Dead Leaves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The holidays can be tough after losing loved ones.

Dead Leaves

 

What does anyone do ten months after their wife and child die in a house fire?  Well, anything they can. Truly: anything.  Yeah, I thought about ending it a few times.  More times than I could count on two hands and then some.  There had been bad days, and then there were really bad days.  On the bad days I’d smoke several joints and drink myself to sleep.  On the really bad days I would check in to a psychiatric hospital a few towns over, but I’d recover quick enough with high dosages of anti-psychotics and benzos that I’d be discharged usually a couple days later.  That last time I took higher prescriptions with me when I left, which seem to be helping.  I’d made sure to find a hospital that was far enough away from the specific part of the town where I’d lived with Helen and Maisie; otherwise, I’d be tempted to visit the blackened, boarded up home where we once lived.  I thought about it in such detail so many times.  If I had returned to the scene I’d likely search for any stray artifacts.  My ’85 Bears pennant on the rec-room wall?  Maybe Maisie’s doll survived?  My wife’s Grinch slippers under the bed?  Unlikely.

A tear rolled out of my eye as I walked along the thirteen-mile trail behind my neighborhood.  These walks helped to get my mind right as Thanksgiving approached.  Something as simple as walking amongst the Autumn-kissed foliage was able to set me straight for the day even this close to a holiday purely bent on family interaction.  I laughed in painful irony at the thought. 

A squirrel galloped and skittered across the asphalt pathway in front of me.  He darted into the shrubbery and into the woods.  The only care in the world he had was the acorn in his mouth.  He climbed a bare birch tree and plummeted to the ground once he was almost to the top.  Once hitting the ground, he bounced back to his feet, found his acorn, and moved on.  I sighed in envy at his resilience.

After passing the path’s two-mile marker in a mildly wooded area I noticed a man lying flat on his back just off the path in a small clearing next to some old, fallen, storm-weathered trees.  He was perfectly still staring at the sky.  He hadn’t blinked or moved as I walked further in his direction.  I quickened my pace toward him once I noticed his pale, blue-tinged skin, and ripped joggers.  I approached cautiously and knelt to the ground to check his pulse and his airway.  He wasn’t breathing. 

Without touching him I searched the body for possible causes.  His shoes were missing, and a wedding band stripped from his hand left a deep indentation.  A stab wound on his abdomen furthest from me was clotted with dried blood. 

Once my brain could confirm that he was dead, shock suddenly overcame me and threw me backward onto the ground.  My breathing was so elevated I started having tunnel vision.  The thing I feared most laid right in from of me.  I despised death so deeply to my core; I wretched in disgust for what it was, for the smell it emitted, for the display it put on for me to see as if it were mocking me.  I observed the man, the atrocity, from head to toe – my breathing stopped.  I looked away to keep consciousness.

“I hate you.”  I said gruffly aloud while gritting my teeth, gripping clumps of dead leaves in my hands.

Just as anger filled my chest and tears welled in my eyes a gasp of air forcefully escaped the man’s throat.  You could almost hear what the man might have sounded like if he spoke.  My anger lifted and gave way to grief, sorrow, and pity for the man – something I could not bear any more of.

I sat staring at the man hugging my knees to my chest.  I removed my phone from my pocket and dialed 911.

After placing the call, I fearfully, cautiously, laid down next to him.  My hands quivered uncontrollably as I laid there, but as the peacefulness of the wind in the trees hit my ears I became more at ease.

“This man didn’t deserve this, but he is no longer in pain.  No need to be afraid.”  I whispered to calm myself.

We both stared at the sky.  I looked over at his glazed, dried eyes, then back again.  I knew he couldn’t see the perfect vee of noisy geese flying south.  Or the airplanes flying overhead full of people likely travelling to their family’s homes in greater Chicago for the holiday.  He couldn’t breathe the crisp air, nor could he smell the leaf piles burning nearby.  He couldn’t remember what any of his loved one’s faces looked like or what his wife’s hair smelled like.  Did he have children?  A dog named Jasper?  He no longer remembered them, either.

The man let out more air trapped in his lungs. 

I heard police sirens in the distance. 

“I think I’ll volunteer at the soup kitchen tomorrow.”


Submitted: December 22, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Ryan K. Mallegni. All rights reserved.

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