The world is going to end when the last leaf falls.
She knows this. She doesn’t know how she knows it, just that the fact is irrefutable. It’s November. The air is cold. And the world will cease to be as soon as the last leaf detaches itself from the tree outside her window.
She sits at the windowsill, watching as the brittle, brown leaves wave in the wind. Will it be today? It should have been several days ago. Every morning, she’s woken up with the knowledge lodged in her head. And yet, every day the leaves don’t finish falling and the world doesn’t end.
On one hand, this is a good thing. She doesn’t want the world to end. She loves the world, with its people and its open spaces. She loves the smell of snow on the air, the crunch of the previously-fallen leaves under heavy boots. The taste of pumpkin pie, lightly sweetened with the slight smoke of nutmeg over it all.
But on the other hand, the waiting. The feeling of dragging herself through the day. She’ll be sitting in class or on the regional bus, bracing herself the entire time. Just because she knows that the world will end doesn’t mean it’ll end at a convenient time for her. Maybe she’ll be in the grocery store, next in line as the leaf finally lets go and drifts to the ground. It doesn’t have to wait for her to be watching, to be able to plan her final moments.
Either way, the world is going to end. And more likely than not, it’ll end on a raw November afternoon as the sun goes down far too early in the day. But unlike most November sunsets, it won’t be followed by a too-late sunrise the next day.
She hasn’t bothered to tell anyone that the world is going to end. They’re not going to believe her, so why waste her limited time? And even if they did believe her, it’s not like they can stop it.
She smiles to herself, laughing at the idea of anyone trying to stop the leaves from falling. What are they going to do, tape the leaf to the branch? Bring the tree inside, away from the wind? She imagines the mayor out there every morning, securing the leaf in place.
A single rainstorm would demolish their efforts.
In fact, that’s why she’s so sure it’ll be today. Yesterday there were still enough brittle, brown leaves on the trees that she couldn’t count them all individually. But then a rainstorm came through, leading to what the weatherman called “leaf drop” and her landlord called “a mess.”
But either way, now there were only two leaves left in the tree outside her window. And as she’s watching, one splits from the tree and blows away.
The last leaf is on a small branch about halfway up the tree. It seems like it would be more poetic to have it at the very top, but that’s just not the way trees work.
She takes a sip of her coffee, savoring it. It’s bitter, despite the splash of sweet cream she added to it before bringing it back up to her room. The bitterness grounds her, warms her in a way that sweetness can’t.
She didn’t grow up with distinct seasons. Back home, everything was sunny all year round. When she’d moved to Boston for college, she’d fallen in love with the seasons. Especially autumn. When she could wear soft scarves and bask in the crisp air after a summer of sticky heat. Autumn was worth the move.
Such a shame this would be her last one.
The wind picks up and she watches the leaf on the branch, whipping to and fro in a brief, frenzied dance. Her heart rate quickens as it moves one last time, then settles. This wasn’t it, but the end is not far off.
She should really be more afraid than she is right now. Does anyone else know about this? Is someone else watching right now too?
And what is is about this leaf, this tree? Is there a significance to them or is it just that they’re in the right place at the right time?
She’s so focused on this that she almost misses it as another sharp gust of wind cuts through the tree. This time it takes the leaf off with it. She watches as the leaf glides into the air, then slowly starts to descend.
She takes a sip of her coffee. It’s still hot.
The leaf flutters by her window, so close she could almost reach out and touch it.
It lands on the frozen ground.
Then there’s silence.