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Leaf Pile of Faint Recall

             Having recently moved to Multioak from a region that barely experienced the fall season, Hector had not thought about what would become of his yard once his many healthy trees dropped their leaves. He had remained oblivious to the enormity of the impending job throughout early October as the trees changed colors: green to orange. He was happy with orange. Yellow seemed more common in his area, so orange felt special, although there was also plenty of orange in his area, and red too, of course. Red would have been the best, or actually, no, an even mixture of yellow, orange, and red would have been the best, but he was happy with orange.

               Then the orange color became less and less vivid until Hector’s property was sheltered by a canopy of paper-bag-brown. But it was only when the first few dead leaves littered Hector’s lawn that he began to understand what was about to happen. He looked online to see what one was supposed to do with fallen leaves. It turned out that one was supposed to rake them into piles and then either bag them up and leave them for the garbage collectors or gather them into an even bigger pile and, emphasizing all due safety, burn them.

               A few nights later, a storm composed almost entirely of wind – a true wind storm – swept through the region, and when Hector awoke the next morning, not a blade of grass was visible in his front yard. Instead, there were layers and layers of leaves. A many-layered carpet of leaves, or many individual leaf-carpets stacked atop each other.

               “Better rake them before they get wet,” said Jonas, Hector’s next-door neighbor. “Or before the wind blows any more of them onto my property.” Jonas’s yard had very few trees. He’d had most of them cut down when he moved into the house 30 years ago. Jonas had a too-modern haircut for a man of his age. Although Hector wasn’t sure of Jonas’s exact age. It had to be 60-something.

               “I need to get a rake,” said Hector. “And some heavy-duty trash bags.” He looked up at the branches of his trees. He was dismayed to see how many leaves still clung there; the trees themselves didn’t look much different than they had before the wind storm. It didn’t seem possible.

               “You’ll need work gloves too,” said Jonas. “To prevent blisters.”

               “I already have work gloves,” said Hector.

               “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” said Jonas.

               “Will the city take my leaves away if I bag them by the curb?” asked Hector.

               “Not all at once,” said Jonas. “The previous owners spread it out over two weeks.”

               “I don’t suppose I can burn them,” said Hector.

               “You’d better not,” said Jonas. “The fire would be visible from outer space.”

               Hector bought a rake and some heavy-duty trash bags from Simple Hardware. He tried to feel out the teenage employees for some raking tips, but none of them understood what he was getting at. They couldn’t seem to fathom someone not being familiar with the leaf-raking process. At checkout, the nametag-less middle-aged woman working the cash register said, “I’ve never seen you in here before. Are you new to the area?”

               “Yes,” said Hector.

               “Then I should tell you that this store used to be called ‘Simpleware,’ the idea being that we make shopping for hardware simple, not hard, so we replaced the ‘hard’ in hardware with ‘simple.’ But no one understood that we were selling hardware so we had to change it to Simple Hardware, which I think makes it sound like we’re simpletons.”

               “Ah,” said Hector. “Yeah, I see your point.” He cleared his throat, then gestured at his purchases. “So anyway, in terms of raking techniques, such as, I mean, the best way to rake, and especially to rake leaves…” He trailed off.

               The woman flushed and said, “My point was that we are not simpletons here, sir. Don’t talk down to us!”

               So Hector went home and gave it his best shot. He held the rake in a way that felt natural and, starting out by the curb, he began to nudge, push, scrape, shift, thrust, and poke the leaves together into clumps, clusters, bunches, chunks, heaps, and mounds. After a good four hours of these amateurish attempts at raking leaves into piles, he began to rake leaves into piles. The air was cold, but Hector’s chest, back, and arms were damp with sweat, and he paused to remove his coat, continuing on in flannel shirt, brown jeans (his most autumnal pair), old sneakers, work gloves, and orange stocking cap rolled to cover only the tips of his ears. As he surveyed his progress, he was impressed with the volume of leaves now piled up, but unimpressed with the portion of lawn he had managed to clear. And even as he watched, more leaves floated down and began to re-conceal all that he had just revealed. It was dispiriting. Sighing, he again set to work.

