Leaves Leaving


Leaves Leaving


Dennis parked his Amazon truck along the street because the old guy’s ladder propped up against his garage took up a lot of driveway space.

Pretty nice neighborhood, Dennis thought. Quiet. A little wind swaying the big tree branches. He’d driven by here once before and noticed some dog walkers and kids on bikes, but the street was empty today. Just Dennis and the old guy with his ladder.

Dennis got hired the day after Thanksgiving. Seasonal to start with the big delivery holidays coming up but maybe permanent if it worked out. This was his second week on the job,

just beginning to get the hang of it. Things might be okay this time. Twenty-seven was time to get his life together.

The old guy walked toward Dennis as he stepped out of the truck. Some customers did that, donated the kindness of a few steps that added up to something helpful on these dawn-to-dusk delivery days.

Dennis wasn’t good at guessing ages. The old guy could be a bad fifty, could be a good eighty. Who could tell? Probably sixties.

“I ordered two books,” the old guy blurted. “One’s about moving on when your loved one leaves. You know. Grief.”

“Hm-hmm. The other?” Dennis asked, handing him the package. It was stiff and heavy. Hardbacks.

“Fear of heights,” the old guy said, casting a glance toward the ladder. Dennis noticed a big Christmas wreath, maybe five feet tall, propped against a car inside the garage. “My wife used to hang it every year. Went right up the ladder like nothing. Year after year. Fearless. Like nothing.”

The old guy blinked. Dennis noticed a nail just above the top of the ladder near the point of the garage, twenty feet, maybe twenty-five. He thought he saw the ladder wobble in the breeze.

“She’s gone,” the old guy said. “First Christmas without her.”

“Umm. Sorry,” Dennis said.

“I can’t,” the old guy said, pointing up. “Just … can’t. Been trying all afternoon. Yesterday, too. Can’t get past the third step. Honestly? Feel like an idiot.”

The two men looked down to watch a few leftover fallen leaves skitter across the driveway, ticking like a clock that keeps poor time. Oak. Always the last to fall.

“Need a hand?” Dennis asked.

“I couldn’t impose,” the old guy said, nodding just enough that Dennis noticed. “I’m sure the company has some kind of policies about this kind of thing. But …”

Dennis stepped to the ladder, walked it hand over hand to the ground. It was heavier than he expected. Aluminum, but still heavy enough for a loud clang against the driveway.

“You’re going to want to stand on the porch, please,” Dennis said. The old guy did.

Then Dennis jogged to his truck, backed it down the driveway within inches of the garage door, grabbed the wreath, swung it up atop the truck, climbed the truck’s back ladder to stand on the roof, and stretched on tippy toes to slip the wreath over the nail.

“Want the ribbon on top or the bottom?” Dennis called down, staring at that pretty red ribbon.

“Lower right side, please,” the old guy said. “About four o’clock. That’s where she always liked it. Yes. Perfect!”

Dennis scampered back down to the driveway and faced the old guy.

“I don’t know what to say,” the old guy said. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” Dennis said.

“Same time next year?” the old guy asked, sounding like he was only half joking.

“I can come back to help you take it down,” Dennis said. “How’s early February?”

“Perfect,” the old guy said. “We always left it up kind of late in the season.”

“I like this route,” Dennis said. “I’m hoping to make it long term. Just order more books and I’ll be here. Quicker if you have Prime.”

Before the old guy could say anything else, Dennis hopped into the truck and drove away, not looking back. He took the first side street he could find out of sight of the old guy’s house and parked the truck along the sidewalk. He placed his sweaty forehead against the big steering wheel for thirty seconds while his breathing slowed.

Then, with his cell phone held in still slightly trembling hands, Dennis searched Amazon for the books the old guy ordered. He used his employee discount and bought the cheaper paperback version of one. Both books sounded interesting, but he didn’t need the one about grief. Not yet.


John Sheirer

John Sheirer (pronounced “shyer” -- he/him/his) lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Asnuntuck Community College in Northern Connecticut where he edits Freshwater Literary Journal. He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown Daily Hampshire Gazette. Recent stories have been published in Flash Boulevard, San Antonio Review, WordPeace, Five Minutes, Iceblink, Fiction on the Web, Wilderness House Literary Review, Meat for Tea, Poppy Road Review, Synkroniciti, 10 By 10 Flash Fiction, Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, and Goldenrod Review, among others. His most recent books are Stumbling Through Adulthood: Linked Stories (2021 New England Book Festival Award Winner) and For Now: One Hundred 100-Word Stories (2023 New England Book Festival Award Runner-Up). Find him at JohnSheirer.com

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