Matt Vollendorf

The Leaves of Boston

The leaves of Boston were draining green as the color of fire pushed through each limb and into the hands of each shaking leaf. John walked through the Commons and felt the dull pain at the back of his skull–a pressure, sinus infection type pain–it lingered until it slowly fell into his shoulder and sank into the tips of his fingers. The first fallen leaves crunched underfoot. The fountain remained on, and as he walked past it, a girl of nine or ten danced on the ledge. He thought of defying death: hypothermia, frozen dreams of shuttering drowned bodies–the hair falling out, and the numbness of cold or treatments–of Paige, and the fountain when she stood on it the night they met.

He exhaled, and a white breath as thick as smoke hung in the chilled morning air. He walked through it and wandered the concrete walks as if he were lost in a dream, almost forgetting he was walking to work. Was he walking to work? The days were blending lately, and his job may have been yesterday or a month ago. Had he gotten it back? He couldn’t remember. Did he want it back? Dr. Pollner’s office was his place to work. The hospital with the room where they pushed everything into him. Was he heading there? No, he went there in the afternoons. Last week. Tomorrow? Later, perhaps. He would have to check his calendar when he got home, or to work. Was he going to work? He rubbed his gloves together, and a sound pulled between the leather–a sort of thick-click-thick.

A breeze gathered over the trees, and maple leaves fell before him. He stopped and picked one up. He examined the broad surface and touched the curling edges as gently as he would a child. He remembered the day after the biopsy. Wearing a thick grey hat in August so she wouldn’t know anything had been done to his skull.

Why?

I just can’t, Paige. I can’t.

But it’s not hard.

It’s not that it’s hard. It’s that the sky falls too quickly.

There’s not enough time?

That’s right.

But there is enough time, John.

You’re getting time mixed up with feeling.

There’s enough time, John. I love you.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t love you.

He sat down on a bench and let his eyes turn to the ground. Yellow leaves were scattered on the still green grass. It looked like a game to him. Lava, like when he was a child: don’t touch the green (or would it be yellow?) or you would melt. Game over. The pain came and he felt his stomach–he remembered not wanting to tell Paige, not telling Paige.

I mean. It’s not that I don’t love you.

Then what, John? Tell me.

It’s that we can’t do this.

Why?

I just can’t, Paige. I can’t.

But it’s not hard.

The sky falls too quickly.

He could have told her. She had gone to Portland to live with her sister, but he could have told her and she would have stayed and helped him through. Dr. Pollner said four months; he was three months in. The treatments were helping only to give a bit longer, they said. Maybe not. And how much?

You should have told her, Dr. Pollner said.

I want her to mourn later, not before it happens.

Have you told anybody?

He hadn’t. There wasn’t anybody to tell. Paige was what mattered. The night they met down the street from the bench he was sitting on–the Hub Pub, while Paige was still finishing her MFA at Emerson. How she traced his face, lips, and neck that night and called him her future ex-husband, and how he said boyfriend instead.

His eyes began to hurt. Not with the tumor but with emotion. Should he have told her? He set his hand on the bench, as if holding a spot for someone to sit next to him. Paige? He heard footsteps and looked up–his heart beat fast, but hopeless. He watched as leaves pushed from the black boots of an old woman, and he heard her cane tap the sidewalk slowly with each step–he hadn’t heard the cane at first. Maybe the leaves dampened the sound? Maybe his hearing was fading. They said it might happen. She smiled at him as she passed. He pulled his thin face to a weak attempt of a smile and wondered if his dimples were showing. He wouldn’t want to scowl at anybody–maybe his beard hid it all anyway. Was there a beard? Had he shaved? No, he remembered, not since Paige left.

Existence was drowning. He tried to stand but felt weak. His blinks were slowing. Frozen–the little girl standing on the edge of the fountain. Paige sitting at the table crying, her hair in two short pigtails, an orange bandana stretched across the top of her head. His reflection in the mirror next to the door as he turned the knob. He studied his eyes–desperate? haunting? menacing? His face was dry, clean shaven that night. The lines of his jaw fell to his rounded chin, and he remembered tracing them as Paige had. He should have told her, but she left the next day–three months ago. Was it three months? Today felt like yesterday, and yesterday felt like last year. But the trees. The trees held green leaves.