After another hour of labor, Hector struck upon a way to make himself feel better about the headway he was making. Which was to combine piles. By turning his many little piles into several larger piles, he found that he was able to get a better sense of just how many leaves he had raked. It looked like a substantial amount. A lot, even. But what if he were to convert his several larger piles into one giant central pile? How remarkable would that look? He knew that these efforts were not beneficial to the overall project of clearing the leaves from the lawn, but his morale needed a boost, and he just knew that if he could see all the leaves he had raked thus far assembled into one giant central pile, that his morale would receive the exact boost it needed to motivate him to keep going, stay at it, persevere. So in a sense, this was beneficial to the overall project, he had rationalized it without meaning to.

When only half of the larger piles had been combined in the middle of the yard, Hector was impressed. The new central pile was already giant, and once the other piles were added, it would double in size. But then, consider this, there were many more leaves still lying unraked on the ground, not to mention the many more leaves still holding out in the branches overhead. Invigorated by thoughts of how big this pile could actually become, Hector worked on into the evening, deep into the dusk, finally stopping only when full dark was upon him. That night in bed, his muscles throbbed to the rhythm of his heartbeat, and he descended into deep slumber.

The next morning, Hector awoke shortly after dawn, ate a hearty breakfast, dressed in a color-swapped version of yesterday’s outfit, took rake in hand, went back to work. But this time, his sole goal, the only goal he even considered, was the enlargement of his leaf pile, and he approached this task with joyful determination. At the end of the day, Hector’s pile of leaves was immense. And he barely noticed, but the rest of the yard was starting to look pretty good, too. Not completely clear, no, but manageable.

The next day was Monday, and Hector called in sick to his job so he could focus on his more important work at home. Day three of raking was much like day two, except now people were slowing their cars as they drove by to gawk at the leaf pile. A kid on a bike stopped on his way home from school and asked Hector if he could jump into the pile.

“Jump into it?” asked Hector. “No, you can’t. Why would you?”

“Because it’s fun,” said the kid. “I jump in leaf piles all the time, but I’ve never jumped in one this big.”

Hector regarded his leaf pile with new eyes. Jumping into leaf piles, of course. Now that the kid mentioned it, Hector realized he was aware of the concept. He must have seen it on TV, read about it in books, heard about the practice somewhere. He tried to imagine what it would feel like to jump into his leaf pile, to be swallowed up by it, enveloped in its crackly embrace. He realized the kid was still there on the sidewalk, standing astride his bike and awaiting Hector’s response. “You can’t jump into it,” said Hector. “You’d mess it up.”

“You think I’d mess that pile up by jumping into it?” asked the kid.

“Yes,” said Hector, but he knew the kid was right to be incredulous. The leaf pile was far too imposing to be disturbed in the slightest by a kid jumping into it. In fact, as Hector looked from his house to the leaf pile to his house again, he knew which one seemed stronger, which one seemed sturdier. And it wasn’t the house. Even another wind-storm, what could it do? Peel a few leaves off the top and sides, maybe, but the pile’s core was too solid to be dispersed by mere wind. Not solid as in hard, but solid as in secure, resistant.

Hector watched the kid bike glumly away, silently thanking him for the inspiration. Hector now knew what he would do with the pile once it felt complete. He would celebrate that completion by jumping into it. The idea felt right. But when would the pile be complete? When every leaf had fallen from the trees and become part of its hulking mass? Yes. What other definition of completion could there be?

“What’s the point of that?” asked Jonas as he stood at the edge of his yard, the leaf pile’s shadow inching toward the toes of his socked-and-sandaled feet. He was holding a beer can in such a way that Hector could tell it was empty. “I told you that you can’t burn that. You’d kill us all. Why aren’t you bagging those leaves up yet? Most of those should already have been taken by the garbage collectors by now.”

“I’m doing things my own way,” said Hector. He knew Jonas wouldn’t approve of what his project had become.

“You think you can move up here and immediately start innovating in the leaf-raking space?” asked Jonas. “No chance.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do,” said Hector.

“Then what are you trying to do?” asked Jonas.

Hector ignored him. He returned to his raking. He felt Jonas’s eyes on him, and then he couldn’t feel them on him anymore, and when he looked over his shoulder, Jonas was gone, the spot where he had been standing now fallen entirely within the shadow of the leaf pile.


