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Fallen Leaves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Photo by ali pazani on Unsplash
Don't speak at me as though I was your dead child! You know I don't like it!

from the forthcoming anthology: 'Is It Today?'

Submitted: March 19, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 19, 2019



Is It Today?

Fallen Leaves

It was one of those mild, blustery autumn days when the rain whips your cheeks and the wind puffs your hairdo into intractable knots and tangles. A day for puffed-out brollies, children to crack conkers, squirrels to feast, russets to fall and swell. A day to visit Marjorie for afternoon tea in her thatched cottage in the woods and admire the softly falling leaves. We always used to meet: once a year, on the last afternoon of November. Until Bob died. Thursday was the first time I’d visited Marjorie since the funeral. She hadn’t changed, a little softer in her rosy cheeks, a transparency to her fine white hair I hadn’t seen before, a soupçon of forgetfulness scented with some dither, perhaps. Otherwise, she was the same old Maj: stocky, full of gait, full of pride for her family. Or so I thought. Her boys were children once, smashing conkers, climbing trees, smudging the kitchen floor with loam, off their wellies. Just children, equals, innocents. In those days, they were a happy family. November meant stuffing a guy with dad, building a bonfire, shooting rockets through the treetops. And mum’s special treat: those funny sausages from Sussex, the cellophane wrapper, the pig in goggles, racing the sports car past a wayfarer’s signpost. Thursday, for us, was a celebration, a ‘let’s brush away those cobwebs and put the past behind us’ day.

And what a celebration! There were smoked salmon sandwiches, fabulous pulled-pork sausage rolls, freshly-baked hot sultana scones, lashings of peaked clotted cream, home-made strawberry conserve, rich iced fruit cake laced with brandy. All served on her strange, silver pentagons. We sank into soft grey sofas and supped tea, munching, chatting about old times when we were young girls at school, old flames, flickering flames, fallen leaves…

I asked after the boys. Maj told me Richard was well.

‘Really, how wonderful for you Maj, after what happened to Bob, in the field that night.’

‘Yes,’ she beamed, ‘I’m proud of Richard, very proud.’

I wasn’t listening to her, I suffer from distraction, you see, I see entities, dancers, that normal people can’t. Maj and I share the power of the pentagon. I was distracted, I saw something, through the sitting room window. Maj touched my arm.

‘Are you alright dear?’

I shook my head. I felt my tooth crack, a tell-tale stone in my sultana scone. I tasted blood.

‘I think I might have cracked a tooth on a curse.’

‘A curse?’

‘Mm! A tell-tale stone. Do you mind if I?’

‘Of course, dear, never swallow a curse!’

I spat the chunk of scone, with a bloodied stump of tooth, into my hand and wiped the mess into Maj’s best lace napkin. There was no sign of a stone. ‘I’m sorry, Maj.’

‘Here, give it to me, quickly!’

She reached across the walnut coffee table, scooped the goo out of my hand and threw it in her waste paper basket. ‘There! Curse’s gone away. Do you remember when we played that game in the woods?’

‘I do!’

‘Naughty curse has gone away, curse come back another day! Oh, what fun!’

‘Oh, yes, I remember, in the pouring rain, under a dark cloud sky. We danced the pentagon!’

‘We did! And you bestowed the curse on my family, naughty girl, didn’t you? You cut my hand with the tell-tale stone, baptized me with a portent, blessed me with the curse, didn’t you?’

‘Did I?’

‘Yes! And so, it came to pass, the curse fell on me, as your only true friend, and my family, for generations to come.’

‘Don’t speak at me like that, as if I were your dead child! You know I don’t like it. Anyways, we were young then. I don’t remember.’

‘No, we ate magic mushrooms. From the field where Bob died. You haven’t finished the scone I baked for you? Eat it up, Deidre, there’s a good girl.’

‘I don’t want it! Its full of blood.’

‘Eat it!’

I drank of the scone, more than ate it, there was that much blood in it. I swallowed the curse I’d concealed under my tongue, picked at a curled-up sandwich and stared out of the window. Maj prattled on about Richard: Eton, Oxford, Lawyer, married, children, emigrating, Australia. I wasn’t paying attention. I stared at the fallen leaves, spiralling in a sacred vortex round Maj’s crazy-paved patio. The leaves rose and fell in a rainbow tornado: lemon yellow hydrangea, golden sycamore, crimson-bloodied, mottled green-and-yellow. I swallowed my stone, and my bleeding stopped. He was standing in the middle of the lawn, at the centre of the pentagon, raking hands through piles of fallen leaves, attempting to tip them into a beige bucket. I watched the wind blow them away in crisp flurries, coloured spangles. He fell to his knees. The buddleia bowed before the gusting gale, the hydrangea shook and trembled. The more the child gathered the leaves, the faster they blew away. I turned away and saw that Maj was crying.

‘More tea, dear?’

‘No, I’m fine thank you. I have a train to catch, in the village, at 4. My time is nearly done.’

I sampled some fruit cake. Richard, Ellie, Matt and Fleur died on a flight to Cairns. The plane fell out of the sky for no reason! I was miles away, floating on a silver orb, staring down at the child, tossing fallen leaves, in the air. I get distracted. I watched the child stoop and pluck fallen leaves out of the wet grass, as more fell, like poppy petals on the heads of the grieving. I felt sorry for him, wanted to reach out, give him a good hug.

‘And how is Michael?’

Maj flushed her face at me, turned away, then flushed again, like a lantern on a lighthouse.  I stood up, brushed the sticky fruit out of my lap, brushed Maj aside and strode outside into the garden. I was godmother to Michael. I cut his hand with a tell-tale stone, a portent, blessed him with a curse. He knelt on the wet lawn, suffering the drizzle that pressed our hair and spoilt my dress. His green chinos, covered in mud, his plimsolls soiled, veins ridging the back of his hand. I trudged across the worm-cast lawn and stood over him, my hand rested on his shoulder.

‘How are you Michael? It’s me, your Auntie Deidre.’

He looked at me, his eyes brimming with tears, and shook his head violently, side-to-side.

‘What is it, Michael? What’s the matter?’

He pointed at the ghoul standing next to me. I turned to see dearly departed Maj, dressed in black veil and a widow’s cloak, a fine advertisement for a funeral, in her pink, fluffy slippers.

‘He can’t speak, dear,’ she consoled me, ‘He was struck dumb by lightning last November.’

‘It will soon be dark. Clear the fallen leaves, Michael. That we might dance the pentagon!’

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