Leaves on the Wind

Leaves on the Wind

AJ Mullican

Annalise looked up at the strange old tree, its leaves and branches always stretched to the west as though it was trying to grasp the last vestiges of each day’s light. She had met Jonathan there, and it was under this tree that they were most happy.

Under this tree, they had grown from small children to sophisticated adults. Jonathan had first kissed her under this tree. He had proposed under this tree. Their children had grown under this tree, coming to it every day the weather allowed.

They called it “their” tree, as though someone could own a piece of forest older than man itself. How many times had they played tag under its branches? How many times had they climbed it? How many times had their children played under it? It was impossible to count.

Jonathan had been called to join the war two years ago. It made her terribly sad, but every day she came to their tree and prayed for his return.

That morning he had returned, or rather, his body had.

Holding her children’s hands firmly in hers, Annalise cried silent tears as she trudged up the hill to their tree.

“Let’s play a game, children,” she said, handing each the ends of some lengths of rope she’d brought. “Thomas, I want you to climb onto the strongest branch you can find and toss the ropes over it. Emma, I want you to tie your ends to the trunk of the tree here. Make sure your knots are good and strong.”

Emma looked up at her with the innocence of youth. “What are we doing, Mommy?”

Annalise smiled and patted her daughter’s brown curls. “We’re going to hang some presents to honor your daddy’s memory. Won’t that be fun?”

“Is that what the flowers are for?”

“You’ll see, sweetie.”

Their work took little time, and soon the ropes were hanging over the branch, swaying in the wind. Annalise took the free ends and tied some knots of her own.

“Momma,” Thomas piped up, “Those knots are too big to hold flowers. What are we hanging for Daddy?”

She didn’t answer the question. Instead, she asked the children to climb the tree with her.

“Now Emma,” she said, “This part I need Thomas’s help with. Close your eyes dear, because it’s a surprise.”

Emma closed her eyes like the good little girl she was. She didn’t see her mother clamp her hand over Thomas’s mouth. Didn’t see the loop of the rope tightened around his neck. Emma didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.

By the time Annalise and her children were found, swinging like leaves in the wind, the birds had nearly picked them clean.