Hector woke up at 1:39 in the morning, roused by the overpowering sense that he could not wait until the leaf pile was complete to jump into it. He wanted to jump into it immediately, right now. He pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a hoodie – both pale blue. At the front door, he slipped his bare feet into the old sneakers he had earlier kicked off on the floor mat and flipped on the porch light. Stepping outside, he was struck by the cold, noted the frost on the grass he’d spent the last three days exposing, the white edging on the leaves that had fallen since he’d gone inside for the night.

The leaf pile loomed, its near side eerily illuminated by the yellowish porch light. It was welcoming and forbidding, both at once.

Hector tucked his hands into his hoodie pockets and walked a slow circuit of the leaf pile’s base, trying to determine the best direction from which to leap. The leaf pile was too tall for Hector to jump into its top. One of the most difficult aspects of constructing the leaf pile in its current state had been using the rake to extend the pile vertically. But now that he was on the verge of jumping into it, Hector was disappointed that his point of entry would have to be somewhere low on its side.


Hector looked up at the tangled treetops overhead. Surely there was a branch angling above the leaf pile that was also thick enough to support his weight. He spotted one; it wasn’t perfectly positioned, but as long as he got a little outward thrust on his jump, he figured he’d be able to arc into the dead center of the leaf pile. Enthused by this plan, Hector hurried to the garage for a ladder to assist him in reaching the lowest limbs of the tree he intended to climb. Within minutes, he was making his way upward through the tree, pleasantly surprised at the grip on the bark afforded by his old sneakers. His progress shook loose more leaves and they drifted down onto the pile or around it, but mostly onto it: imperceptible growth.

When Hector reached the base of the branch which would be his point of launch, he did not hesitate. Using a smaller chest-high branch as a handrail, he shimmied sideways out from the trunk as fast as he dared. The sooner he was above the leaf pile, the safer he’d be if he slipped or the branch broke. But neither happened, and he was soon in position, gazing down with anticipation at the pile of leaves prepared to receive him. He would need to crouch to avoid collision with the branch to which he held, but he figured swinging on it could actually gain him a bit more of the horizontal momentum he needed to hit the center of the pile. Not that he would be in any danger if he didn’t hit the center – the leaf pile was very deep – but this was his first time jumping into this – or any – leaf pile and he wanted the experience to be perfect.

After a few more informal calculations, Hector took a breath, held it, crouched, used his feet to propel himself from the branch on which he stood, kept his grip on the other branch to swing outward, and let go. For a moment, he floated on his back in the air between the tree tops and the leaf pile. And when that moment ended, he plunged into the very heart of the pile and was swallowed by leaves.


And all was leaves. Too dark to see, but on all sides, enveloping Hector in their crumbling collective softness, prodding him with genial stems. He lay as still as he could, but the slightest shift, the faintest tensing of muscle was accompanied by rustling. His breath dampened a leaf resting across his lips. It was peaceful in the leaf pile, and warmer than expected; Hector was tempted to stay put for the rest of the night, to see what sort of dreams such a bed might promote, to see if perhaps his back would be less sore than usual in the morning.

But no, these thoughts were silly. He had accomplished his purpose, he had jumped into his enormous pile of leaves. He would now climb out of the pile and return to bed satisfied. And then tomorrow maybe he’d start bagging up some of the leaves to be taken away. Well, maybe he’d jump into the pile a few more times first. Maybe not from the tree this time, maybe just a running start from the ground, but hey, maybe he would jump from the tree again, it had been fun. And maybe if that kid rode by on his bike again, he’d let him jump into the leaf pile too, although definitely not from the tree, he didn’t want to be liable if the kid fell and missed the pile somehow, broke a bone, got a concussion.

Rolling onto his side with the most cacophonous rustling yet, Hector began to crawl through the pile in no particular direction. He wasn’t quite sure which way he was pointed, but he would find out once he reached the edge of the pile. Which he expected to happen at any moment now. His hand would break through, he would feel the cold air on his fingers, and he would tumble out onto the lawn, stand up, brush himself off, pluck the stubborn leaves out of his pockets and hood and hair. At any moment now. At any moment now.

