You Are A Leaf

(#17 in a series of Grown-Ups' Fairy Tales)

by Ben Ohmart

It was in a Spring of rainy skies when the leaf and Font were born, on the exact same minute of the exact same day, and yet they never met, socially or for whatever terms of business they may, in some obtuse circumstance, have had. They were brothers of nature, if a God did exist to serve and be worshipped. Font lived on Greenbag Street, close to a company that specialized in repairing damaged household appliances, and he grew up to be a fine strapping youth, then a well-bred, brief-casing adult whose job it was to rid the world of unwarranted nudity for businessmen; and the leaf worked for itself for the next twenty years, while no one realized how wise in years the old tree-feather was.

The leaf had a hard life, watching the sun rise and set for every day of its life, never able to contribute any more than his brief and relatively unimportant part to the beauty of each twenty-four hours. Spring was its favorite time, watching new friends join him from babies to sudden adults, and he would have renewed opportunities of conversing with his shaking brothers, as well as those from the neighboring tree, and across the street next to the lamp post (those lucky enough to still have their lives after horrifying weekends when the brown splotched cat decided to test its reflexes and instincts on anything which fluttered); and when the wind rattled their sticky brown home, all spoke at once and the leaf's hearing would be filled with the vibrations that sang an opera in activity.

Spring was good for the man as well because it seemed his fellow humans had also grown more of the green stuff which excited shop keepers to great delight, and clothes upon clothes were consumed upon the backs and legs of all who entered ringing doors.

It was near the middle of spring when Font was told that all his stock had to go. He was told this sweet fact by a very enterprising young accountant, who married Font's sister right out of high school, and which added to the intelligent amount of sales the store received. It was hardly a lie, since they indeed needed to move the merchandise of one season to make rack room for the coming demand of little-material clothing. Bathing suits, shorts, long pants for summer job interviews-- all had to make their mark upon the tables of good shop owners. The sign was hung indicating "store wide sales" and "everything must go!" in huge bold letters, and Font set quite a few pats on his helper's back as the income steadily increased to unlimited proportions.

One day, after he had gained more than enough to settle in a quiet town to raise a family and simple hopes for the rest of his life, Font's helper quit with a smile and a handshake and left the grateful owner to overwork himself greatly within the two months that followed. Not able to handle the rapid pace of becoming increasingly wealthy by himself, which meant sometimes work hours in the double digits for a single day, Font placed an advertisement in the local newspaper, with the specific ingredients desired for what he thought would be the ideal clerk. At least sixty applicants arrived within a week of the public statement being placed. But of these, many were the wrong shape and color, or contained age and ethnic handicaps, and he had to say "I'm sorry" so often that it was rehearsed as if he meant it. His ideal had simply not walked by his place of business, and perhaps he would have to settle: for whatever ex-military, short man or housewife-returned-to-college which made him/herself available. Business distressed him, and ulcers threatened to capture his vital organs and give way to the blood pressure, higher than his secret bank account, which was laughingly waiting in line behind the next, or the next, or the next, customer.

But, as the brother to the man fought for existence, the leaf still relished it to the fullest and now that it was summer, he hung about by his umbilical cord and played with the friends across the street, and they would all invent games of "what would happen?" into their limited knowledge of the world and wish themselves free to float and fly and discover. But not the leaf. Yes, he would play, and quite happily, too, but in his heart he knew the only sad ending which came from being lost from the tree-mother.

After two weeks of searching, Font finally found a presentable subject. Eyes a solid color, hair in neat straight waves, clothes always as pressed as his sense of humor, application full of meaningless, but highly experienced occupations, and desires bursting forth with dreams of becoming an executive of some kind or another, always courageous, determined and honest.

