Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Wet Leaves & Fire
by Lakin Khan
It is in that overlip of the seasons, when fall drifts up over winter, and winter slouches back into fall, when brown leaves lie trapped in a skin of ice that overnight has appeared across the puddles. There might be a brief flurry of snowflakes in the darkening afternoon, fat flakes that melt soon after they hit the frost-stiffened blades of still-green grass; there might not. Even so, someone somewhere is trying to burn off the last of their pile of leaves, the mustydamp smoke drifts heavily in the dense air, tickles my nose, blends with the moldy tang of cold wet leaves as I walk home from fourth grade in a new school. A new school in a new town, north of the Adirondack Mountains.
Crunching through the last frozen leaves left in the park, stomping on the ice creeping across the puddles from footprints left last week in the thick dark mud, I scuff the rest of the way down the block to our house, trying to get the worst of the mud off my shoes before I get inside. If my mom sees my muddy shoes, she'll demand that I start wearing galoshes, and it's way too early in the season for those ugly things. My books are tucked under my right arm; I swing my left forcefully in exaggerated time to my steps just to hear the zwoop, zweep of my new nylon-skinned parka. If my younger brother were walking with me, we might make up some sort of goofy invented-word tune to go with it, but he's already home. I had stayed late to help the librarian at school. She lets me take home more than the two books we are allotted at a time, just for helping.
The smoke is coming from our house, I see. My father must be home early, too early, from work again, off in the back yard with a mound of damp leaves leftover from the weekend of raking. When I go in the back porch to clump off the last bits of mud in the mudroom, and hang up my parka, I can see him through the stormdoor, hunched and hustling around the pile of leaves, this time throwing white gas on it from the red teapot-shaped metal canister. I guess he really wants to burn that pile. His Zippo clicks again and again, the pile ignites with a mighty whoosh, and then falls down flat, wearily working away at the gas-soused, smoldering leaves. The tart stink of flamed gas mingles with the smell of charred wet leaves. It reminds me of burning hair.
Tonight, after a dinner of chicken with rice that my father will not eat, when he jumps at loud noises, crouches and whirls when startled by imaginary adversaries, I will finish one whole book, reading late into the night with a flashlight under the covers, until all the noises stop and sleep finally comes to me.
Lakin Khan lives in Petaluma, California. Once she wanted to be a cowboy (her hat is testament to that)-now she wrestles words to the page, hustles teens toward adulthood and herds cats in and out of the house, occupations that are not so different from each other.
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