The leaf pile was big, but it wasn’t that big. Was Hector really moving so slowly? Was he somehow crawling in circles? He tried to stand up, but couldn’t accomplish it, his feet couldn’t find anything sturdy enough to support them. Suddenly desperate for the feeling of solid ground, he began to claw his way downward, but when he still hadn’t found any after several minutes – had it been that long? – he started to wonder if “down” was actually which way he was digging. But even if he wasn’t, shouldn’t he have found the top of the pile, a side, something? Unless he was still going in circles? Or maybe he wasn’t making any progress, maybe he was just crawling in place, stuck on an abject treadmill, accomplishing nothing more than the rearrangement of the leaves in his immediate vicinity.

He stilled himself again, took control of himself. He knew where he was. He was inside of a big – very big – leaf pile in his own yard. That was it. That was the full account of where he was. All he had to do was get out of the very big leaf pile. Maybe a task less simple than he would have originally thought, but still, how much resistance did leaves offer? Not much. He just couldn’t get any purchase when he tried to move, that was the problem. It seemed like the leaves underneath him should have been sufficiently compacted by his body weight to provide enough purchase for forward movement, or, barring that, gravity should have worked in his favor when he was trying to burrow toward the ground, but what did he know? He’d never been in a leaf pile before. This was a new experience for him. And yes, some of his preconceived ideas about the interior of a leaf pile were proving to be a bit inaccurate, but that was no reason to panic. Hector just needed to remain steady, remain calm, and, acting with patient resolve, exit the leaf pile.

“Is someone there?” The voice belonged to a young woman. It sounded distant, but it was difficult for Hector to determine how distant.

“Yes!” he called back. He thrashed his arms and legs hoping to generate some movement along the pile’s surface, hoping to draw the young woman’s eye. “I’m here! Inside the leaves!”

“Of course you are,” said the young woman.

Hector didn’t know how to take her comment. Was she being ironic? “This is embarrassing,” said Hector. “I’m a grown man, but I jumped in this pile of leaves and now I can’t get out. Where are you? Are you on the sidewalk? In my driveway? I think maybe I’ve been crawling in circles, or not moving at all. Keep talking and I’ll try to make my way toward your voice.”

“I’m not in your driveway,” said the young woman. “I’m in the leaves, too.”

“In the leaves?” asked Hector. “In my leaf pile? When did you jump in? I didn’t hear it, I didn’t feel it. Were you already in the pile when I jumped in? I could have landed on you!”

“I wouldn’t call it your leaf pile,” said the young woman. “I’ve been here for a long, long time.”

“How long?” asked Hector.

“I’m not sure, exactly,” said the young woman. “Months, I suppose.”

“I only started making this leaf pile three days ago,” said Hector. “It can’t have been longer than three days. And I doubt you’ve been in here even that long, I would have noticed.”

“You think so?” asked the young woman. “You’re an expert on raking leaves and leaf piles then, huh?”

Her tone was innocent, but it was impossible for Hector to take it that way and he blushed, glad in at least these moments for the concealment provided by the leaves. “Not an expert, no, but I’ve learned a lot over the last three days, and anyway I don’t really see what that has to do with whether or not I would have noticed you in my leaf pile while it was still small.”

“Three days?” asked the young woman. “That’s your total experience with raking leaves?” She didn’t sound disdainful, she sounded impressed.

“My yard has a lot of trees,” said Hector. “And they drop a lot of leaves. They aren’t even done yet.” He was surprised to discover how distracted he’d become. “Anyway,” he said, “What’s the best way to get out of a leaf pile like this? Is there a special technique?”

The young woman laughed. “If I knew, don’t you think I’d be out by now? Don’t you think I would have been out months ago?”

Hector wondered if the young woman had hit her head when she jumped into the pile. Or if maybe she was just out of her mind to begin with. Maybe that was why she’d jumped into his leaf pile, although Hector supposed that wouldn’t reflect very well on him since he’d done the same thing. “What if we crawl toward each other?” he asked. “Then we could work on getting out together.”

“We’ve tried that,” said the young woman. “It doesn’t work. We can never find each other. We hear the leaves crinkling but that’s it.” To demonstrate, she did something to stir the leaves, and they made a crinkling noise, which sounded nearby, but the direction was harder to pinpoint.

“‘We’ve tried that?’” asked Hector. “Who’s ‘we?’ You and me? Because, no, we haven’t.”

“Not you and me,” said the young woman. “You just got here. Me and some of the others.”

“What others?”

“The other ones here in the leaves,” said the young woman.

