The Autumn Leaves
A Whateley Academy 2nd Generation Tale
The Autumn Leaves
E. E. Nalley
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold
Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall
Nat King Cole, The Autumn Leaves
October 1, 2016
Remembrance Garden, between Dickinson Cottage and Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy
A tall redhead came out of the tunnel access door at the back of Kane Hall and began walking north. A few students waved and greeted her as she passed, but while she returned the greeting it was obvious her mind was elsewhere. Half way between Dickinson Cottage and the rising concrete bleachers of Holbrook stadium a box hedge marked off a garden. From an arbor arch covered in English ivy hung a wooden placard into which was carved:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Inside the garden was some of the most perfect landscaping on the campus grounds. Not a single blade of grass was higher than any other, nor a weed dared tempt the ire of the grounds keepers in this most sacred of places. Some of the monuments had flowers at their base, but most did not. A simple stone obelisk of the finest emerald and ivory marble bore a photograph of a smiling young girl, sealed and protected against the elements and engraved with 'Jamie Carson, beloved daughter'. At the base of the obelisk was a bronze urn filled with white roses, renewed every week by a grieving guardian who thought of herself as a mother.
Perhaps most sadly in a corner stood a bust on a pedestal with a little bronze plaque that read simply, “Clifford A. R. Alexander, Ph. D. Headmaster 1965-1978.” The bust was of a sharp featured man with a hawkish nose and a 'devil's beard' goatee that exaggerated the already sharp lines of his face. But every year there were fewer and fewer people who had known him and who stopped by the monument to remember him.
The redhead averted her eyes from the new pedestal and its forlorn plaque still awaiting its bust from the artist. The redhead was certain Elizabeth Carson was not dead and if not looking at her half finished monument would make it so, then it was a small thing to do for such deeply held belief.
But that was not why she had come.
She arrived at a grave, one of several in the garden of trustees, former students and well heeled donors. The grave stone itself was marble, but above it stood a matching slab topped with a bronze bust of a beautiful young woman. From inside her coat, the redhead took a single white rose and laid it over the slab. “Hello, my love,” she whispered, pressing her fingers to her lips, and then to the lips of the bust. “It's October again, can you believe it? The wind is starting to get cold and the leaves are already turning.”
She sighed as she tucked her hands back into the blue jacket she was wearing. “Oh, Tech lost last year I'm afraid, but it was a close game and there's hope this year will be a winning season. And Navy beat Army so 2015 was just kind of a bad year. I still won't forgive you for getting me hooked on college football!” She tried to laugh, but the joke fell flat and a silence fell for a bit.
“Wyatt is thinking about getting an MD to go with his Psychiatric degree. Who would have thought the campus Casanova would grow up to be so scholarly, right? He just dotes on Junior and Stephen, with rough housing and foot ball and...”
"I think Junior is crushing on our new babysitter; she's a doll, and the kids all love her. I know you'd like her, too." She swallowed as a lump caught in her throat. “And Connie? Oh, what a little beauty queen and she is such a Daddy's girl she has him wrapped around her finger.” She looked down at the ground and back up at the bust. “And I love them, my darling! I hold them and read them stories and all the things I wanted. I love them and Wyatt loves them. He's a good father, my love, and an even better husband. Every birthday and anniversary he's there with flowers and romantic dinners. He's a good man, lover, and I promise I'll take care of...”
The redhead sank to her knees in the soft, cool grass as tears rolled down her cheeks. “God, I miss you so much! I never thought it would hurt like this and then you were gone and it's my fault! I'm so sorry, Lover! God I wish it was me! It should have been me, not you! Not ever you!”
For a long time the redhead lay against the cold stone and wept old, bitter tears. Finally, with great effort she mastered herself and sniffed mightily to clear her nose. “I...” she tried and sniffed again. “I have to leave tomorrow you know. I'm meeting Kayda and Deb in Saint Louis. I hate that Wyatt thinks it's my yearly lesbian romp, that I'm cheating on him, but it... It solved so many...” She trailed off and the tears came hot and wet.
“I make it up to him,” she whispered to the cold stone. “Please forgive me, I hate that he thinks I'm cheating, but I can't get around it. And I swear he's the happiest man on this campus the day after I get back. I...I hope it doesn't bother you, cause I figure it bothers me enough for both of us.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief as she leaned against the memorial. “So, anyway St. Louis, right? There are a lot of memories for us there, aren't there, love? That night in the hot tub I...I won't ever forget it. I'm trying to get Kayda to avoid New York because...well you know why because. You saved me, my love and I wish to God I could have saved you! But I won't forget my promise, not now, not ever! I swear it, and he won't ever know...”
Elaine looked up, startled to see the blue-skinned young girl hesitantly standing near the security officer memorial. “Are...are you ok?” Elaine forced a smile and beckoned the young girl over. The girl offered the taller woman a hand up and she stood beside her. “Tansy Penelope Walcutt,” Laura read from the stone. “Beloved daughter, lover and friend, September 25th 1989 to October 1st 2013.”
Elaine sniffed again and smiled. “Gone, but never forgotten.”
Laura looked up at the teacher. “She was a friend of yours?”
Elaine forced a smile and laid an arm around the girl's shoulders and squeezed. “She was my very best friend, Laura. The kind of friend that only comes once in a life-time.”
“I'm sorry,” the blue skinned girl replied. “I didn't mean to intrude.”
Mrs. Cody smiled and touched her fingertips to the lips of the bust before she led the younger girl out of the garden. “Make every second count, Laura,” the teacher told the student seriously. “Don't waste a moment with someone who doesn't like you or makes you feel bad. Cling tightly to those you love, and don't ever worry whether someone approves or not. You never know how many moments you have.”
“I will, Mrs. Cody,” she replied earnestly. “I promise.”
“So, when are you going to come down to the shop and learn about cars, huh?”
* finis *