The Gold Leaf

(fiction)

A little box filled with my office belongings sat on the passenger seat as I drove home.  I decided last week that this would be my last day.  My last day at the office and the last day on this earth.  I didn’t tell anyone when I said my goodbyes.  Mainly because I didn’t think anyone would really care.

“It seems unfair,” I mumbled to myself. I was stopped at the usual red light on my way home. If I didn’t know any better, I would swear this intersection had it out for me. The light always turned red whenever I approached. No matter which direction I came from.  “This is our last time to meet like this,” I said to the light.  It stayed red.

I looked at the row of trees next to the road. The leaves were already turning yellow and the evening sun lit them up like gold. It seemed unfair to me that God would save this beauty for the leaves’ dying breath. “I wonder if humans get the same dying beauty?” I asked only the car because as usual I was the sole occupant.

The light turned green and the traffic began slowly moving. I made my way home on my usual route. My apartment had a certain autumn coolness when I stepped in and I turned up the heat but not too much. I couldn’t afford to heat my apartment as much as I wanted to. Instead, I put on my old sweater I kept at the foot of my bed.

I opened my freezer and stared at my choices for dinner. Frozen Teriyaki Chicken edged out frozen Chicken and Mushrooms just barely. I threw the box in the microwave and began heating it up. Warmth was finally reaching my cheeks as I looked at the blank walls in my kitchen. The off white walls could use a fresh coat of paint. Maybe the new tenant would get lucky and the landlord would paint.

The microwave beeped and I took out my dinner. Of course, the middle was still cold but the edges bubbled. I turned the television on to watch.   I sat on the couch and put my feet on the stupid coffee table my great aunt had given me. If I wasn’t so lazy, I would have thrown the table away a long time ago. Instead, I used it as my footstool.

What would my final viewing be? I flipped it to Entertainment Tonight. The can of Pringles I kept by the chair only had crumbs left. I brought the can up to my mouth and tipped my head back. The crumbs fell liberally on my shirt. “No matter,” I said and brushed a few off, “it’s not like I need to impress anyone where I’m going.”

Last week I had decided while at work that this would be my last day on this earth. My dreams had remained just that, dreams. My life was pathetic. No one would notice if I didn’t show up to work tomorrow. What if I just let the night take me?  Yesterday I purchased several over the counter drugs to help me drift off into a never ending sleep.

Just then, my neighbors on the left returned home. The thin walls in the apartment building betrayed the dwellers. There were no secrets here. I referred to my neighbors as the “Typical American Family.” Whenever I saw them outside, they always smiled and said a cheery hello. However, I knew how artificial and hollow their smiles actually were. I could hear them through the walls at night. Like an invisible member of their family, I knew their secret.

Instinctively, I used my remote to turn up the volume on my television set. That never helped. I heard the heavy thuds on the stairs and my heart raced. No matter what I tried, I could not block out the sound. I even tried ear plugs but I hate sticking anything in my ears. So, I audibly witnessed everything that happened to this family.

I clutched the arm of the couch and held my breath as I heard the door open. What I referred to as the Beast had just come home to its lair. Right off the bat, I could sense he looked for a fight.

“Where’s my food?” he snarled.

“We just got home,” his wife replied quickly.

“That’s just great. Been out spending money faster than I can make it. Hope you’re happy.”

“We were grocery shopping,” she explained and could hear her opening cabinet doors.

“Grocery shopping?” there was a pause. “What are these then?”

“Cole needed new shoes. His last pair was held together with duct tape.”

“That’s just great,” he said. “As long as Cole is taken care of. I guess it don’t matter if I go hungry.”

“I got some tv dinners, supper will be ready in a minute.”

“Because I have time to wait.”

At that last statement, I snorted. From experience, I knew the only pressing engagement he had for the evening was watching ESPN. I wished he would just turn on his television already. The added noise helped muffle sounds.

Even though I knew the outcome, I turned up the volume on my television.  It was my hope he’d get the hint even though he never did get it. I heard him trudge to the wall and start banging on it. Normally, I would acquiesce and turn the volume back down. But tonight? Tonight I had nothing to lose so I didn’t do anything.

“Turn down that racket!” he yelled. “My family can’t hear themselves think.”

“Who is he kidding?” I mumbled but I didn’t budge. My palms became sweaty but I decided I was going to take a stand on this last night.

He banged again and I ignored him. My heart started racing.   I thought he might just bang a hole in the thin walls but instead, he gave up.

A few moments of eerie silence in their apartment betrayed the intensity. I took a deep breath because I knew what was coming. First the dull thuds followed by the screams and groans. All sounds that should have bothered me more than they do. I was sad that they didn’t bother me more.

This was my cue to get as far away as possible. I gathered my half full garbage and headed for the dumpster. If there were to be strangers in my apartment tomorrow, I wanted it to be somewhat clean.

As I walked back to my apartment, I saw a little boy sitting on the steps in front of my door. He couldn’t have been more than five. I recognized him as Cole because I had seen him with his mother. His blue eyes were filled with tears and he watched me approach. I put my head down and started to walk past him. But at the last moment, his eyes penetrated my soul and I couldn’t move.

My throat went dry. What was I doing?

“Do you wanna come in?” the words had to have come from somebody else. Surely, I wouldn’t be getting involved. Not tonight of all nights. I wished life had an undo button that I could push and then just keep walking.

