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01/09/2014

Watching Leaves

Georgina Browning

Watch that leaf riding on the breath of the sky, sewing in and out, bouncing from one little invisible ledge to the other. But you know where it is going: it is going down. See how, after its joyride, it settles on the water. Held suspended above the rest, lying in their watery graves, by the thin grey membrane.

Lean out as far as you can; don’t touch the water though. Can’t you hear he is trying to tell you something? You tilt your head to show you are listening. But you don’t think you are because he wouldn’t have said that. The thing that you didn’t want to hear. But now you can’t ignore it, as it is hanging in the mists of your breath, clinging to your hair with white tendrils. Demanding attention with its damp warmth.

“Didn’t you hear me?” His voice grates on you.

“Yes.”

“So? Don’t you have anything to say?”

He wants you to look at him; you can feel it as if he is screaming. Do you have anything to say? Besides what he wants you to, what you want to and what you should say? No. So you sit, pursed lips, staring through the grey avoiding the reflection of yourself and focusing instead on the once-red leaves that have turned to mud at the bottom.

“Fine, you don’t have to say anything. I just wanted you to know.”

You can hear the pain even though he sighs as if you do this every day.

Do you?

You look at him and give out a little sad laugh because you don’t know what else to do.

His eyes grow wide and you turn your head away. It’s a good thing you never blush. The atmosphere is choking; like a hand around your throat, its knuckles white with the exertion. You loosen the knot on your scarf.

“Just forget I said it,” he mutters.

You nod uselessly.

“I just get carried away. I’ve missed you so much.”

You look down at the damp wood, a mottled dark brown with little ridges that dig into your knees and in each groove are black grains of dirt; a few woodlice rumble around in them, rolling into balls as you touch them gently with your fingertip. Your knees ache a little, the wet patches growing on your tights and these are all you can look at. All you can think about is the dirt.

“It sounds like your holiday was amazing,” he attempts.

“Yes.”

“Rachel told me you fell in with a weird family.”

You look up and one of his dark eyebrows is slightly arched. “They weren’t weird.” You wish you were more riled that Rachel has spoken to him first. “Well it seems strange to me. I mean, Rache said they paid for everything.” “Yep.” And you feel like laughing again but the sound

would be inappropriate.

“She told me about the… man.”

You look up at him, trying not to bite your lip, not to feel guilty.

“What about him? His weird hair? Ha ha. I spent more time with the sisters anyway.” Did you just say too much?

“That’s not really what Rachel said, she said that she spent more time with the sisters than you did.”

“Did she? Well we were always mostly together. It’s just that he wasn’t as friendly as us, so I got stuck with him.”

“Rache said it was strange. Like he was too possessive.”

“Well if she had such a problem with it, why didn’t she tell him to get lost?”

You’re getting flustered, feeling the danger in the air.

“So… so you didn’t think that?”

“No. Listen we were in a strange country and I thought it was a good thing we were with people who knew what they were doing.” You try to keep your voice calm.

“The pool incident.”

Sounds underlined, like a title, don’t you think?

“When you were in that natural pool, she said…”

His last words are washed away by the sound of your blood swirling through the tiny canals in your ears, like being underwater: the same feeling of pressure. The harsh whispering and murmurs are too loud for anything else to get through. You can’t hear him. You don’t panic though, because you’ve been here before and panicking didn’t help the last time. You surface.

“…Held you under. Why did he do that?” He was earnest now, even getting out of his ridiculous squat to put one knee down into the damp.

“We were playing, messing around. He was just kidding.” You laugh. You liar.

“You were scared and wanted to quit the holiday. But Rache was enjoying not paying for anything. She feels guilty now.” He’s rolling some grit between his forefinger and thumb because he wants to hold your hand.

You’re feeling scared now and angry.

“How long was she talking to you for? And when, as soon as we got off the plane? When I went to the loo or something?” You’re rambling. His mouth hangs open and you should be feelingfsorry about now, but you don’t, do you? Your heart’s beating even faster now; you’re feeling too warm.

Not to mention tainted. You try to brush the dirt from your hands.

