All Stories, General Fiction

Counting Leaves by Tim Frank

“I want you to go out into the street today, Lionel, and stand there, for maybe an hour or so, then come back and tell me what you’ve seen. I want you to be real descriptive, make it all come alive. Don’t let me down because I’m really getting fed up sitting here, not even able to see a leaf on a tree. You’ve got your problems, but you still have your sight so please treasure it and share it with me.”

Lionel was lying on his bed in his pyjamas, resting over the covers, the warm breeze filtering through the window, as his older brother and guardian was searching the kitchen for breakfast ingredients – patting and foraging. The walls of their ground floor flat were thin and Lionel could hear everything his brother, Zane, was saying as if he was kneeling down beside him and whispering in his ear.

Lionel reached out for his chopsticks – that’s what he called his crutches – not because he liked Chinese food (even though he did) but it was a way of making light of his MS. He also had flames emblazoned across them but despite that the fatigue had got the better of him these days and he was generally housebound.

Lionel had witnessed Zane’s vision slowly fade and Lionel knew he had to help. Lionel’s eyesight, was under threat, too, and he didn’t have much time to explore the world himself, even if it meant just walking to the street corner.

Lionel heaved his aching body to the pavement in front of his building. He had stabbing sensations in his knees and his arms suddenly jerked this way and that. He felt like a break-dancer doing the robot so he let his crutches take the strain and waited for the spasms to relent.

Suddenly, before he could take in the view, Lionel heard the bustle of a pack of dogs as they scampered down the street from a distance – nails furiously scratching against concrete. All fifteen of the mongrels swarmed together, panting and drooling, gaining speed as they closed in on Lionel. He raised his sticks to protect himself and his body gave way, toppling to the ground like a bag of Lego. Just before the dogs pounced on him the sound of a searing whistle resounded through the neighbourhood and the dogs came to an instantaneous halt. It was the dog’s owner Rufus who rushed to Lionel’s side and lifted him to his feet, as his dogs sniffed the earth surrounding the formidable oak tree that dominated the horizon.

“So sorry, mate,” said Rufus. “Nothing to worry about, though, they’re harmless.” He drew his hand across his snotty nose.

Just then a paper cup was flung against the pavement and banana milkshake soaked Lionel’s leg. A rabble of teens squashed into a VW van spat and hollered out of their windows, some with arms wrapped around guitars and one banging drumsticks against the side mirror.

As the van surged by one of the kids called out, “We are The Voyagers!”

“Now that’s not right,” said Rufus, “that’s litter. I hate to say it but most of the youth these days are scum. I’m sure you’re OK, mind, you seem like the peaceful sort.”

For some reason these words weighed heavily on Lionel’s mind and he made his excuses and struggled back into his flat, chalking his journey outside as a complete write-off.
As he reached the door, he heard the deep roar of a high-powered engine from a distance. He angled his head around to face the road and caught a glimpse of a candy yellow Lamborghini just before it flashed out of sight. Lionel’s knees nearly buckled, and it wasn’t because of his condition this time. It was an outrageously wonderful spectacle.

Back in the kitchen Zane was waiting for Lionel impatiently as he tapped a discordant rhythm with his fingers on the kitchen table.

“Well?” said Zane.

Lionel filled the kettle, flicked it on and sat down as he waited for it to boil. He rested his crutches against the table and looked at his brother’s face. Zane had a full day’s growth of beard that Lionel would have to shave soon and his eyeballs shifted back and forth behind cheap shades.

“Nothing doing,” said Lionel.

“What d’you mean? There must have been something,” said Zane. “I mean was it sunny? Blue skies?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“Jesus, Lionel.”

Lionel was about to tell Zane about Rufus, his dogs and the terrible fall but it would just make Zane worry.

“Well, there was something I saw that was pretty amazing,” said Lionel. “There was this car – yellow, sleek – that made this sound like some kind of space rocket.”

As the kettle spewed steam, clicked and calmed, tears rolled down Zane’s cheeks.

“You’re letting everything just pass you by,” said Zane, “and what gets me most is you simply don’t see it. Well, I won’t give up hope. From now on I’m going to make you go out every day. You will live your life to the fullest, I won’t let you regret your missed opportunities.”

