The little girl smiled and ran to the oak tree, headed to a pile of leaves below the branches. I lifted my pen, distracted by a gentle breeze—children laughing, a football over the wall—but I soon returned to the luminous flow of her dress on my page, of her light hair streaming too in the sunshine. Her waves like my calligraphy, as I smoothly scribbled and inbreathed the fresh of that young autumn day, the striking blue of the undiluted sky.
I closed my notebook and stood, headed for the tree. I anticipated the sight of a white hand as I or, rather, the girl would sweep the leaves with her foot to find the lifeless fingers. But sunshine interfered with my story; the mood should be colder, drier. It wanted a dirt-grey ominousness in the air, not this brightness of fresh red and yellow, but rather, goose bumps bristling under a woolly jumper as she curled her hands in her sleeves and screamed. Perhaps that’s when the cloud shadows should come. A direct result of her fear.
I stood where the girl would scream, under the red and yellow foliage still attached to the branches. That’s when I saw her, a living statue of beautiful sadness. Autumn like a skirt around her, the young woman was sitting silently beside me—her long swan arms lightly still like petals at either side of her perfect posture. Hair, ginger. Eyes like the gaps between the clouds. Freckles like constellations across her pale complexion.
“She doesn’t have to die today,” she said.
I followed her pupils to the other side of the park, past the splashes of pink and lemon around the ice cream van and onto a girl, my girl. Her luminous hair lifting as she swung forth on the swing, looking at her patent leather shoes against the cerulean sky.
What? My pages were rustling on the bench nearby, the cover flat open, rustling like a pinned butterfly in the wind.
“You don’t have to break her,” she said.
I shook my head in disbelief, watching her eyes darken with cloud.
“Who are you?” I asked her.
“Who are you, other than a death wish?”
I clenched my fists and cursed her, the pen still in my hand. I knew she wasn’t done yet and I stood there, glued to her frightful truthfulness. Fine lines creasing the area surrounding her eyes. The leaves above her dried too, some detaching from the branches. The white in her eyes reddened; her lips turned purple. A blue vein bulged down her neck as tiny capillaries stretched all over her body.
Autumn fell on her as she collapsed—lifeless fingers sticking out through the blanket of leaves. My girl, suddenly beside me, clenched her fists and cried. A cry that would alert a bad man in denim—threads of ginger hair tangled still in the metallic watch strap matching the filling in his smile. Blue jean sky creasing, folding in on us.
Including my pen.
Alistair claps as the paper ball falls right in the middle of the bin.
“What are you working on?” Susan asks me, lifting him in her arms.
“Nothing. Another stupid murder mystery.”
“Want to come to the park with us? Might inspire you to write something different. It’s ice cream weather in October!”
As they close the door, something rustles in the paper basket. The paper ball shuffling, bouncing… Like it has a life of its own.