Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Lone Leaf

A lone leaf lingers on the lilac tree, rustling in the autumn breeze, oblivious to the demands of the outside world, the pressures that compelled its fellows to succumb: the dimming sun, the cooling nights, the hard rains and gusty winds.

It holds a vigil for its lost companions, a ceremony unaccompanied by others, witnessed only by a curious man’s eyes. With the passage of each day, its desperate struggle to remain attached to its foundation brings a sense of wonder to the curious man who cannot but check every few hours to see if it has lost the war yet.

But there it is, still fighting, gripping tightly to the bough that connects it to the roots, that connect it to the earth from whence it came. It looks defeated, yellow and splotchy brown, curling up on itself a little, and the curious man knows it cannot maintain its hold forever. Soon it must fall.

Soon.

Yet not today. It has courage, this small leaf. Or does fear keep it attached to the summer it will never see again, to the friendships formed in springtime as its compatriots formed around it, sheltering it as it sheltered them, waving hello and finally, as light retreated into November gloom, goodbye?

Perhaps it clings to the branch for biological reasons, outside any sensate notions it might possess: an overly thick stem that will not surrender to winter but will only depart once the rising vernal sun brings a replacement, a tender shoot to keep a watch on the world, a sentry to record the movements of the squirrels and birds and the curious man who cannot look away for long.

Or perhaps some prankster crept along in the night and fused the leaf to the tree with Crazy Glue or some such adhesive, though why anyone would do such a thing is a mystery to the curious man.

No, some things cannot be understood; they remain unsolvable without Herculean effort. Besides, the reason for the leaf’s tenacity doesn’t really matter. What matters is the fact of it, the motivation that can be derived from the lone fighter who bucks the system, who continues on beyond all reason or hope, knowing he is doomed to fail but nevertheless fighting.

This little leaf, this paragon of fortitude.

One morning, the curious man knows, he will wake to find the leaf finally gone, caught up in a particularly heavy gust or a driving rain, some unstoppable force that even its greatest effort could not repel. It will have flown horizontally, twisting and turning on its way to the ground, or dropped under the weight of water to the carpet of grass and clover, long after its fallen comrades have been raked away.

There, it will stand sentinel until the snow has melted and the sun has moved higher in the sky and the universe has given its blessing for the leaf to finally let go, relinquish its hold, to rest, to crumble, disintegrating into the dirt that birthed it once upon a time.

And the curious man will weep at the loss and the regeneration, and wish he had the courage and will of the lone leaf.

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