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Contemporary Suspense Sad

He doesn’t have a favourite time of year, but if he were forced to, after considerable torture and at gunpoint, to say something, not to stop the torture, not because of the gun which holds no fear for him whatsoever, but to make them go away, he would choose the Autumn, or as the Americans call it, Fall.

He is not bothered with the Americans, they are a loud and brash nation too busy making a lot of noise to ever stop and think things through, but they got something right when they coined the name Fall for this season. Fall is when it all falls down, when it all falls away. 

This is when he is most active, and conspicuously so, out there in the world. Bears are thinking about hibernating just as he comes out of his self-imposed isolation and indulges in this ritual of his.

He rakes the fallen leaves.

He has always raked the fallen leaves. 

This is what he does and that is all there is to it. He’s done it for so long that it just is.

Before the first leaf has landed on the cooling ground he prepares himself. He knows it is time before even the leaves do. There is a change in the world and he feels it, and what he feels is pain, an old wound that will never heal. Something stirs within that hole of his and he experiences a dull ache and an imperative to rise again and do what he must do.

The work itself has always suited him. Hunched over and looking down. This was always his preferred posture and now his body has reset itself and drawn him even further inwards. Bent and twisted out of shape so that every movement is a reminder of his pain. Looking for all the world as though gravity is a force he struggles to withstand, pushed downwards into the earth below him. Called from the grave. Beckoned towards the place he belongs.

Soon, he thinks, but then he has always thought his time was almost done here. Wishful thinking. A cop out. The wish of a coward yearning for a release that would make it all too easy. He barely notices the creeping change over the years. The resignation that has seeped into his bones. Now, as his years weigh more and more heavily on him, he knows there is not much time left available to him. The yearning he felt for that escape is long gone. Things will be as they will be, he has no choice in the matter, the wind will blow regardless.

There is no wind today. The air is still and cool. He shuffles out of his small, rundown and tired house, crossing the long, wet grass. His feet are sodden before he reaches the shed, not that he notices this. He has to lift the shed door in order to open it. That door helps keep the shed standing. The roof is sagging in on itself and it looks inexplicably sad, like it has given up and it just wants to be left alone to let go and finish its existence in the corner of the small garden.

Inside, the light barely reaches in through the door, and there, lurking in the shadows of the far corner, is the rake. There is nothing else in the shed and the floorboards sag under his feet, threatening to collapse, but somehow they hold and allow him passage to retrieve the rake.

He leaves the door open and hobbles away. This time he walks to the side on the house, leaving an inverted V in the grass where he trod. There is no gate along the narrow path, and soon he is out the front of his house and onto the pavement.

There are stricken leaves on the pavement and verges outside his house, but he does not rake these, instead he walks three streets, his progress is gradual but determined. Every passing year has slowed him, but never managed to stop him.

When he reaches the spot, he stops. He stops and his head bows just a smidgen more. He stands stock still for a long while, then, instead of beginning his work, he walks up the tree lined street almost to the corner, he turns without stopping and makes his way back to the spot, slows but does not stop, then he heads down to the other end of the street, wheeling back the way he came, the distance he travels up each end of the street diminishes until he is back at the spot, the momentum of his back and forth dissipating until he is left with no option other than to begin what he has come here for.

He places the tines of the rake on the ground carefully and deliberately, and if anyone were to see his hooded eyes, they would see a spark light up behind them. There is an energy and an intensity behind those eyes now. He is staring down at the ground and he is totally focused on a point just above the rake itself.

He does not look at the receding sea of gold, brown, yellow and bronze. He does not see the leaves. He is watching the spot that is revealed as the tide goes out. He is looking for something.

He is looking for something that has never been there, something that, after all these years, couldn’t possibly be there. And yet here he is, and he is looking. This is his sole purpose in this moment and nothing else matters. Nothing else exists.

Nothing else has ever existed and he ceased to exist a long time ago, a small figure in a dilapidated automaton clock, creaking out when the hour strikes. Hollow and clunky as he does as he must.

