Life in a Leaf
I’d always been too tall, that’s the short of it. My mother liked to joke about how it felt to deliver me: like trying to suck in a piece of spaghetti that just keeps on coming and coming and coming until you know you can’t swallow it all. Except in reverse, of course.
All through school, I towered over all the girls and most of the boys. Jokes like “Gee, I’d love to ask you out, but I can’t shout loud enough up there to ask you” and “Has anyone seen Lucy’s face lately?” got old pretty quickly, and I took refuge in what most outcast-types usually do: silence, lots of reading, and way too much solitude.
That kind of loneliness breeds one thing, though: a laserlike focus on small details. When you’re dedicated to avoiding most people’s gazes, you tend to look down and fixate on the nonliving world. It’s less scary and it doesn’t contain things that move around, so you can spend the whole time a person is staring at you as he or she passes you on the street just focused at the ground or maybe a store window or a really, really interesting car parked by the side of the road. Then you’re alone again and you can lift up your head.
But something happened last year when I was walking downtown that made everything different.
I was right in front of Mr. Flugel’s clock shop “Time Stoppeth for No Man”, when I saw three teenage boys heading straight for me. They were already starting to poke each other in the ribs and chuckle as they approached, so I moved as close to the curb as I could so as to not crowd them. I cast my eyes down to the pavement and affected a studious gaze, hoping that the fact that absolutely nothing was visible except a few gum wrappers and some fall leaves would make them lose interest.
As we drew even, the familiar comments began: “Hey, Sam, she’s TWO TIMES as tall as you are!”, and “If we ever got to kissing, I’d wear out her collarbone!” But they didn’t look like they’d get violent, so I just kept on walking and looking down.
And that’s when I saw it. A leaf, a leaf, but not just any leaf. This burnt-orange curled-over wonder was bright blue, almost cobalt blue, and it glowed as if a light shone from within it. Lying on a bed of grass next to a lamppost, the leaf had a magnetic power that forced me to stop. I simply could not move on. The boys, perhaps fearing that I was crouching down to sweep them up in my arms and eat them, speeded up to get away.
I dropped to my knees on the grass to stare at the leaf. It was large, with at least six “points” like you see on a maple leaf. I could see tiny drops of water inside, and small pieces of what looked like—pizza dough? Croissant leavings? The bright blue of the outside faded to a softer violet on the underside. I could also see several objects inside the leaf’s cupped shelter. I picked it up, cradling it in my right hand.
The leaf was remarkably heavy and sort of lumpy, as if it contained several irregularly-shaped objects. I was holding it with both hands now. Something told me that I shouldn’t just upend it and dump whatever was in there out on the grass. So, I leaned forward and placed it on the ground as gingerly as if it were Cinderella’s glass slipper. I bent over to peer inside.
The brilliant blue color made it hard to distinguish much detail inside that tiny world. I squinted to get a better view. Saw some dirt, a short piece of string—but wait, there was something moving in there! Ugh—probably some foul bug or worm! I started to unwind, ready to get up and get on with my walk. But before I could rise, I heard a shrill sound from inside the leaf. It sounded like my name.
“Lucy! Lucy!” and then—unbelievably—“Don’t go! Stay!” Could it be the wind?
No, because the wind don’t talk, and even if I call its name “Mariah”, it will never say my name back. This was definitely my name, and it was coming from a pair of very tiny lungs. Real lungs, from a real person. I bent down again and looked closer inside the leaf.
Now there was a lot of movement in that little amphitheater, so much that I could feel a mild breeze being stirred up. I pushed my face as close as I could to the leaf, and saw something that would change my life forever. They were…people…running around in there. People in a hurry, from the looks of things.
I could see their point: there they were, not much bigger than bumblebees, being hovered over by a giantess whose motives were at present undefined. Their blue home glowed brighter than ever, and I felt an unaccustomed surge of good will. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “I’m a friend.”
The frantic motion stopped. One of the beings, a woman, stepped forward and looked up at me. “We know,” she said. “And we know that you’re…Lucy. We’re here to help.”
Now this was getting crazy. A random leaf in my path, filled with little people who knew my name? And who wanted to help me? Pinch me, someone.
I decided to play along; after all, it wasn’t as if I had someone waiting longingly at home for me. Now a well-dressed male-ette joined the woman. “Hello,” he said. I nodded a greeting.
I didn’t want to stay sitting on the grass forever. “Can you please tell me what’s going on? I mean, you seem like nice folks, but…” I tried an encouraging smile.
“Of course, you’re baffled,” the woman said. “Henry, should I start?” Henry nodded, then put up his elbows on the leaf’s edge as if he were bellying up to a bar. “This is a sort of weird thing, but it’s a true thing.” Good, we weren’t going to waste our time in mindless babble. “There is another world besides the ones that you live in,” he said, “which you’ll have a hard time believing. We aren’t going to go into the belief thing just now: better that you should experience it.” He looked up at me.
That seemed to make sense, as long as it wouldn’t hurt. “Will it hurt?” I asked. Both of them laughed. “No, it’s not that kind of thing at all,” said the woman. “By the way, my name’s Maxine,” she added. “Hello,” I said.
The people passing on the sidewalk gave me strange looks, perhaps because I was talking to a leaf. But then, people always gave me strange looks because of my size. Imagine if they learned that I was in no way a “gentle giant.” More of an angry one.
