Autumn Memory

Tonight’s tale is called “Autumn Memory” – The falling of the leaves triggers a memory of the past and one very special day.

Joshua stepped out into the chilly morning air and cast a wizened glance at the oaks overhead.

Taking note of the colors, he lit a cigarette and made his way to the shed, carefully avoiding the exposed roots on his way.

A thin layer of maple leaves covered the ground in front of the door, so he swished his feet broom-like to clear a path.

Of course, the lock was frozen, and as he worked the latch, he remembered the gloves he’d left on the kitchen table.

“Not even nine o’clock,” he thought wryly. “Annie will never let me hear the end of that.”

Finally getting the key to turn, he opened the door and reached into the shadows for the rake and fire barrel.

Dragging them both across the yard, he noticed a faint haze drifting up from orchards.

“I guess old Bob Jurgens got his burn started early this year,” he thought. “I must be slipping if he’s beaten me.”

He reached the top of the yard and dropped the barrel into its customary place next to the woodpile.

Sighing deeply, he took to his task, dragging the rake briskly across the grass, removing the colors as if stripping paint.

Before too long he found his rhythm, and an easy sweat broke on his brow as his worked his way across the lawn in wide lanes.

After an initial pass, he paused for a cigarette and surveyed the auburn bands he’d soon convert into piles fit for play.

“Looks like they’re gonna be pretty big this year,” he said to himself, “It’s shame the kids ain’t here to see ‘em.”

He tossed the cigarette into the barrel, and set back to work, raking the lines of leaves forward to the front of the yard.

Working left to right, he gradually brought them all to the woodpile, creating a majestic mound of reds, browns, and yellows.

“They’re so pretty,” he thought, “Especially so considering they’re pretty much dead things. Annie would love these.”

Enjoying the colors, and the earthy smell emanating from the mound, he shoveled a handful of the uglier ones in to the barrel.

When the barrel was full, he pulled a pack of matched from his pocket and, regretfully, tossed in a lit one.

As the smoke began to rise and drift, a memory drifted into his mind with the scent of the smoke.

Children. Laughter. A similar pile of leaves on a similar day long ago.

A group of young boys, each paid ten cents an hour, raking an orchard under the watchful eyes of a giggling batch of girls.

Golden light. Air clear as crystal. And a pair of green eyes glittering shyly beneath an apple tree.

The boys raked. The girls piled. Every now and then, one group or the other would dive into a pile with a splash of laughter.

Joshua made sure his launches were particularly dramatic, thrilling to the look of expectant alarm in her eyes.

As the calls for dinner came with the fading of the light, the other kids gradually wandered away.

And still, she remained.

He had continued to work until the lack of light brought old man Jurgens out to send the remaining kids home for the day.

“Time to go home, kids,” said Mr. Jurgen. “We can finish this up tomorrow. Josh, can you walk them all home?”

“Sure thing, Mr. Jurgens!” he’d said, glancing sideways and seeing a tiny smile that dropped his heart into his guts.

Into the gloaming, with the smell of woodsmoke in his hair, he walked by the girl with the green eyes.

They spoke very little, though they knew each other well. Walking side by side they led the other kids home.

Sideways glances conveyed volumes of unspoken words. Each knew they would be the last to part.

As the last of the others peeled away under the streetlights, he felt her move closer in the dark.

As her hand slipped into his, he felt time stretch into impossibility. His heartbeat, hers forever. Forever…

A hand slipped into his, snapping him out his reverie. “You left your gloves on table, you old coot!” Said a familiar voice.

He turned to look into her green eyes, older now, but still as bright as that night forty years past.

“What’s got you all misty eyed this evening?” said Annie.

“Oh,” said Joshua, turning to take her into his arms. “Just a memory is all.”