Back and forth he goes. Slowly clearing this patch of grass of the leaves that have formed a golden death shroud. Watching, searching as the secret grass is revealed.

Only when he comes to the last bit does his rhythm alter. Everything bar this receding square has been cleared and there is only this small patch of leaves left. There are far more leaves elsewhere, but the leaves are not the point. The leaves have never been the point. The leaves are a veil between the man and what he desires most in the world.

He slows and he slows as though he does not dare to clear the very last of the leaves. All that is left is one last sweep of the rake. He pauses, as he has always paused and his body shudders with the anticipation of the disappointment that awaits him under the last of those leaves.

With a force of will, he draws back the final curtain…

…and there is it!

After all these years.

It lays there and sparkles.

The ring.

The ring and with it the memory that it has closely guarded for all this time.

The ring that she discarded as she discarded him.

Even as he recalls that moment for the first time in such a long time, he does not recall why she was so upset. He does not know what it was that he did to cause all of this to happen. What he sees, courtesy of that ring is her. He is being allowed to see her again. 

He has not seen her face since it happened.

Not since she cried and told him that he had betrayed her and that they could never be together, not now. Not after what he had done. She struggled to pull the ring from her finger. He sees that detail. In her upset, and in her fury, she pulls and twists and he thinks that maybe the ring is on his side, that it will not let her do this. But she is determined and she grits her teeth and she pulls even harder as though she will remove her finger if necessary.

Then it is done and the ring arcs through the air and is lost in the sea of leaves. He watches it. He sees it disappear, and when he looks up from the gold and the bronze, she is retreating. 

She is leaving him and he wants to follow her. 

He wants to explain.

She was wrong.

It wasn’t like that.

She will see. He did not wrong her. He would never wrong her. He could not wrong her.

He loved her.

He watches the only thing he loves walk away and he is powerless to do anything about it. His legs will not obey him and he stands helplessly as she walks out of his life. She steps off the pavement and away from the street and then she is arcing through the air in the exact same way that that ring did. 

He jolts with the shock of a memory he locked away forever. It surges forth with the same venom and finality as it did on that fateful day. She did not see her end. She did not look. They say she was dead before she hit the ground. 

The ground that he has stared at ever since. He never looked up again. He retreated into himself and the house they were going to make their home, and every year, on the day of her death he looked for the ring and perhaps a piece of salvation. Something of her, returned to him at last.

His eyes have lost their spark as he was transported back there for the very first time.

For the very last time.

His eyes have lost their spark and they do not see the ring. The ring that was never there. The rake drops away from him like a felled tree and he falls. He collapses in on himself and falls sideways into the pile of leaves he has gathered. The leaves whisper a welcome as he settles himself on them.

In a small garden, not so very far away, an old and tired shed sags and collapses sideways in an echo of the fall of it’s owner. Both their jobs done, they fall to the earth, to sleep eternal, and peace everlasting.

December 03, 2022 11:32

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8 comments

Tommy Goround
16:07 Dec 05, 2022

Raymond Carver cleans an attic. Good. Clapping

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Jed Cope
18:24 Dec 05, 2022

Sounds like I should look Raymond Carver up. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Jed Cope
18:33 Dec 05, 2022

I looked him up. That is an amazing comment, sir. I feel bad I was unaware of this man and his work - any recommendations for what I should read?

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Tommy Goround
18:37 Dec 05, 2022

Raymond Carver has the unique ability to take some fairly normalized processes and make them so much more. You should probably check out the magazine that has his name on it. Carve magazine. See if that is the direction you want to go for.

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Jed Cope
21:16 Dec 05, 2022

Thanks, I'll take a look. He sounds like an interesting character, as does his writing. Always good to find a gem that was previously hidden.

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Lily Finch
04:34 Dec 05, 2022

Great story, Jed! I liked the way you did that with the memory of her and the eternal sleep he falls into - very deep and layered. Well done! LF6

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Jed Cope
08:38 Dec 05, 2022

Thanks Lily, I particularly liked writing this one.

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Lily Finch
13:39 Dec 05, 2022

It shows! LF6

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