Autumn Storm (A Short Story)

(Concerning Grandpa Evens and Chick Evens, Autumn of 1962)

A cloud covered a part of the diminishing autumn sun-it was near evening (twilight an hour away), and Chick stepped into the backyard. The yard had been racked and the fall leaves blew all about. Chick stopped and picked up an old iron rake, as the autumn wind blew through the naked trees, blew the leaves everywhichway; he glanced at them, stared at them, they were shiny, and glowed with browns and reds and yellows with a tint of orange, from the rain, the day before, they had edges on them, that looked like a river barrier, with tributaries stretching out on each side of the center stem, the spine of the leaf. He put the rake in his right hand, picked a leaf up, looked about, down into the empty lot beyond his house, and over towards Indian’s Hill, and where Mr. Manning’s house was, and in Mr. Manning’s backyard was his apple tree, it was bare, leaves on his back porch, smoke coming out from the chimney, to the side of his house was his garage, and by the fence a tool shed, leaves all about-un-raked. The big trees by his grandpa’s garage swayed far and over the roof of the garage, in the wind, he could feel an autumn storm approaching.

As Chick Evens crossed the backyard to its far end, and turned around he saw his grandfather open the screened-in door, came out. He stood on the little open porch looking about, with his pipe in hand.

“Well,” he must have said, thought his grandson, of fifteen, “Hey, look at what this Old Russian Bear’s got.” (Meaning his house, and a large backyard, and garage, it was a dream; you see, he had left Russia at the time of it revolution, just prior to WWI, came from the Baltic, where there was famine, and this to him was a very big accomplishment.)

He now walked down the steps some. He stood looking into the empty lot, towards Mr. Manning’s house, beyond the road, towards the railroad yard. Everything was blowing, and ever time Chick raked a bundle of leaves over to another bundle to make one big bundle; half the leaves would blow everywhichway.

“Stop blowing…” he told the leaves, as if they were sensible. “She’ll blow like this all evening,” he mumbled, like his grandpa always did. He was going to burn them after he got them together.

“All right…” he said, “blow all you want!” And the wind picked up, and he said “Good!” And he picked up the small bundle he had, brought it down to the old oil-drum he burnt the trash in, and emptied the leaves from a potato sack into the drum, and lit it. It puffed out, and he stood in front of the fire, and heard the crackling of the leaves. The sounds they made were pert near as sweet as its autumn heat that penetrated his pores, the burning leaves flickered with light into as they ascended, it was warm, sweaty warm, and he got a smoky taste in his mouth, in his nostrils, he mumbled aloud, “Look at the fire… just smell the leaves!” and it didn’t make any difference to him how long he’d have to stay there and watch the fire until it nearly went out so it would not catch the garage on fire.

And it didn’t matter to him if the rats came running out from under the drum, they had before, and they were husky, and furry looking rats-and he’d just jump out of their way, and they’d stare at him, and he’d stare at them and move his rake as if it was a medieval sword and he was Sir Lancelot, and they went about their business, running into the thick of the empty lot and he went back to doing his business-likewise, and he took his light jacket off-he was overheated from the burning leaves. He liked smelling the leaves and grandpa watched as if the boy was nutty. And the boy knew, as his grandpa knew, a fall storm was brewing, and if he’d not put the fire out, the rain would. And he knew he couldn’t get all the leaves burnt this evening, and all the better for it, because he loved smelling autumn leaves, watching the flickering of the light, and feeling the warmth the leaves produced, and tomorrow would be another day, and that ought to clinch it for him.