Font tried the man called Robbie out for a week, and he was wonderful! He remembered where everything went, how suits were to be laid out for ad campaigns, where and how money was to be distributed for the purpose of keeping correct books, how to handle customers who thought themselves right when the entire, ancient world wrong, how to say "please", "thank you" and "I'm sorry, but that's not our policy" when applicable, and sound sincere, and he wanted to constantly take on more responsibility and further headaches which left Font readily available for fishing lessons and adult book store field trips which he had previously overlooked because of impossible time elements. So Robbie learned the routines and learned them very well as the months wore on, and the little store saw less and less of its owner. But Font truly enjoyed having his reading lists enlarged, and sought future ways to distribute more power to the helper who never dated.

The breeze started to cool and swimsuits, the leaf saw, were suddenly being changed into long sleeves and turtle-neck sweaters, as the people turned to laying plans for firewood, never considering his home, thank goodness, to their cottages. The leaf started to witness some changes in his friends, which he'd often seen before. Suddenly they were different to him, not just in attitude, but in appearance and personality as well. They did not want to play anymore, but were well content to just settle down in the quiet of an evening and watch the mist rise from a far off fire hydrant end-celebration; or they would watch glints of tiny sparks which floated up to the air, as once they wished to do, ignorant and never concerned or even curious of the dead bodies which were raising up from the well-groomed yards to meet whatever afterlives were contained for such creatures.

None of it bothered the leaf too much, because he had witnessed change before, and where once he had been grateful for the eternal life it looked as if he was given, he found himself, as time died on, in thoughts of change. And he wished his lifeline was not the strongest, so that he could follow one generation, and feel as if he belonged.

Font gave his far from new employee a generous Christmas present of a new automobile for his genius of working virtually all shifts himself, now that Font had all but retired at the golden age of 23. Robbie was very pleased and called the other man, actually one year older than himself, father, and closed the office for an entire day: as long as the appreciative hug lasted.

The shop was closed an entire week for Christmas, as both men could afford such a situation, and they spent the time with their separate families, as some relatives weren't seen since the sole proprietorship began. But work started bright and early the next year, and there was no confinement as to the shop's ability to bring in new customers and older money. In fact, by that time, business was too good to allow such a small place to be the only link between the two men and the rest of the world's wealth. So, they opened another store, and used the little residence as a proper office. The mania was supreme and by the start of the next month, they found the well-gotten gains to purchase more property. Then another store, then another. Of course, more people had to be employed to run such an elegant state-wide clothing specialist, but Robbie and Font both knew the desired look their chain needed to promote and it wasn't long before every available apparel seller, whether they had work or not, was drawn forth into the new stores, with the projected income the two men could promise.

The leaf was never more sad, and angry, than when he had to witness the mass execution of those he'd grown to love. Those he called brother and sister had simply faded away during the night, or perhaps within his sight on a pretty, cloudless day. There was nothing he could do about it, and he had to watch them fall as they shouted no final words of encouragement; they were all too old to care about anything, save the possibility of a final resting place where they could forget the woes of their short lives. The leaf wanted to cry, and feel the wetness burn into his blackened, harsh skin. But the tears would never come to him, no matter how often he wished to go to the place where supposedly his family was rushing.

The strength gradually drained from his body, and so too, did the desire to live.

The business Font had started little more than a year ago was fast becoming one of the most amazing achievements since the popular patent of the wheel, and every major business executive wanted in on it. Font was able, with pride, to grant that important wish Robbie had made so long ago, and was able to laugh in the faces of the influential managers who offered their services. Font laid the entire company before Robbie, to let his ego run wild upon the title of President in Charge of Production. Both men were happy, with their well-provided for families sitting by their sides, smiling for the magazine covers which never ended, and Font and Robbie worked with no problems. No problems with each other at all. Until.

They worked through the winter with ease, and were even debating, off and on, the challenge of raising another jewel to their much inspired chain; but the entire fabric of the company changed, on the very eve of spring.

