Something a little different this week, short fiction. Enjoy.
The tips of my ears were chilled; soon the cold would seep inside. It was much harder to get rid of an earache than to warm up cartilage, so I dug my headband out of my jacket pocket. To put it on, I had to take off my gloves. I did it as fast as I could, without bothering to fuss with my hair. It was cold enough that anyone passing by would be moving fast. They’d barely have time to register my presence, much less scoff at my appearance. Even though it only took a moment, by the time I got my gloves back on I’d begun to lose the feeling in my pinky fingers. I picked up my rake and went back to work.
The wind swirled the leaves around, teasing them away from their piles, but not carrying them too far. I reached out with the rake to gather them back, and then hurried to stuff them into the bag before the next gust. The sky was turning grey, threatening snow. Today was the last yard waste pickup of the season. Whatever didn’t get bagged and dragged to the curb would spend the winter trapped under the snow and ice, waiting to mock me in the spring.
I felt a drop on my face. The precipitation seemed ambivalent; raindrops with snowflakes mixed in. I wanted the snow to prevail because it would take longer for the damp to make its way through my jacket; my gloves; my sneakers. It was strange to rake in the snow, but not unheard of. Some years the snow began before Halloween. It certainly wasn’t unusual to begin before Thanksgiving. But I couldn’t finish raking until the trees decided to let go of their leaves and it was hard to predict when that would happen.
It was impossible to get any raking done after work. It was dark by the time I got home. That left weekends, when all the other chores competed for my attention. As long as there were bagels in the freezer and toilet paper in the bathroom I could put off shopping. With enough clean underwear I could ignore laundry. And dust never bothered me. Honestly, there wasn’t much competition for my time, not since Lizzie went off to college, which was all Jack had been waiting for. He left right after she did, claiming he’d been unhappy for years.
My nose was dripping. I used the back of my glove to wipe the snot away. The glove was abrasive. I heard a truck shift gears and looked up. Down the street I could see the recycling truck turning a corner. They would work through my neighborhood, snaking down one street and up the next, until they came to my corner. At most, I had another half hour, which would barely make a dent in the piles I had not yet made. My face got wetter, but this time I knew what it was. Tears added the taste of salt to the white flakes of snow.
I couldn’t do this alone. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this alone. I hauled my last half-filled bag to the curb and returned the rake to the garage. Soon enough snow would bury the leaves and I would forget they were there. If only it could all be that easy.