Burlington, MA. October 2009.
There are voices in the leaves.
Skip lifts his chin, letting his eyes shut as the krssshhhh of leaf-sounds falls into his ears.
we fall, we fall
“Skip? What are you doing?”
His mother’s hand runs through his hair, over his ears, and the sound stops.
“Well, let’s go. We’re late.”
Skip breaths air out from inside his cheeks, making his own leaf-sounds.
late is okay late means we might not go at all
“Stop that noise. Come on.”
The car door stands open. He has to sit in the back, beside the empty seat. Empty seats are a big problem. There should be people in them. There should be one person, especially. His sister.
Skip leans his head close to the empty-seat. He can still smell her, but only barely. Holly always smelled bright like lemonade.
But she’s not so bright anymore. Not since she got Sick.
“You okay?” Mom is suddenly concerned as she starts the car and they turn out onto the quiet street, away from the apartment.
Skip watches the leaves blur past. Shhhhhhh, they whisper.
The hospital is too big to look at. Too many sharp edges. So Skip closes his eyes, holding Mom’s hand tight, taking two steps for each of hers.
He crashes into a potted plant in the lobby.
“Skip!” She isn’t mad.
“Sorry.” He keeps his eyes open, but tries to force the leaves on top of the blue uniforms and aqua green walls. He tries to turn the sick-smell into bright pink lemonade.
Then there she is. The stranger who doesn’t look like Holly.
Skip squirms. He doesn’t want to go in. Words and smells he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know flutter in his memory.
“Please?” Mom begs.
“Skip?” Holly says in a dry paper voice.
Skip reaches into his pocket — it’s still there. The red leaf.
Careful, careful – can’t let the fragile leaf break – he crosses the room.
“It’s for you,” he holds it out, and retreats.
She smiles, and whispers something, the gentle rush of her breath filling the room.
patience, patience. all is well
“She’ll be better soon, Mom,” Skip whispers.
He can hear the leaf working its wonders. With each breath, it sings.
we fly, we fly