Font was busy looking over the company accounts one day when his eye chanced to catch something that did not decimal correctly. He used an expensive calculator to confirm his suspicions and leaned back in his desk chair to try to come to grips with a proper explanation as to who the math-idiot could be. Font hit his head on the corner of a cabinet behind him, and it clicked a certain drawer open, which should never have happened by accident! Font withdrew the files he found inside the dark hole and looked over the papers with horror and sorrow in both eyes and heart. He found that report to be a faithful embezzlement of company funds into a private account of several million dollars. But that was not the ultimate surprise waiting. It was all in the neat handwriting of his best friend Robbie! Font couldn't believe it. Anyone but Robbie! he thought, but here it was in blue and black. He tried to make a tear rise in his eye but there was no room for it with the remaining anger which grew thicker by the figure. He scanned the remaining notes, then decided: there was to be the monthly deposit of the office's receipts and money the next day.

Font quickly pocketed the sacrilegious documents and withdrew the three teeming bags of money from the hidden safe. He was determined not to let the theft go on any longer than possible. For, the most awful blow of all had been reading when the trickery started. The first date of monies stolen had been: the day after Robbie had been originally hired!

Font called his wife and told her he was going to visit Shirley on Meadows Grove and wouldn't be home until an hour past the children's bed time; and not to wait up. Font took the load of mixed-colored papers in his arms, got in his talking car and drove to Shirley's house. He knew that Shirley lived in a residential section of town and that in her back yard she had a fall-out shelter which she sometimes used to store family valuables. He knocked on her door and asked if he might have a favor.

Meanwhile, the leaf was trying to gather the much needed strength to join his ancestors. He had little will for anything but sadness and so the trial was hard going. He looked into the deep night stars and wondered if he was a lost soul who'd done something he was not supposed to in a previous life, and wondered what sort of crime warranted an enslavement of such magnitude. He couldn't even shake a limb in his present condition.

Font started digging with an old shovel, and wrestled with himself as to if he wanted criminal proceedings brought against a man he'd once called son. But then he thought of their age difference, and, the dream broken, he used the energy to make the hole faster.

"Hello, Font," said a voice from the darkness.

There stood Robbie, a smile on his shiny teeth and an old revolver in his hand. "I called the office. Then I called your house. What are you doing?" Font gripped the shovel tighter but only got a hum of discouragement from the weapon holder. "I'm going to have to call the police on you, Robbie. I'm sorry."

The leaf hardly noticed the scene below him at all. "Then," started Robbie, "I guess I'm going to have to shoot you. Nobody saw me arrive. I turned my car lights off." Robbie asked for the evidence and Font unwillingly gave it to him. "You can dig your own hole if you like", and with that, Font continued digging for the next twenty minutes until it was deep and long enough for his dead hide. "You once told me you were born in the Spring," said Robbie. "Well, Font. You're going to die in it." Font stood up straight and prepared to die like a man. His eyes met the tree behind Robbie and he readied himself for the last sight he would see.

Upon hearing of a possible brother, the leaf perked up. He turned his gaze more closely to the human called Font and looked deep into his eyes. Inside, he found the warmth of a Spring week and the compassion of an angel of birth; he knew the entire history of this man, and loved him for it; he read the man's mind of his birthday, which was his own; he read the man's memory of his children's first steps and first blisters from hot cement, his wife's weeping at the trip he bought her to reunite her with her German grandparents whom she hadn't seen in decades, of his business which meant almost as much as his family if only in the sense that the work took at least the same amount of time and energy away from his happy days.... He saw everything in this object whose first breath had been of Spring, and with that in the lungs, a brother needed nothing else.

"Anything to say?" Robbie asked. "Any hidden accounts?" But Font said nothing, and just stared at the unknown and withered tree.

With all his might, the leaf shook himself from the branch which had held him prisoner for so many lifetimes and with a large crack from the strong branch-root, he jumped from his life and floated slowly to the bottom.

Robbie heard the noise behind him and turned to look. Font took this opportunity to jump into the barrel of the gun and within a moment's intense struggle, with life being the First Prize, Font claimed Victory! and stepped on Robbie's chest, as he held the revolver to the head on the ground, and called to Shirley.

The only sound upon the night was that of the two men breathing hard, as they waited carefully for the police, and the soft rustle of the wind lifting the quiet passengers of foliage to an easy freedom.