James Babbs

Dead Leaves

The leaves were scattered around the tree in the middle of the yard. The leaves looked like crumpled pieces of paper. Maybe they were discarded love letters that had been caught up and blown by the wind. Summer was over and the shadows fell across the grass stretching toward the house but not quite reaching it.

I was standing near the window with a beer in my hand and I kept looking at the dead leaves and the shadows on the ground and I knew I was no longer young. I drank some beer and in my mind I didn’t feel old. I mean, maybe, I felt lost and, maybe, I felt afraid and, maybe, sometimes I felt like I was stuck and there was something above me that kept pushing downward and something else under me and it kept pushing upward and I felt like I was trapped and I couldn’t breathe. But I didn’t feel old.

I finished off the beer and tossed the empty in the trash. I heard it clinking against the other bottles that were already there. I came back and looked out the window and I saw Rachel pulling into the driveway. I wondered what she was doing here since the last time I had seen her I thought she had made it pretty clear she didn’t want to see me anymore. But it was definitely her and I watched her get out of the car and come up to the door.

“What’s going on?” I asked her when I opened the door. She looked good. She looked really good.

“Hey,” she said. “Are you going to let me in?”

“Sure,” I said, stepping out of the way. I watched her glide slowly into the room as if she had wheels instead of feet.

“Did you miss me?” she asked, throwing a smile my way.

Her smile splashed against the side of my face and I raised my hand to touch the dissolving layer of heat. Rachel came over and put her arms around me.

“I missed you,” she said.

Now everything was getting warmer and I pulled her into me and tried to put my mouth on hers. It wasn’t much of a kiss because she laughed and turned her head before breaking loose and taking a few steps away from me.

“Hey,” I said.  Rachel laughed again.

“Easy now,” she said. “I didn’t mean to get you all fired up.”

It made me angry but I tried not to let it show.

“So what do you want?” I asked. “Do you want a beer?”

She waved her hand at me. “No,” she said, “I don’t want a beer.”

It was my turn to laugh.

“Well,” okay, I said. “I’m going to have a beer.” I went to the fridge and got me another beer. I came back and looked out the window again. I saw the shadows had reached the house. It was going to be dark soon.

“Have you been thinking about me?” Rachel asked.

I took a long pull from the beer. It felt good going down my throat. Instead of making me feel drunker, the cold beer cleared my head.

“What do you want?” My voice came louder this time and it startled her.

She gave me another smile but I saw in her eyes something had changed. She didn’t come over and try to touch me the way she had before.

“Okay,” she said. “I was wondering if you could give me some money. I’m kind of in a jam and I could pay you back in a few weeks.”

I took another drink of beer and waved the bottle back and forth in my hand.

“How much do you need?” I asked her.

Rachel pulled at the front of her blouse so that the fabric stretched tighter across her tits.  Damn. She did look really good. I turned away and looked out the window again.

“A couple of hundred,” she said.

I didn’t say anything. I had some more beer and then I looked at the bottle. I saw how little was left and finished it off. I took the empty to the trash before going to the fridge for another one.

“You sure you don’t want a beer?” I called out from the kitchen.

I heard Rachel’s voice flare up from the other room.

“No,” she said before she caught herself. “I don’t want a beer, thanks.”

“I’m sorry,” I said as I returned to my spot near the window. “I don’t think I can help you.”

Rachel was doing something with her mouth, and I was just about ready to tell her I was only joking with her and she could have anything she wanted, but then she turned and headed for the door.

“Okay,” I heard her saying. “Okay.”

She opened the door and went back to her car. I watched her until she was gone. Her face never gave away any sign of anger, but I was sure she cursed my name all the way back home.

I laughed again. I stood near the window and looked at the dead leaves. I looked at the shadows on the ground. I drank some more beer and I still didn’t feel old. No. I didn’t feel old at all. I just felt tired. I felt so fucking tired.

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