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The Autumn Bloom
The wind sighs against the autumn leaves. The grass moves to and fro with the wind, its companion, and waits silently for the winter nights. A shuffle breaks the quiet in an oak tree’s shadow.
“What is this?” she says.
“An oak tree,” he says.
“An oak tree?”
“My oak tree.”
“When I was little,” he says, “I would come to these golden fields. The bees buzzed in my ears, the hot sun beat down on my smiling face. That river, there,” he points, and she looks. “That river, I tried to hop across, and I fell in. the water swept my small body down, and I nearly drowned. As my arms splashed over the water’s surface, they caught a tree branch. This branch,” he points. She gazes over through the fire-orange leaves. “This branch saved my life. I have never forgotten.” He pauses. “I come here to think.”
“It’s a lonely place,” she says.
“That’s not it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is a place of tranquility. The bugs buzz and the birds chirp and the river pit-patters down the hill, and the breeze blows cool against warm faces. It is as if God shines down and blesses the day Himself.”
“You talk like a poet.”
“Is it so wrong to love a place such as this, to find the words to describe beauty? I don’t think I could find any other place that defines life like this… and the oak tree.”
“Hm,” she says.
“… Love,” he says.
The sun sets. The leaves fall one by one in the waves of the chilly Fall breeze. They are gone. The sun sets and rises. The sun sets…
The first sprout of green grows on the tall oak tree. A rabbit tunnels under the smooth tangle of roots and breathes life to its babies. A squirrel runs ‘round and ‘round the grass and climbs the oak. It climbs to the end of a branch and watches the sun stretch across the sky and set behind green grassy hills. The sun rises…
“Hello?” he says.
“Hello?” she says.
“Can you hear me?”
A pause. “This isn’t the same.”
“Portable phones are brand new. You’ll get used to it.”
“Let’s get together.”
“The oak tree.”
“I can’t,” she says. “I don’t have a car.”
“We can walk, like we used to.”
A pause. “I can’t.”
“Alright,” he says.
She hangs up and the static fills his ears. It isn’t the same as the wind in the leaves. It is not the same.
The summer warmth washes over great golden seas of grass, and the river slows to a small trickle. The sun rises proudly over the cloudless sky, and shines its lazy energy on two small beings…
“This is really quiet,” she says.
“It’s a place to think,” he says.
She holds his hand in hers.
“They plan to build a road through here.”
“We could drive straight here!”
“We could drive to New York!” he says. “We could drive to California, to San Francisco and Las Vegas and the ‘Big Apple’ and all of the clubs, bright-lit neon pinks, blues and greens, where trash litters the streets and trashy people plague the walks and the parks, and cars roar their tinny engines in your ears, and music squeaks and titters and screams at the smoggy night sky ‘For what it’s worth, I don’t care!’ and people whisper and guffaw and snort and cry, and the world is chaos.”
She looks hard into his eyes. “You really love this place?”
Silence. Then, “More than any thing on this earth.” He hugs her and rests his cheek against hers. He feels the sun’s warmth on her skin.
“Love,” he says.
The heat beats down on the rolling hills. Metal contraptions arrive and spit tar and oil. The river fills with crumpled beer cans, shattered glass, and plastic bottles. An ugly black strip settles itself through the grass, over the river, across and to the beyond…
“It’s hard,” he says. His voice is deeper, calmer, softer. He sits beneath the oak tree, its leaves showing the first tint of orange and brown. The bark is scarred where a car hit it. “It’s hard to find another place that speaks ‘live! laugh! love!’ quite like this place used to.”
A car flashes by in the night and illuminates his Chevrolet parked on the side of the road.
She rests her head in the crook of his neck. “The oak tree is still peaceful.”
“The sounds of the hills are just the waves on the beach. You hear the crickets chirp and the owl rustling in the grass for its prey and you hear the faintest crackle as the grass stirs and the leaves twitch, and then the great mechanical beast—its prey only the great big world—flashes by, the roar from its mouth crying out, silencing the timid life around it. The waves come to tickle my toes, but now they never fail to recede and beat back… faintly.”
She is silent. Then: “Let’s go home.”
“I’d like to stay.”
“I have work tomorrow.”
He sighs. “Alright.”
They climb into the Chevrolet. He says something, his eyes fixed on the backlit black hills visible in the moonlight as he pulls onto the road, but the howls of the engine drown him out.
The summer nights stretch longer. The green leaves slowly fade color, tingeing with browns and reds and oranges, then the golden colors cover all, and down the black strip in the small town, pumpkins line the walks, cornucopias spout the harvests, and the sun slowly fades behind golden hills, dusk peeking in the dark in pinks and oranges, and the ghosts rise from their homes to wander the roads…
The dying sun hits the oak tree leaves and sets the bright yellows and oranges and reds alight in a fiery blaze of color. The air feels warm, but cool with the gentle wind beneath the boughs. He sits on a soft wool blanket holding a wine glass to his lips, sipping ice water from the cooler. A wine bottle sits in a bucket of ice, waiting for her to arrive. Warming on the camper stove simmers vegetable mélange and garlic chicken. Waiting…
He held her hands to her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “So, I’ve been thinking…”
“Yes! I want to have a romantic dinner under the oak.”
“ ’Oh’, what?” He laughed. “This time of year is perfect. It is beautiful.”
“Tomorrow night at six.”
She dropped her hands. “My friend is having a Halloween party tomorrow!”
“But can’t you come? For me?”
She looks away, and then looks back. “Yes, I’ll come.”
“I’ll pick you up?” he said.
“No,” she said. “I’ll meet you there.”
His voice called out good-byes, but she was already out the front door.
The wine glass slips from his hands and lands silently on the blanket. The meal on the stove is nearly cold as the kerosene runs out. The sun barely grasps the tip of the oak like a Christmas tree topping lit with candles. He reaches into his pocket and turns the small velvet box in his fingers, thinking of that first day he brought her to this all but sacred place. Standing, he reaches out to the branch that saved his life all those years ago and gazes into the cold, clear stream.
“Love,” he says.
A rustle in the grass makes him turn around, but the boy—his clothes soaked from the cold water—still clings to the oak tree.