By Carolyn Fay
Jake drags the rake across the lawn and the swish of leaves quickens his heart. Imagine. A floor-length dress made of leaves. He stops and stands tall, regal, holding the rake close like an exoskeleton. He rests his chin on the handle. Like so. Like a Leaf Queen. Bone earrings clatter as he moves. No, not moves. Rustles. He would rustle everywhere. People would stop their raking and stare into his eyes and hear the pounding of his wild heart.
“Hey, Jake? I’m going inside to feed the kids.”
Brian strides across the lawn, tromping, stomping, crushing the tiny leaflets Jake hasn’t gathered into the folds of his pile yet. Something inside him winces with every crunch. A tiny, tender, warm spot under his breastbone. He loosens his hold on the rake. He knows Brian can’t see the leaf gown, but he hides it all the same.
“Yeah, sounds good. I’ll just finish up here.”
“You want something to eat? Maisy is campaigning for mashed potatoes.” Brian smiles. A laugh line stretches, a thin crack that worries Jake. Brian should moisturize. Seal the crack.
“Nah, I’m good, thanks. Let Maisy have her mashed potatoes. You think Raoul will eat any of it or just sculpt?”
Brian laughs. “Our little Rodin. We’ll see. Looks like you’ve got your own sculpture here.” He nods at the leaf pile. Jake’s heart thumps like a moose thundering in his chest. Can Brian hear it?
Brian squeezes his arm. “I love how precise you are about everything. Not a leaf out of place in your piles.”
Jake’s heart slows its patter. He manages enough of a smile to make Brian go inside the one-story, messy, toddler and kid-encrusted house that Jake loves. If he could, he would wrap his arms around their home, encircling it with walls made of thick, corded muscle. Strong. Steadfast. Immobile.
But now he dances. The rake slick in his grasp. It catches leaves and twigs and long blades of dead grass. Snap—a branch cracks. The Leaf Queen turns on her heel. And turns. The sweep of leaves fills his ears with the rustle of the dress, the murmur of the crowd, their sudden hush—the fall of silence as he twirls, fanning the leaves in a kaleidoscope of golds, mahoganies, and crimsons. His heart swells. It beats in double, triple time. It blooms inside his chest, completely free.
The sky darkens. Leaves flutter like crows wings and he is lifted aloft and then borne down and down, crashing, crunching.
His arm burns. The spot where Brian squeezed it. The veins twist like vines winding tighter and tighter, squeezing and squeezing.
“Jake! Jake! Can you hear me?”
The night sky falls, enclosing him in cool warmth and soft ground. But his head is in the stars.
“I’m calling 911. Stay with me, Jake!”
The Leaf Queen rises tall in her triumph. No one commands her. No one is master of her heart. She is wild. She is wildness. She is wilderness. A tornado of leaves twirls amid the rattle of bone. She lifts her chin, high.
A rough mouth pulls the breath out of her. Sucks it out and puts it back inside Jake.
A fist pounds her chest, grinding the leaf dress to a papery pulp.
When she gasps her last raspy breath, Jake’s eyes flutter open.
Musty, bitter dust fills his nostrils. The smell of decaying leaves. He lies in the leaf pile.
“Jake, Jake! Oh my God.”
Brian drapes himself over Jake’s chest. Tears and sweat run down his face. Jake tastes the salt.
Leaves snap like twigs. “Sir, allow us. Sir.” EMTs pull Brian away.
The blue sky tilts. No stars twinkle. Jake finds his breath. And his heartbeat. It is steady. Not wild. Not wild at all.
Brian squeezes his hand. Jake finds the deep laugh line in his husband’s face and wishes he could crawl inside, where it is cool and smooth, and sleep.
“Sir, we’re going to transport you to the ER, okay?”
Okay. Okay. Jake nods. Instead of crawling into Brian’s laugh line, he whispers, “Let the kids play with their mashed potatoes.”
Brian frowns. The laugh line disappears.
That’s good. Everything in its place. Precise. Brian’s face is smooth. Jake touches it as the EMTs lift him onto the stretcher, crushing the leaves under their big black boots. Smashing them into the soft ground. Obliterating them.
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Photo credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay