quiet, and I shiver, thinking about the growing light and the cold breeze. Your arm is warm around my shoulder, my hand warmed against your side. How much further, I want to know. The air grows warm with the rising sun. I can feel your smile as we stop walking. I turn around and around, watching the leaves fall from treetops made hazy by ever growing light. The ground is clear green moss, a faerie ring of mushrooms at its center. It’s so beautiful, this clearing, this glade you found. I can smell wood smoke and cold air and damp earth. We sit down, your back against a tree, mine against you. I rest my head in the hollow of your neck, the knit cap itching the smooth skin of my naked head. I whisper that I love you, and you shake your head, arms tightening around me, pretending to protect me, even though we secretly know you can’t do anything. You tell me you wish we could trade places. Your voice chokes as you tremble and ask me to stay with you forever. I say yes, always, and we are both so grateful that I lie. Our chests rise in perfect unison as we fall into sleep. Through all the grey and quiet and catheters and needles and I’m sorry’s, it is so good to have You.





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