brimstone and phosphorus

When my littlest brother was in nursery school, he came home with this book about death called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I read it. Freddie rustles in the breezes and offers shade for picnicking old people and then October comes with the cold and wind, and everyone changes color. A kindly leaf tells Freddie that everybody dies, and at the end, even though Freddie said he was absolutely not going to die, wheeeeeeee Freddie falls and it’s as orgasmic as that saying about skidding into your grave at full throttle shouting What a Ride!

My tree has gone Freddie, all yellow and autumn-smelling and on its way to its annual nakedness. It’s a big tree, lots of leaves. Lots of raking. Next year I may not even have a tree at all to clean up after. The little girl in me who learned wrong lessons about death too early does not like autumn or falling leaves or anything that speaks of endings. The rest of me tries to talk some sense into that little girl and to be the kindly leaf. Life is change. You’re alive, still. You change, and everything changes around you. You are not the center of the storm. You are made of it and every time you breathe you stir things up some more.

I have been quiet in a lot of ways since spring, mostly because to talk of the minutiae of this life (the packing, the loneliness, the damn shoulder) feels one-note to me, and though I fail a lot, I try not to be one-note. I myself am sick of what I have to say. I wish, instead of bagging up all these leaves in environmentally sound paper leaf bags for the city to haul away, I could be piling their dry husks into an old metal barrel and tickety-boom setting them on fire. This is what I need right now, a good hot blaze instead of a slow decay.

The good news: I swear I smell it, just a hint. Mixed in with the clean chill of the air and the musty fallen leaves, overpowering the parade of pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that, and in concert with geese flying south: sulfur and phosphorus, a freshly struck match. Maybe it’s some kind of anticipatory hallucination, maybe it’s hope or a memory, and maybe it’s someone down the street with more balls than I have. It gives me nerve. It smells better than I can tell you.