Praestigiare

Iteration III

The Swish and Crunch and Swish

July 3, 2007

In one night all the leaves in the city had fallen to the earth. They made great piles of red and gold that moved with the sound of the sea in the restless early morning air. Standing at the corner of the small park in his neighborhood, he thought it looked like a watercolor painting that was started and then abandoned. Two broad strokes of red and yellow along the ground and pencil-sketched trees and buildings rising into the featureless sky.

He was standing at the corner and considering how his choices for the morning had been diminished. He had not decided whether he was upset or depressed, and with so many leaves on the ground, it wouldn’t matter now. A brooding walk would swish and crunch and swish the same as an angry one. He didn’t like the idea of making such an ambiguous performance, even if he was the only audience.

It was a cold morning, maybe freezing, and the air was heavy and wet and greedy for heat. Standing still, he could feel all its little infiltrations: the back of his neck; his right ankle where the cuff of his jeans had gotten caught on the top of his shoe and left a gap; the fronts of his thighs where his skin touched the fabric. He liked taking tally like that, putting his attention to each place that felt the cold, but without moving. He found it reassuring to be able to resist the urge to move. Actions would come when he wanted them, not out of reflex.

Without a clear way forward, he sat down on the sidewalk, just in front of a round iron manhole cover. It had an art deco pattern around the edge and something written in the very center that had been worn too smooth to read by years of people passing by. You can step over a manhole cover, or you can step directly in the middle. He remembered walking by the park with a lover long ago. He had stopped at the corner that day too, and tugged lightly on her gloved hand. When they kissed, they were standing over the manhole cover, each of them with their toes on the edge. Still, the patterns around the edges fare better over time. In all those years he had kissed there only once.

Sitting on the ground he could smell the sunny brown scent of the leaves, the last of the summertime that they had gathered up inside them finally being released. He thought that if he died here, the trees would take him up, and he would join the leaves in their yearly cycle. But of course that would never happen. No one would let him rot away where he chose. There would be embalming and a coffin and people crying. There would be a mess.

It was getting later, and the streets were beginning to show signs of life. A woman rode by on a bicycle, bundled up so that she looked like a stuffed doll with a red scarf. He sighed and stood up. He had decided he was lonely, and the swish and crunch and swish would at least be company.