He sized me up. Weighing options heavier than I ever had to make and then he nodded his head once.

I knew we would have to hurry. The beast was surely on the hunt searching for his prey.

“C’mon,” I said quickly. He knew to hurry. I let him in my apartment first and closed my door. My hands were shaking as I fastened all the locks. I looked at the door and thought it look like it was made of straw. Definitely not a match for the big bad wolf.

The noise from the television caught my attention and I picked up the remote and turned it down. I looked at Cole. My only thought was, ‘now what?’ With any luck, no one had seen us come into my apartment and we could hide out for a while. But for how long? The boy was only five and he was in my apartment. There was no happy ending with this.

“Oh no,” I said out loud as sweat beaded on my forehead. “I just kidnapped someone.”

His blue eyes continued to watch me.

“Look, kid,” I said quickly, “I’d like to help you, but…”

He sensed where I was going and began to cry. Loudly.

I heard the footsteps at my door, then someone banging on it. “You got my kid in there?”

Things just went from bad to worse.

“You calling the police?” he snarled.

The police? I crossed the room to the sobbing figure on the couch. “You know how to call 911?” I asked with a sudden clarity of mind.

He nodded.

“Go into that bedroom,” I pointed. “Close the door. Hide under the bed and call 911.” I instructed. I wished the boy and I could switch places and I hide and let him answer the door. But from somewhere deep inside me, very deep, a wave of bravery swept over me. I didn’t know what the source was but I acted on it.

The beast continued to bang on the door and I thought he was going to break my door down. I waited for a few moments after the boy had run out of the room and down the hall. Hopefully, the boy would follow through. I took a deep breath.

I’ve never been a praying kind of person but I could feel one growing inside of me. To my surprise, I wasn’t praying for myself. Instead, I was praying for the boy and his mother.

My palms were dripping with sweat when I finally opened the door. The first thing I could see was a heaving chest. My eyes slowly made their way up to his red face.

“Where is he?” he spit his words out.

I clenched my fist but did not move my body. This must have been what David faced when he stared down Goliath. Suddenly, I wished I had sling shot and stones. Just as well I didn’t, I had no idea how to use them.

“Where’s my kid?” he snarled again looking over my head into the living room. “I know he’s in here.”

Everything in my makeup and history told me to step aside. Actually, that familiar inner voice told me to run away. But for some reason, I refused to move.

My hesitancy agitated the beast.

“Get my kid,” his tone changed from angry to losing-control angry.

To both our surprise, I didn’t move.

“Get my kid,” he warned again and I knew I was pushing my luck.

Where were the police? It felt like a lifetime ago since I sent the kid down the hall. What if he didn’t call? Suddenly I sensed my fate rested on a five year old and I felt stupid.

My body wanted to run but I just stood planted in that spot blocking the doorway. The beast knew there was nothing I could do to physically stop him. It didn’t take much effort for him to push past me. It took all the strength and skill I had to not fall.

The beast was in my apartment. He searched for his boy. I didn’t recognize the resolve inside of myself but knew it had somehow, somewhere along the way, surfaced.  It was a small place and it would only take moments for him to find the boy. Then what? I wasn’t sure what to do to stall him so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I jumped on his back.

It definitely did not stop him or even slow him down. What it did was make him even angrier. He spun around trying to shake me off. But fear made me cling even tighter. He stumbled in my small living room doing his best to get rid of his unwanted passenger. I did my best to hold on.

We heard the sirens at the same time. Both of us knew their destination. Actually, I hoped this was their destination. I continued to cling to him despite his best efforts to free himself. I needed to see the protection of the police before I let go.

He called me every name he could think of as if that would entice me to let go. It did not. It made me hold even tighter around his neck.

At that moment, I wished I hadn’t been so lazy. I wished I would have thrown away that ugly coffee table that took up too much room in my tiny apartment.

The beast must have gotten dizzy from all his spinning. All I know is, he lost his balance and we both went down. Unfortunately, he fell backward. We seemed to fall in slow motion. I saw the police barge into the apartment. I also saw his wife with a swollen and bloody face come around the corner calling out for Cole. Then I heard a horrible crack and felt a searing pain in the back of my head. My head had just connected with the edge of that stupid coffee table and then a 250 pound mass fell on top of me.

The door was left open and when I opened my eyes I could see a tree out in the courtyard. I watched as a beautiful gold leaf take its last breath and let go. Just like me. So God and I had planned my last day to be the same day. Go figure.

© 2014 ck’s days

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5 thoughts on “The Gold Leaf

  1. I actually had something else in mind for today’s post. At the last minute, I switched it with this old story I wrote. I didn’t even have a name for it. But I guess it’s that time of year when we start thinking and seeing gold leaves 🙂

  2. Very interesting story, and really well written too! 🙂 I can’t imagine what it must be like to live next door to someone experiencing abuse of any kind, must be difficult to know what to do, the Police aren’t always interested in reports of domestic abuse unless it comes from the person abused. Stressful situation! 😦

    So I guess this is a lesson learned not to think we are in control of anything – even our leaving! 😉

  3. I hope I am never in the position as this person was. And if I am, I hope I’m not so useless.
    It’s a very dark piece that I must have wrote during my ‘dark phase.’ I was actually going to post something else but decided to post a story instead. That was the only complete one I could find. I’m still looking for a different one! Who knows if it will ever resurface 🙂

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