by Mimi cai
Upper Arlington High School
A carpet of earthy rust colors cover the ground–– the soft grassy lawns, the worn gray strips of sidewalk. She walks along the strip of sidewalk, her black boots clickety-clacking at a steady tempo, keeping time. The clickety-clack stops, and breaks tempo to mischievously step on a leaf. Crunch. Amidst the cars and occasional bird calls, the crunch seems to ring out, carried on the teasing October breeze. She repeats this ritual, breaking stride and going out of her way to step on particularly crunchy leaves–the curled ones are best, like a tree’s crumpled up love notes to the departing summer– along that strip of sidewalk. She stops, the syncopated waltz of the clickety-clack and the crunch halts. A brilliant red leaf speckled with memories of yellow and green lay there, flat among the crumpled notes. A maple. She picks it up, twirling it by the stem, making it dance. She then hurries back home, the clickety-clack now at a lively allegretto, careful to make sure the leaf doesn’t catch on to a sharp corner of her textbook and tear.
Gingerly, she removes a dust-coated book from a shelf, and began to leaf through its pages. Between the pictures and words nestle dozens of leaves. A golden ginkgo fan, chipped along the edge. A Japanese maple, its thin scarlet fingers cracking a bit. A couple of four leaf clovers from when she used to search in the grass until she found one. A dejected fistfull of unremarkable leaves she had meant to take to school for a leaf turkey. The leaves, now dehydrated and brittle, threatened to disintegrate upon touch. Nonetheless, she cautiously ran her finger over the leaves nestled between pages 4 and 5. She was small back then, toddling by her Ma’s side, incessantly complaining about the walk to the grocery store. The gray strip of sidewalk seemed to stretch on forever, and despite the plastic tiara she had put on that morning, she felt less and less like a princess with every step.
“Ma I’m tired. Let’s go back home,” she pouted, plopping down on the sidewalk.
“Sweetie, it’s not that far. Look, we’re almost there!” the poor mother tried to pick the little princess up, but she went limp, unwilling to stand back up. A crunch startled her. She looked up to see her mother step on the wilted leaves.
“Look! This is fun!” her Ma said, catching the girl’s attention. The girl crawled back up, eager to try it for herself. She impatiently stomped on a nearby leaf, but her pink sneakers only pressed into the leaf, flattening it into the walkway.
“It’s not doing anything!” She shrilled, frustrated.
Her Ma picked up the leaf–– half-red, half-green, as if someone dipped the memories of summer into a vat of cinnamon candy.
“This one is for keeping. The curled ones crunch best,” the mother pointed at a crumpled earthy leaf a few squares down the sidewalk.
The girl eagerly toddled over to the leaf and jumped on it, this time, the leaf disintegrating with a delightful crunch. Forgetting her exhaustion, the girl clutched at her Ma’s side, stepping on leaves along the sidewalk, accumulating the colorful ones in her tiara.
The leaves are a bit more ragged along the edges now, with bits missing along the intricate veins. Some empty spots were filled with other bits of leaves in its place, making a mosaic of memories. Others were set against a piece of paper, streaks of graphite filling in a missing corner here and there. It was frightening, almost, to look back in the book to find that the leaves change every time she looked at them. She wanted the leaves, the memories, to stay just as how they’d been on the day she picked them up, the colors fresh and and the shape whole. She wanted to restore them, to twirl them between her fingers, but years of pressing made them too brittle to pick up. Once, she had tried to, finding that a leaf had a crack down the middle. Her clumsy fingers had only increased the tear as she tried to scotch tape it back together. Frustrated, she had accidentally gripped the leaf a little too tightly, and it shattered, only bits and pieces clinging on to the tape. Just like that, she forgot the shape of the leaf– a lobed leaf? a toothed one?– only leaving odd memories of its color here and there.
Flipping to a clean page, she presses the speckled red leaf flat, knowing that all leaves wear over time, eventually leaving only the skeletal veins behind.
Mimi Cai graduated from Upper Arlington High School in May of 2018. She is currently attending the Ohio State University, majoring in Political Science and English. When she is not studying or reading, she enjoys classical singing and amateur competitive ballroom dancing.