Lucy puts a cigarette up to her lips. She’s never smoked before.
The view from the front porch is dismal: overcast, like a dark watercolor wash, and still as death. The trees have either dropped their leaves in a brown flurry or look like they’re about to. The cement beneath Lucy is cold, and particularly stiff, as she can feel through her feet. She rests most of the weight on her knees, propping up slightly with her elbows, and pushes a long strand of hair behind her ear. Even when she takes a breath, the air around her doesn’t move.
A cough erupts from her chest. All the tar and nicotine leaves a bad flavor on her tongue, but she sucks it in again anyway.
Slowly, a leaf tumbles from the sky, having a hard time pushing through the undisturbed layers of sky. It’s red, one of the last ones. Nothing else has been truly red since summer ended, since she and Anthony called it quits. In July, and even into August, red was the only color in her world. It was the shade Anthony would turn every time she smiled widely, the color of their matching concert shirts, the color of the sun beading down on their backs. Now, the world is brown, soggy, and left at the curb for a yard waste company to haul away.
The tip of the cigarette flickers orange and yellow, sending a trail of invisible smoke into the air. Quietly, it create a soft mirage against the trees that line the block. Everything is quiet here.
In June, all the trees had broad green leaves that captured the late spring rain. It was underneath her umbrella that she first met Anthony, who was walking somewhere indefinite, as he so often did. He had closely trimmed hair the color of red delicious apples, and flaming lips that he bit all to often. Immediately, Lucy saw him as a summer fling in the waiting. She let him stand under the umbrella with her.
“Where are you headed?” she asked.
He smiled coyly. “You tell me.”
She didn’t yet know that he liked the Beatles, or that his favorite color was scarlet, or that this was a line that he had been tossing around in his head all day waiting for someone to ask him the right question.
He hadn’t yet told her that he loved the way she wore socks that came over her boots and dared to wear her hair down in the rain.
The hot part of the cigarette draws dangerously close to Lucy’s fingertips. She imagines dropping it at the base of the tree with the warm-colored leaves, burning it to the ground, and the thought excites her. She stretches her legs and wiggles her toes, which are barefoot and exposed. The strand falls into her face again, and she wonders why it can’t stay back in the ponytail with all the other strands. Thunder rips across the sky. It resonates against the houses and the plants, up and down the empty street.
Along with the summer solstice came a sudden switch in climate, from soggy to steamy. This was the time she and Anthony found out that they shared an undying love for a somewhat underground band and, by coincidence, they were coming to the Four Seasons open amphitheater downtown the next week. Anthony bought two tickets. They celebrated over ice cream.
The next day, they prepared for the concert by listening to every album in chronological order. Some of the songs, as they flew around her mind, reminded Lucy of Anthony. They were all her favorite songs, even the ones that didn’t have to do with love, but just had a nice melody.
As she walked to his house, Lucy noticed three more red trees. Somehow, these trees had skipped the earlier, more subtle stages of yellow and had plunged directly into the depths of crimson from the beginning. Not even a week of July had gone by yet.
A drop comes down from the sky to squelch Lucy’s flame. The cigarette rests limp between her middle and index fingers, damp now, and useless. She moves her arm to toss it into the grass, make it look like some random passerby had dropped it there and save herself the trouble of explanation.But something stops her short.
The concert was filled with strangers. None were willing to let Lucy and Anthony get through to the stage, so there was no clear view of the band.
“As long as we’re not going to be able to see, we might as well listen somewhere more private,” Anthony suggested.
Already the ground was littered with leaves, some partially decayed, most still vibrant and intact. He led her further and further into a sparsely vegetated area of the grounds, where there were trees, a bench, and still some sound from the stage. They sat down on the concrete bench, soothing their burning feet, and Anthony laid his hand gently on top of hers.
He began to lean in slowly. Leaves fell from the trees more and more rapidly the closer he came.
“Do you see that?” she asked. “The leaves are throwing confetti.” These words were meant to distract him, throw him off his game, but they were punctuated, instead, with his lips against her cheek.
“This is beautiful,” he said. “I’m going to make you a crown, no, a palace, out of all the leaves in the world.”
She didn’t respond. His words hung like dusty cobwebs, making her choke.
“I can’t do this, Anthony,” she huffed. “We’ve only known each other for two weeks.”
Lucy pictures a house made of leaves. Eventually, it would rot and die, or turn brown and cave in on itself, gagging the occupants. Anything built on such flimsy materials will collapse.
With this thought in mind, she strolls, through the pouring rain, to the curb. The leaves are over saturated with rainwater, but she lifts them regardless. She fiddles with one until it looks, in some way, like a boy, and puts a skirt on the next one so it looks like a girl. She constructs three walls and sits the boy inside of them. He falls to the floor. She adds a roof.
Lucy joyfully throws the cigarette into the curb and regresses, with the leaf girl, to her house. While her back is turned, the leaf roof swells with liquid until it falls down, carrying the leaf house, resident and all, away into the street.
The leaf girl sits on top of her cork board like a paper doll might, and here, at last, she is safe and dry.