Lionel went to his room and quietly fumed, bringing on a headache that pulsated through his whole body. But he relented and everyday he faced the battle with his failing body, dragging himself outside. He kept telling himself maybe he’d see the Lamborghini again – it was pretty much all that kept him going. Dutifully, he would report his sightings to Zane. He tried to describe the little birds in the trees and the hot concrete roads but his heart wasn’t in it. He resorted to memorising passages from poems and novels to please his brother. The look on Zane’s face when Lionel read him some Walt Whitman was priceless. “The qualities of a tree, so innocent and harmless, yet so savage.” That was his favourite line and he asked Lionel to repeat it several times. Zane must have suspected what was going on yet he was reluctant to question Lionel – it was as if he had given up and was happy to be caught in the illusion. But Lionel’s lies only confirmed to him that his own life was futile, his wretched limbs dragging him towards the floor with a force more powerful than gravity, proving he couldn’t come close to matching the fantasy world he’d created for Zane.

One day, talking to Rufus who was surrounded by his dogs like some kind of urban goat herder, the sun beat down harder than ever and Lionel was on the verge of screaming at Rufus and his stinking animals, “Give me some room!” But he stifled his rage, fighting his instincts like he always did and listened to Rufus grumble.

“I have a lot in common with you Lionel, more than you could ever suspect, because sometimes things are not always visible are they, huh? What maketh the man? Because I too had problems walking due to my joints. Fortunately, it passed. Your situation is worse but the principle is the same – cherish every moment of your life like it was your last.”

Lionel’s body began to twitch and shudder in a frenzy. A fearsome rage welled up inside him, from his gut, moving upwards through his chest until he had to shout the words, “Can’t you just leave me alone!?”

At that moment Lionel heard a rumbling from down the street. It was the Lamborghini in all its raging glory and it seemed to float along the road, unbound by physical limitations and then it appeared by his side – clean, immaculate.

However, the car’s presence sent Rufus’ dogs wild and they hissed and snarled, turning their wrath on Lionel who tried his best to fend them off with his sticks while balancing his back on a sycamore tree. Hurt by Lionel’s comment, Rufus refused to calm his dogs down and as the animals’ bodies writhed amongst each other like a bucket of worms, they became more vicious. By now the Lamborghini was long gone but the dogs’ fervour was undiminished and they mauled Lionel’s t-shirt and savaged his orthopaedic shoes. They had stolen his sticks and sunk their teeth into them, shaking them as if they were rag dolls.

A van door slid open with a groan and then a thud.

“Come on, get in,” said a languid voice from within the darkness of the vehicle. He could just about make out a girl whose earlobe was being sucked by a boy in acrylic paint-splattered dungarees. She swigged from a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a drum kit and some amps stacked to the side. The girl beckoned him with a movement of her finger and a sinister leer. The choice was clear; either get clawed to death by the dogs or join The Voyagers to who knows where?

So, he allowed a couple of the band to drag him to safety. He was terrified – he had no crutches and everyone was silent. He didn’t dare ask where they were going. Maybe this is what Zane meant by truly living? For once, as Lionel knocked back some wine, his bruised legs beginning to feel a soothing numbness, he watched as trees dashed by, experiencing a thrill like no other and despite the fact Zane would freak out, he knew if all else failed he could calm his brother’s worries by weaving a sublime story – a wild tale to spark the imagination – when he finally got home.

Tim Frank

Image by Eduardo RS from Pixabay 

4 thoughts on “Counting Leaves by Tim Frank”

  1. Hi Tim,
    This is quite a strange story. But strange is good!
    I feel as if there is something deep in the words but I can’t quite grasp what it is.
    I know about living life and experiencing what you can, but I still feel that there is something else in this.
    The whole point though, this doesn’t put me off the story, it makes me want to keep reading and find what I’m looking for.
    Interesting and thought provoking.
    All the very best my friend.
    Hugh

    Like

  2. I get the impression that this is just A Day in the Life of Lionel. The process of singling out one person and putting *him under the light always uncovers a weirdo. I also get the impression that it is very easy to stop playing in the freeway if adventure comes along. Maybe that will happen for Lionel and the band. This is a good character piece even if that wasn’t the intent.

    (*That’s right, zir police, I used “her” last time. I alternate them. Then again I waste more time explaining that than I do by writing “his or her.” So I must do it for attention.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The brothers seem to have a strange and somewhat successful simbiotic relationship to help them get through the waning days of life’s voyage. Effective symbolism in the story gives it multiple layers.

    Like

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