“You mean…you mean…” Hector struggled to formulate a sentence that would make sense of what the young woman was saying. “You mean you’ve been in different leaf piles with other people before, like this,” he said. “And…and trying to move toward each other in those instances didn’t –”

“No, no,” said the young woman. “I’m talking about the other ones in here with us right now. Gerald, speak up. I know you’re listening.”

In response, another susurrus passed through the leaves, but from farther away this time, or maybe closer, and someone – not the young woman – cleared his throat. But, as Hector held his breath in an attempt to hold back rising dread as well, whoever had cleared his throat did not speak.

“Come on, Gerald,” said the young woman. “Tell him.”

Someone sighed. Then said, “Tell him what? I’ve nothing to contribute to the conversation. You know that I prefer to be left alone, Tiffany.”

“Just tell him what I said is right,” said the young woman, Tiffany. “That it’s not worth it to try to find each other.”

“Tiffany’s right,” said Gerald. “It’s not worth it to try to get out.”

“That’s not what I said!” Tiffany was upset. “I just said it’s not worth trying to find each other. I never said it’s not worth it to try to get out! We just have to think of something new to try.”

Hector found that he was trembling, which rattled the leaves touched by his elbows, knees, the toes of his shoes. “Who is that?” he called out, his voice trembling like the rest of him. “Who’s there? Gerald? Where did you come from? How did you get into my leaf pile?”

“You see?” said Gerald. “This is why I prefer to be left alone. It’s always the same conversation.”

“That’s Gerald,” said Tiffany. “He’s been here the longest.”

“Not true,” said Gerald. “But everyone who’s been here longer than I have won’t speak, and I sympathize with them. I hope to count myself among them soon. But Tiffany and Bradley and several others refuse to leave me in peace.”

 “I refuse to leave you in peace?” This voice was raspy, and somehow familiar. “You never miss an opportunity to lecture me, Gerald. I’ve just been lying here in silence, yet it’s you who mentions my name and drags me into this, all while claiming that I’m some kind of instigator. How ironic!”

For Hector, the shock of hearing another new voice among the leaves had mostly worn off. He was still troubled, of course, but not more troubled. And the fact that he recognized, or almost recognized, this new voice gave his brain something specific to do other than desperately flail for an explanation. Did he know the voice? If so, from where? It belonged, presumably, to the “Bradley” Gerald had mentioned. Did Hector know anyone named Bradley with a distinctive raspy voice?

“I was not trying to pick a fight,” said Gerald. “We can both return to silence, Bradley. I find the idea very agreeable. And we’ll leave Tiffany to bring the new arrival up to speed.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Bradley. “In fact, it sounds great.”

“Bradley!” shouted Hector, tossing about in the leaves, making a leafy racket. “You sat next to me on the plane a few months ago! You introduced yourself as soon as I sat down next to you and we chatted for a while about…about…well, I can’t remember what we chatted about. But then you fell asleep, but then we said goodbye to each other when we got off the plane, but then we ran into each other again in the airport bathroom and said hello again and then said goodbye again!”

“You know Bradley?” asked Tiffany.

“Well, I don’t know him, exactly, but I know who he is,” said Hector. “Or at least I think I do. Do you remember what I’m talking about, Bradley? Was that you?”

“I…do,” said Bradley. He sounded surprised at himself. “What’s your name?”


“Yes,” said Bradley. “Yes, I remember, of course. That was…just the other day? Wasn’t it?”

“No, no,” said Hector. “Over a year ago now, I think.”

“You’re probably mistaken,” said Bradley. “I remember it distinctly. We chatted about cars, I think, because I was looking at pictures on my phone of a car I was considering buying.”

“Yes, exactly!” said Hector. He wasn’t sure why he was so excited. He wasn’t sure how solving this mystery would get him or anyone else closer to exiting the leaf pile. But it felt like progress. Maybe it was a building block, the first rung of a ladder to liberation.

“Your name is Hector?” asked Tiffany. “There’s a kid who lives on my street named Hector. I don’t really know him but he always waves to me from the window of his family car when they drive by while I’m practicing free throws on the basketball hoop in my driveway.”

The shudder that ran through Hector ran also through his surrounding leaves. “Tiffany Wharton? Are you Tiffany Wharton?”

