Freshly Fallen Leaves

(This is something I wrote a few weeks ago. It was not written for this space, but I thought, why not put it here after all. It can sit between the other loose figments of my mind.)

 

Freshly Fallen Leaves

The day had started badly and went downhill from there.

Cathie woke at 7 to the sound of Little One complaining that he could not sleep any more, even though it was Saturday and he did not need to go to school. Before breakfast, the boys managed to get into at least two fights (those were the ones loud enough for her to hear). Older One then refused to do his homework, it being weekend and he wanted to rest. And it was not fair for him to have homework anyway, while Little One just played. Cathie’s husband was still snoring happily upstairs, so no help from him, not today.

Nothing dramatic or even unusual, just the wild goose-chase she normally tackled quite easily with a mixture of routine and determination, but on this day it felt heavier, more unnerving.

At lunchtime she was already wishing it were Monday again, with everyone back at school and her being able to breathe in a quiet house.

In the afternoon, while the boys were having their music lessons, Cathie had just enough time to dash to the library to bring back some books. In the end it was getting late again of course, so she grabbed the books and ran. The shortest route was through the park, on a path lined with old trees she did not know the names of. At least some of them were chestnuts, she suspected. It had been raining, a stormy quick shower that had left the path with a coating of freshly fallen, wet leaves.

These leaves were, as it turned out, extremely slippery, especially if someone was running without paying much attention to their surrounding.

She fell in the most pathetic way imaginable, like a character in one of these old black-and-white movies. Her feet slid forward, she tried in vain to stabilize with her arms, which sent the books flying, then landed on her back, uttering a miserable squeaking sound. The sound embarrassed her more than the fall itself. But the embarrassment came later. First there was a breathlessness, then pain. Then anger and embarrassment. Cathie raised herself up to sitting. Here I am, she thought, hurting and wet and looking completely ridiculous. What a stupid day, stupid leaves, stupid everything! Without realizing what she was doing, she hit the ground with her fist. It hurt too. Great.

“That looked painful”, a voice said. Cathie looked up at the women standing in front of her. “It was.” She could not think of anything else to say, half expecting the woman to stretch out a hand to help her up. Instead, the woman looked at her for another moment, a slightly amused look on her face. Then she sat down next to her.

Cathie frowned. “Everything is wet here. Why are you sitting down?”

The woman still looked amused. “Why are you?”

“I fell, as I think you have noticed. I slipped on these stupid leaves. Now my back hurts and I am cold and wet and I hate this day. Thanks for asking.” That came out snappier than she normally would have spoken to a stranger, but the woman unnerved her.

“I see.” Then, after a pause: “These leaves are really pretty, don’t you think?” She ran her fingers over the wet surface.

Cathie stared at the women, who seemed to be absorbed in what she was doing, touching a red leave here, a brown one there. She seemed to be older than Cathie herself, maybe in her 50ies, but then Cathie had never been good at guessing someone’s age. Dressed maybe a little too thin for autumn weather, so as if she did not care. The hands that were still caressing the leaves looked as if they were used to working a lot.

Cathie wanted to say something, something sarcastic and smart, something that would unload the frustration that had been building up inside her the whole day.

But instead she looked. The leaves were pretty. Some were brown, some red, some yellow, some still green. Different shapes, having fallen from different trees. “Chestnut”, the woman said, touching a brown one. “Acorn” – a dark red one. “Birch” – a yellow one with tiny dark spots. As the women turned her head, Cathy noticed her eyes. They were the same color as the chestnut leaf.

Cathie felt a shy smile forming inside her. “They are pretty”, she said.

“As are your books.” The woman turned her head in the direction of the library books, spread out around them.

“The library – I am late!” Cathie scrambled to her feet, picking up the books, which seemed to be only wet from the outside. She wiped them clean on her coat. “I need to go.” The woman tilted her face up to her. There were fine lines around her eyes. “You might just make it in time – if you don’t run so very fast”, she said.

Cathie shook her head, not knowing if that was her answer or just an expression of her uncertainty. She turned and walked away, books held close to her chest, when she realized how rude it was to go without saying good-bye. Turning again, she saw that the woman had gotten up too. She was walking towards the other end of the park, carrying two heavy looking plastic bags Cathie had not noticed before. As if she felt Cathie’s gaze, she stopped and looked back. Putting down one of the bags she raised her arm to a short wave. Despite herself, Cathie waved back.

When she arrived at the library a few minutes later, the big doors were just being shut.

Oh, well. Cathie shrugged and looked at her watch. She still had some time before it was time to pick up the boys. She could gather some leaves for them. Maybe they would like the colors, and now she could even tell them their names.