“Look at all these motherfucking leaves!” yelled a man on the street in front of my house. The man laughed. “Look at this shit, will you?” He wasn’t talking to me, not at first. But he looked over at me with a big, snaggletoothed smile on his face. He’d first addressed a lady who lived across from me, a little catty-cornered, as she stood in her yard with a rake. I was on my front stoop, leaves covering my feet up to my ankles. To me the man said, “You got anything to do with this?”
“Nope!” I shouted, shaking my head and laughing too, palms up and open with my shrug. Autumn this year had made us giddy. Leaves fell onto my hands.
“Man!” he said, and kept walking past my house, on to nowhere maybe, which seemed like where he’d come from. People, often strangers, frequently walked down the street, which now was matted with tire-crushed leaves. There was a bus stop at either end. Also, a family ran a liquor house down the way. But I’d seen him before. Sort of knew him. He wore soiled khaki shirts and pants and long ropy dreadlocks. It occurred to me that, thin as he was, he was like a man made of autumn leaves. A leaf man.
Leaves covered my yard and were thick in the hedges that lined the front of my house. Brown paper bags stuffed with leaves stood at the curb of several yards, including mine, and surplus, unbagged leaves banked piles around them. Leaves swirled in the air like large flakes of golden snow, but clicked and rustled like the sound, possibly, of cicadas restless in the bags I’d amassed. Leaves skittered all over themselves on my roof. Some trees still held onto leaves, which spun on their twigs in the wind. Leaves had come from as far away as Canada according to meteorologists, sailing over like geese and landing in this other country. It was thrilling to think that I had Canadian leaves in my yard, that I had held some on my rake and in my hands and had stomped them down into those brown bags. Never before had I seen so many leaves. Nor, no doubt, had the man in the street, a man who once came to my door to ask for money, and once to offer to clean my gutters for pay. The gutters overflowed with leaves now. He seemed ecstatic not for the prospect of paying work, as would a poor man with a snowplow on an unexpected snow day, but like a child who awoke to a white, school-closing landscape and was eager to plunge into it.
High in the sky, leaves sped on to other yards, other states, other countries, other continents, the wind gathering up local leaves to join the maple and oak refugees, distinguished from the swift darkness of geese and ducks and starlings by their lack of instinctual patterns, distinguished even from the seasons, with their predictable turns of temperature and light, as if instinct ruled the passage of time. No, this year brought a delight of chaotic profusion to the chill and mellow light—leaves from Nova Scotia, maybe. Alberta. Yellowknife. I stepped off the porch into the deepening pool, picked up my rake, and saluted the lady across the street. We were homeowners. Staying put. We had our own work to do.
John Holman is the author is Squabble and Other Stories, Luminous Mysteries, and Triangle Ray. He teaches at Georgia State University.