“Yes, Wharton!” said Tiffany. “That’s my last name! How did you know?”

“That kid, that Hector,” said Hector. “That was me! It’s just now coming back to me, I had such a crush on you, but it only lasted for a few weeks because then Ashley Mattise came to our school in the middle of the year and she was, well, closer to my age, for one, which made her less intimidating and…and..” He trailed off, losing himself in a swirl of fragmentary recollection.

“That’s so odd,” said Tiffany. “But no, it’s impossible, because Hector’s a kid and you’re…well, you’re grown up, right? How old are you?”

Hector was alarmed to discover he couldn’t answer her question, not precisely. But yes, he was definitely grown up, wasn’t he? He had to be. He’d certainly been a grown-up when he’d chatted about cars with Bradley on the plane, hadn’t he? His memory of waving at Tiffany Wharton from the back seat of the family car was a distant memory, wasn’t it? But how distant? He couldn’t figure out how to figure it. There were so few points of reference in this accursed pile of leaves. With no ready response for Tiffany, Hector decided to instead forge ahead. “Gerald,” he said. “What’s your last name?”

“Hixby,” said Gerald. “Not that I’m particular about it, but I’m actually Dr. Gerald Hixby.”

“Dr. Hixby,” said Hector. This sounded right. “Gerald” meant nothing to him, but “Dr. Hixby,” yes, there was something there. “What do you do?” asked Hector. “How might I know you?”

“I haven’t the slightest notion how you might know me,” said Gerald. “It sounds as if you really knew neither Bradley nor Tiffany. Be that as it may, I don’t mind telling you that I’m a professor of anthropology and an occasionally published author of-”

“Oh, right,” said Hector. “Right! I took your class for two days in college before I dropped it. I wasn’t an anthropology major, I was just taking it because I thought it might be interesting, and I’m not saying it wasn’t, but it just seemed like it was going to be more work than I expected.”

A few moments of silence elapsed before Gerald said, “Well, I don’t recall you at all.”

“But why would you?” asked Hector. “I sat in the back, it was a big class, I never spoke up, and I was gone after two class periods.”

“Yes, but I’m simply saying that I cannot confirm what you’re saying,” said Gerald. “What you say may or may not be a complete fabrication.”

“I remember on the first day,” said Hector, “that you showed us a slide with pictures of your parrots, and I remember you said they had to be kept separated unless you were supervising them because one was missing an eye because the other one pecked it in the eye and the pecked eye had to be removed or something.”

“Um, yes,” said Gerald. “Even with your concluding ‘or something’ adding a bit of vagueness, that anecdote would be difficult to fabricate with such a degree of accuracy, and I’m willing to admit as much.”

“But hold on,” said Hector. “Dr. Hixby, I thought I’d heard that you died. It was a couple years later but I was still on campus, and I guess a student on a skateboard collided with you and you struck your head on the edge of a bench and you died, and I remember thinking, oh, that’s the guy whose class I was only in for a couple days, and I remember being sad because I remembered those parrots and I wondered who would take care of them, who would keep the one parrot from pecking out the other parrot’s other eye.”

“Wrong,” said Gerald. “Incorrect. I am not dead. Or rather, if I am, then so are the rest of you, correct?”

“Hector? Do you remember me?” The voice was small, Hector pictured it skittering toward him through the leaves like a bug. “I’m Rose Huard. I believe I’m your babysitter. I’m the mother of one of your mom’s co-workers. Of course, you sound much older here in these leaves.”

“I…I’m not sure,” said Hector. “I don’t know the name, I don’t think. But, well, do you have a blue bag with I think they’re supposed to be flowers embroidered on the side? Blue and purple flowers, I think they’re supposed to be?”

“I embroidered those myself,” said Rose Huard. “And yes, they’re ‘supposed to be flowers.’” She sounded hurt.

“I was just little when I saw them,” said Hector. “I mean, not a good judge of embroidery or anything.”

“And here I thought you liked them,” said Rose. “You always want to look at them. Now it turns out you’re just trying to decipher what they are. Well, if I ever get out of these leaves, I won’t subject you to my embroidery anymore.”

Hector was saved, in a way, by another woman’s voice. “I know you!” she said. “Now that I’m thinking about it, yes, I recognize your voice because I asked you to keep it down while you were on the phone in the bathroom.”

