The Oak Leaf

By Isabella Williams

He supported himself against the counter, crossing his legs tightly at the knee and caressing the receiver upon his cheek in one eager motion. He could feel his own warmth being reflected against the white phone, could feel each shallow and trembling breath exhaling. He imagined that they were hers; her cheek pressed on his skin, her breath fanning his face. “Do you remember that day, the day when I stole my dad’s Ford and took you to the valley? It was a wonderful day, that day—the summer had just turned to fall, but the clouds were still shaped like lawn chairs and diving boards. And the wind still carried the scent of lavender from the mountains. Those days are my favorite, you know. Those days are perfect. 
“We had a picnic, the one that I made entirely by myself. I bought a chicken from the butcher and learned how to cook it weeks ahead of time. It was good, wasn’t it? I thought it was good, particularly for my cooking skills.” He chuckled, unfolding his legs from their crossed position. “I was so upset when I forgot to bring silverware! I think that I might have started crying if it weren’t for you. You were so smart. You are so smart. You thought to fashion little sticks into silverware, and I think the meal turned out all the better because of it.
“I think you remember that day—you couldn’t forget it, could you? I haven’t forgotten it.” He pushed himself off the counter, unraveling the winding phone cord as he walked. He stretched it until it reached the window above the sink, the big, symmetrical window that overlooked the square backyard. The grass was yellowing and the picket fence creaked in the wind. Chimes were wildly calling, hundreds of them tinkling throughout the neighborhood. Their shrillness was almost enough to drown out the omnipresent noise of the coal-processing plant in the near distance, and the wind was almost enough to blow the black dust out of the air.
The phone strained in his hand, the straight wires trying to curl, the plastic holder attempting to lug him back. “Listen, I know you don’t want to come visit, I know you don’t want to stay. I know you don’t want to be a housewife, I know you want to be a writer. I know you think that you can’t do that here, all the way out here, with me at the plant. Amelia, I know!” His voice expanded, desperation seeping into the areas once quiet with acceptance. Begging, pleading. “But it’s beautiful here! The company provides houses for all of the employees—beautiful houses! I even have a picket fence, and it is painted the clearest shade of white! There is a college half an hour away, and I have been saving for a car for you. It’s not a state school, but it works just as well. Amelia! Don’t you remember that day? Don’t you remember when I told you those magical words, the ones that I still mean with the entirety of my heart and soul? Remember that day? Amelia! Remember how you said you loved me too? You must not have forgotten that! Amelia! You can’t forget that.” His words were quiet with his last plea. Despite his subdued tone, his handsome features had twisted into an expression of angry desolation.
He stared out the window once more, into the backyard. He looked directly at the tree that stood in the back corner of the yard. He took a deep breath and heard its uncertainty being echoed through the receiver. “There is a tree in the yard, a magnificent oak. Its branches are low and strong—I could tie a swing around it. We would have so much fun.” If he squinted, he could almost see it, blurry images of him and Amelia waltzing around the tree, oblivious of the neighbors’ curious peeks from over the triangles of the fence. “In autumn, the tree is the most startling shade of red that you have ever seen, positively scarlet. It glows amber in the sunlight and radiates like fire when the sun sets in the evening. It shimmers like the wind chimes that hang from it.
“This tree here, it reminds me of the tree that we picnicked under on that spectacular day, the tree in the center of the valley. Remember that tree? You couldn’t forget it. I haven’t forgotten it.” A faint smile etched itself onto his lips. “Come visit me, come visit me soon. You can see this magnificent tree here. It will be bright red for a couple more weeks, and it is not a far train ride. Remember those words, remember the tree that we sat under. Please. I’ll pick you up at the station, and you can stay for a while. You can stay for as long as you want.” He paused. “Amelia, I lo—” He stopped himself. “Just come see the tree.” He took one last breath. He set the phone down gently in its holder and went back to the window, considering the tree and all of its beautiful promise. 
He waited two weeks for the reply, a letter. Its return address did not have a name on it, but he immediately recognized the looping, tall handwriting. It was bigger than he remembered, the words taking up almost the entirety of the envelope. The envelope was simple and did not have a single pen stroke out of place, and everything was remarkably symmetrical, like she had planned it out with a ruler. He unsealed the envelope with great care, not wanting to disturb its precise beauty nor the hopeful letter it contained. Each rip sent shivers down his spine, and each second was a moment too long.
He peered inside. There was no letter. There was not even a note, not a single scrap of paper. He pulled the contents out, realizing what they were. Blinded, he closed his eyes. For, grasped between his thumb and index finger was a foreign oak leaf—more brilliant, more fluorescent, and more sparkling than any leaf that the tree in the corner of the yard could ever produce.

 

 I am a high school senior and have been writing since I was very, very young. Lover of travel, food, and obviously, writing