The Leaves, They Pirouette
Kevin Grauke

When ladies at the church ask you what you do—what you are—you say, "I'm a leaf blower," and you're happy saying this. You're happy being a leaf blower.

You're proud of your blower. It's an Echo PB-650. Your mother bought it for you. You've memorized everything about it: it has a 63.3 cc engine and a maximum blowing power of 205 miles per hour. It feels like a lion on your back, like a tornado. These are the things that come to mind when you think about how it feels—so warm, so powerful. Your old Husqvarna 165BT only had a 59 cc engine and a maximum blowing power of 190 miles per hour. You used to think your Husqvarna was the greatest ever. Now you realize that you might as well have been using a Makita. Or a Dolmar. Or even a Maruyama. Thinking about this makes you smile. No one knows leaf blowers like you. You get all the catalogues. They sit in a big stack beside your bed.

You love how beautiful your Echo is. You like how it's black and gray, not too-bright red like your old Husqvarna was. You wear black so that your blower almost looks like a part of you. Its wand is like your third arm.

You work alone. You're a freelancer. That's what your mother says you are. My little freelancer. You like this word. Freelancer. It makes you think of a knight riding his horse across the world in search of princesses to save and bad guys to fight. You wave your wand, and the bad guys run away, scared of your power. Whoosh, you say. Whoosh.

You have to go home whenever your Echo runs out of gas, and your mother fills it up. When you go out again, you feel brand new. The gas sloshes around heavily in its tank, and you know that there's no job too big for you now. You could go forever.

When you're out working, you like to listen to the music your mother put on your black iPod. You have to turn it up loud to hear it over your Echo. The songs don't have words, but you know what they're about because your mother told you their names. One is called "Autumn Leaves." One is called "Autumn in New York." One is called "Autumn Serenade." One is called "Falling Leaves." Your favorite, though, is just called "Autumn." It's only a piano playing. It sounds exactly like leaves would sound if they made music as they fell. Plink. Plink, plink.

You know that "autumn" and "fall" mean the same thing, but you like "autumn" better than "fall." It makes the leaves sound prettier. You wait all year for autumn. Autumn is like Christmas except there's no Santa for autumn. Dead leaves tumble and float with every gust of wind. The ground crunches beneath your feet, and the air smells like smoke. Autumn is better than Christmas.

Sometimes you get to burn the leaves. At home in the backyard, that is. You stand as close to the fire as your mother will let you, and you let the smoke swallow you up. She tells you that outside fires like this are against the law, but then she says that she doesn't care. You love the way the smell gets in your clothes, your hair, your skin. At night, when you take a bath, you hold your clothes up to your nose and breathe in the smell until your head feels like a balloon.

You think about the days before leaf blowers. You remember them, but only just barely. You were a little boy. Your mother would get her rake out of the shed and make a big pile of leaves for you in the backyard. You'd run and jump right in the middle of  it and wriggle yourself down as deep as you could until the light disappeared. You'd breathe in the smell of the leaves, close your eyes, and wish that this was what the whole world was.

You like cottonwood trees, because their leaves are as big as your face. You can poke eyeholes in them and use them as masks. When the wind blows hard, they skitter alive down the street, making clicking sounds like big, crunchy bugs. And you like every kind of oak tree, but particularly post oaks because their leaves are shaped like the big cross that hangs over your mother's bed.

You are a shepherd and the leaves are your flock. This is what your mother says to you. And Jesus is our shepherd. We are his leaves. When she says this, you see Jesus standing in the clouds with a shiny Echo on his back, blowing all the people around below him, separating into piles the sinners and the saved. Behind his flowing beard, he's smiling.

You like mulberry trees because their leaves are shaped like hearts, and you like maple trees because they turn the prettiest colors. They think they live in New England instead of Texas.

You've seen pictures of New England. Its leaves in autumn are beautiful. The leaves in Texas turn yellow sometimes, but mainly they just turn brown. When you're lucky, they turn orange or red, but that's rare. Still, you tell yourself, brown leaves need to be blown from one place to another just the same as orange and red leaves. It's not the leaves' fault that they're brown instead of orange or red. You feel sorry for the brown leaves when you think about this. They probably feel bad when they see the pretty leaves.

You get mad when you see big black bags full of leaves sitting on the curb, waiting to be picked up by the trashmen. It's wrong. Your mother tells you that not everyone likes leaves as much as you do. You don't tell her that, when no one's looking, you rip open the bags and free the leaves. You blow them around until it's as if they'd never been bagged ever.

You hear what people sometimes call you and say about you, but you pretend you don't. Your mother tells you that these people are evil sinners. They're like the man who threw that empty beer can at you that time, she says. And your father, because he left. They'll all go to Hell, she says, all those men, and you picture Hell with its fires and flames and you wonder whether the smoke smells sweet, like burning leaves.

You like when you're called Mr. Leafie. That's what some of the kids in the neighborhood call you whenever they see you blowing Bonham Street clean. Hey, Mr. Leafie! they yell. Hey, Mr. Leafie! You aim your wand at them, pretending that you're going to blow them away.

You keep a scrapbook of leaves that you like to look at during the winter when the trees and streets are sad and empty and there are hardly any leaves anywhere to be blown from one place to another. You picked some of the leaves because of their funny shapes. Some of the leaves you picked because of their interesting colors. You picked some of the leaves because they're perfect.

You have to quit when it gets dark. Once, you didn't quit when it got dark, and your mother came after you. She was mad. So now you always quit right when it gets dark and you walk home. You take off your Echo and set it in the corner of your bedroom. No one can touch it, not even your mother. You get in bed and look at the pictures in your catalogues or your scrapbook until you fall asleep.

At night, sometimes you dream that everyone is gone but you. Your mother is gone, too. While you look for her, the leaves rise up in front of your Echo like a snake with green, brown, yellow, orange, and red stripes. The snake winds through the air, plucking every last leaf from every tree, then rises straight up into the sky for miles until it reaches the moon. It makes you happy to watch the leaves spinning around the moon, but when you wake up, you're scared, like you were that time when your mother told you how one day she would leave for Heaven and you would have to go to a place where people might not need their leaves to be blown from one place to another. You hurry to the window to make sure that all the leaves are still there. There they are, just like yesterday. You rush to eat your breakfast as fast as you can. Your mother tells you to slow down, and you do, but you still eat as fast as you can, and then you hurry out with your Echo blazing. The leaves are happy to see you. You wave to them with your wand, and they dance for you.

"The Leaves, They Pirouette" is from Kevin Grauke's new book of stories, SHADOWS OF MEN (Queen's Ferry Press). It first appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of The G.

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