He brings her leaves. Look at the lace on them, he says. Grubby little fingers point to frosty patterns on the crimson and amber treasures. I picked them off the ground for you, he says. I got the very best ones! These—he says, waving them high above his head—these were the prettiest of all of them. Thank you, she says, kissing the top of his brown, closely cropped curls, breathing in the dirty little dog smell that is hard playing boy. I’ve never seen prettier leaves, she says. His chest puffs with pride. And he leaves.
Gnarled fingers covered in translucent skin trace the veins. They follow the lines, remembering. The lace is gone as is the richness of that autumn’s jewel tones. But safely preserved between pages of Longfellow’s prose, the pressed leaves carry a memory. It was just yesterday, wasn’t it? I remember giving you those, he says. She looks at the man. No, my stinky little angel gave me these, she says. He swallows the catch in his throat before kissing the top of her silvery white curls. And he leaves.
Without fail he visits the morning of the first frost of every year. Arthritic fingers clutch the bouquet of oak branches he carefully trimmed himself. Only the prettiest ones make the journey. It’s a long walk to her place at the top of the hill. But he has time. Nothing but time. And memories. He slowly stoops and places the token covered with nature’s lace at the base of the white granite pillar that has marked her grave for almost two decades.
And he leaves.