The moment, which Hector would almost certainly never have thought of again, rushed back to him. “You’re the lady who knocked on the bathroom door from the hallway and yelled at me to keep it down while I was talking at a normal volume?”

“Yes!” said the woman. “Except for the part about you talking at a normal volume. If it was a normal volume, would I have been able to hear you through the door? Would I be recognizing your voice now?”

Before Hector could defend himself, which he certainly could have, he was beset by another voice, and another, and another, a clamor of voices all asking the same basic questions: how do you know me, when did we meet, where did we cross paths? Hector couldn’t keep them straight. The voices pelted him with identifying details, suggestions, guesses. They were desperate for him to recall them as if in so doing he would provide a justification for their presence in the leaf pile, a reason even if no elucidation of that reason would ever come.

And then a shoe kicked Hector in the head. Acting on instinct, he grabbed at the shoe, wrapping his hands around the ankle just above it. The leg to which the shoe and ankle belonged yanked, kicked, but Hector held on tight. He heard screaming, a shrill child’s voice yelping in terror. But Hector would not let go of his lifeline. Having now a better sense of which way was down, he rolled onto his stomach and began to wriggle toward the top of the leg. The screaming intensified. An adrenaline-fueled spasm of the leg finally broke Hector’s grip and the tip of the shoe caught him in the chin, then disappeared. But in its place, Hector now saw light filtering through the leaves, and it had qualities of sunlight, of all things, which didn’t seem correct based on how long it had been since he’d leapt into the pile, but he would reserve judgment until he was out. And then, abruptly, he was out, his head poking through the side of his leaf pile into not only sunlight, yes, but what actually appeared to be afternoon sunlight, of all things.

As Hector got his feet under him and staggered all the way out of the pile, he noticed the boy from yesterday afternoon watching him from the sidewalk, a haunted expression on his young face. He stood astride his bike – a pose Hector recalled – ready to take off at the first sign of pursuit from whatever monster might have emerged from the leaves. When Hector met the boy’s eyes and they recognized each other, the boy appeared to relax a little, but not entirely. Hector had told him he couldn’t jump in his leaf pile, after all, and the boy had done it anyway. Yes, Hector had contemplated rescinding that regulation, but he had not yet done so.

“I’m not mad,” said Hector. Which was true. He wasn’t. The boy may have saved him, kind of?

“What were you doing in there?” asked the boy.

“Just thinking,” said Hector. “Reminiscing.”

“Was it peaceful?” asked the boy.

“Not at all,” said Hector. “What’s an amount of money that seems like a lot to you?”

“I don’t know,” said the boy. “Five hundred dollars?”

“I’ll give you five hundred dollars to put all these leaves into bags and pile them by the street.”

The boy narrowed his eyes. “Do I have to provide my own bags?”

“No,” said Hector. “I’ll provide the bags.”


Later that evening, Hector spent almost an hour hunting for Tiffany Wharton on various social media platforms. He found her, eventually. Her name was Tiffany Trammel now, but it was definitely her. From all indications, she was not dead. He sent her a simple message: “I don’t know if you remember me or not, but did we recently meet inside a leaf pile?” The response was swift: “This is Tiffany’s husband. She does not remember you. She has no idea who you are or what you’re talking about. She wants nothing to do with you. Forget about her.”

An image came to Hector, then, from the perspective of the back seat of his family’s car. It was Tiffany, seeing his wave, pausing in mid-dribble to tuck the orange rubber basketball under her left arm so she could wave back, her right arm bending at the elbow so the entire forearm and hand could participate in the big side-to-side waves, a bemused smile on her face, strands of dark hair affixed to her temples by sweat. And then the image blurred, flickered, was overcome with static, and went dark.

Discussion Questions

  • What conditions would be necessary for you to volunteer to keep a deceased professor’s parrot from pecking out the last remaining eye of the deceased professor’s other parrot?

  • Which person from your life did you forget most recently? Which person from your life did you forget longest ago?

  • What can be done to overcome the societal stigma against asking artists what their work is “supposed to be?”

  • What does or does not make YOU think that YOU can move somewhere and immediately start innovating in the leaf-raking space?

  • Would your dad have been delighted to share some leaf-raking technique tips with Hector? My dad would have, especially tips related to the usefulness of tarps.