“OK, please tell me more,” I asked. I settled down onto the grass, shifting my seat as the dampness crept up my bottom.
Maxine and Henry joined hands as Henry began to explain. “You see, like I said, there is another world besides the one you know. It’s easy to miss, because it’s tiny—I mean, look at us—and it doesn’t make itself obvious very often to people who would be likely to spread the news around. Only to certain people.”
I felt flattered. “Mum’s the word,” I assured him.
Henry continued. “Where we can do the most good is in the obvious, material world. For each of you, there’s one of us, one of us little people who looks exactly like you, only smaller. Most of us never meet you.”
“You mean, it’s like my double is maybe somewhere in the Sahara, or maybe in Roanoke, just bumping along on a tiny camel or in a sports car, and I never knew a thing about it?” This was beyond implausible.
Maxine leaned forward, brushing her reddish hair off of her face. The leaf creaked a little bit. “Yes, sort of. Unless there’s a…problem…no one needs to know about us.”
“What kind of problem?”, I asked. “Like, global warming? Too much pandemic?” I couldn’t imagine what these two were talking about, or what they could ever do to help with big problems.
“No, it’s more personal,” said Henry. “More like a guardian angel kind of thing. Except we’re not angels. We’re more like…servants.” He didn’t look uncomfortable with the term. ”We want to help our giant doubles. And you, we’ve heard, need help.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Continually taunted, befriended by no one, feared by random strangers—truly, my parents were the only ones who loved me.
“What kind of ‘help’ are you talking about?” I asked, letting just a little sarcasm creep into my voice.
“We can…grow,” Maxine said hesitantly. She looked at Henry, who smiled.
“OK,” I said. “That sounds good for you. Then you won’t get stepped on, at least.” I paused. “But how does that help me?”
“I said we are your double. Double in every way, except size. But that can change. As we grow, you will become smaller.”
This sounded impossible. “You mean, I’ll shrink while you grow? All over? Or just part of me?” I have visions of huge ears sticking out of a tiny face. Even worse than the situation I dealt with on a daily basis.
“No, no,” said Maxine. It’s gradual, and the full change usually takes about six of your months. That’s when you and we would be about the same size. We’re truly doubles then!” She seemed pleased.
“But don’t people get confused? I mean, two of you and two of your big doubles, with the same name? How does that help me?”
Maxine said, “We haven’t shown you the best thing of all.” She leaned over and pulled on a tiny arm. “Meet Lucy, our daughter. YOUR double!”
The little girl looked up at me and smiled. She was truly my double, down to the curly black hair and the gap teeth in the front. Really, she was adorable.
“So let me get this straight. The three of you will hide out somewhere, growing, while I’ll be shrinking slowly in my real life. Is that it?”
“Yes,” said Henry. “We have special places to hide, don’t worry. You won’t have to do a thing. And then, in time, you’ won’t have to suffer these taunts and rude jokes.”
“Does it stop?” I asked. “Or do I just keep getting smaller?”
They looked at each other. “That part can get a little iffy,” said Maxine, shifting her tiny feet. “So far, it’s worked almost perfectly. People are so pleased. And we love to help out!”
I saw the gang of boys returning, faces alight in anticipation of teasing me once again. “Hey, Beanstalk Girl, how’s it going? Talking to the plants?” one of them shouted.
Something broke inside me. I couldn’t take another day, another moment, of this. If there was any chance, any chance at all, of getting smaller, I’d take it. I looked at my tiny double.
“What about my parents?” I asked.
“We only help those who truly need our help. They’re fine with how they look, right?” asked Henry.
“I guess so,” I answered. I’d never heard any complaints.
“The changes are gradual, and they probably won’t notice a thing,” Maxine said. She paused and asked, “So is it a go?” I nodded.
“OK,” she said, “You take one sip of the blue water from the leaf, and then nature take its course. It’s tasty.” She demonstrated by drinking several mouthfuls.
I leaned over so she could pour the leaf water into my mouth. It tasted like the best of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, warm and sunny and icy and fragrant. “Wow, that’s great,” I said. Maxine nodded.
“Now, just go ahead and get on with your day. We’ll watch over you.” They moved down into the leaf, which glowed red now and seemed lighter. In fact, it quickly blew away. Would I ever see them again?
I walked home, and over the next few months found that my clothes hung looser and looser. It became harder to pedal my bike, and I had to jump down from my bed in the morning. Just like Maxine and Henry had said. The teasing grew less, and I even got asked out on a few dates. What a miracle.
Six months later
It was cold in the leaf and I tried to schooch it along toward the winter sun’s warmth, but it was hard work. I often preferred to just nestle in the bottom, where a few scraps of cloth from Maxine’s scarf remained along with one of Henry’s boots.
Just yesterday, I’d seen my family walk past, joking and laughing as they did their Christmas shopping. Lucy was still very, very tall, but she didn’t seem to mind. I called out to them as they went by, and I thought I saw her turn her head. But no, it was not to be. Behind them came another couple, arms piled high with presents.
My dad turned to the pair behind him and said, “Hey, Max, look at that beautiful blue leaf!” “Yeah,” said Maxine. “We noticed it the other day. Really unusual.”
It looked like everyone involved was headed for a great Christmas.