“How can you say that?” He finally breathes. “I love you.”

Again? He’ll drive you crazy.

“I thought it was a joke,” you tell him quickly. You think it’s your last chance.

“What?”

“The water, I thought he was just playing.” You’ll have to tell him faster than that.

“So he did scare you.”

He can’t quite keep the triumph out of his voice can he?

You want to nod, to fling your arms around him, and beg him to save you. Instead you find yourself shrugging, a little smile curling your lips.

He stares at you, blue eyes framed by dark spiky eyelashes, angry maybe.

“He did, I can tell. You’ve been acting strange ever since you got back. Like wanting to meet here. For Christ’s sake, I was going to take you out for a meal but I thought you were being romantic.” He clenches his fists in his dark hair, his knuckles white, mottled with the blue from the cold.

Laugh. It’s a strange sound in the quiet woods that has the impact of a gunshot, startling the blackbird that had been perched between the spikes in the hawthorn bush next to you.

“You slept with him, didn’t you?” See the tears glisten just on the rim of his tender-looking eyes. They’re always so red and swollen.

It’s too late, he hasn’t understood. You turn and lean out again. Look at that leaf: it hasn’t sunk yet; or another one has replaced it. They all look the same and it doesn’t matter. Now look at yourself; at your wide eyes that are burning. How dark your pupils are. We ignore the outlines of the leaves weighed down with mud and decay; we’re not looking at that, we’re looking at you. I know you can hear

me, I’ve been whispering to you for a long time. Now I want a response from you. Don’t ignore me. I want you to give me something. Besides, you can’t resist.

Don’t turn around; let him go. That leaf is floating just where your mouth is, in your face of grey sky. You kiss it, feeling the damp paper against your lips, sticking to them, warmer than the icy water that chills your teeth. It sends an ache through your jaw that thrills along your cheekbones. Push the leaf down into the water; don’t worry, it clings to you keeping your mouth closed. Your hair is stroking your burning cheeks, snaking away in front of your eyes like weeds; each strand is separated like the veins on the leaf. Your hands are being pulled into the mud. It’s a strange silky texture, seeming to hold onto you but also disappearing from under your touch. Look at the water seeping up through the threads of your clothes, turning them to dull dark brown. One last push should do it. Yes. Feel the heaviness of your boots kicking in the water. Close your eyes, go to sleep, down here in a blanket of leaves. Ignore the hands, fight them, and don’t let them get you. I’m not done with you and he isn’t allowed. Beat him away. Pull your hands up out of the mud and drive them into him, forget that you are weak. Ignore the screaming; he doesn’t care like I do. Let me help you. Fight to keep your head under; you’re only failing because it’s nearly over. Open your mouth, spit the leaf from your teeth, and take a gulp. Don’t let him ruin this. Don’t let him.

I can feel you giving up, you always do. He has you and you’re too weak to stop him. Listen to his voice; he isn’t scared, he is angry with you. Can’t you hear him asking why you won’t stand up for yourself? So now you’ll fight, you’ll fight me? Your legs are struggling in the mud; it’s being churned up all around you. You can’t get up, not with him in the way. You push against him and he slides away momentarily. There’s the grey sky an inch from your face.

“So? Don’t you have anything to say?”

A million thoughts and scenarios rush through my mind; none of which will help me. There is no option: I have to say what I need to, otherwise it could go disastrously wrong. I raise my eyes to him, to look at his earnest face; he is so excited his eyes are watery. He really believes he is in love with me and, worse, he truly thinks that I will have the same feelings. I can’t help looking at him out of pity. I’m the wrong person and I thought he would know that. I thought he would understand why I brought him here. Perhaps he did and this was his last attempt to avoid it. He is still staring at me growing more nervous, I try not to bite my lip, and he looks like he is on the verge of saying something else. He knows how I’m feeling: like drowning. I’ve felt like that for a long time and it’s time to come up for air. A blackbird is startled from the hawthorn bush next to us and with its flight I feel the need to speak before he can change topic.

“I’m sorry, Adam. I don’t love you.”

I surface.

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