The visitors sweep into the yard like whorls of dust in the air, barely touching the ground. Fluffy and floating, all frills of grey cloth and dandelion-puff pompoms. Zae imagines them gliding through the sky like that, floating town to town like the dirigible that goes past every few months when the fields start to turn yellow.
One of them sweeps towards the tree at the centre of the garden. Looks up, almost at Zae.
Zae pushes aside one of the big round leaves, and peeks down. The tree sways a little, up here. She’s closer to the crystal-blue bowl of the sky than the red ground.
The visitor moves away. Says something to the other cloud-person with her hands.
Zae leans out for a closer look. The branch she’s sitting on squeaks, a little. It’s been doing that more and more lately. Even with Mum-with-a-T watering it every day, the big tree doesn’t make as many leaves as it used to.
She reaches her face out further, and down, sticking one leg off the other side of the branch. The tree creaks loudly. The other visitor looks up, and Zae sees straight into her bright orange eyes.
This is a mistake. I know it as soon as I set foot in the place.
It’s beautiful in its way, I suppose. Grey-gold rolling hills; trees still green even in this biting cold. A clear powder-blue sky with the green-and-pink ring of dusk on the horizon. But it’s not where I need to be.
I kneel down and put my hand on the soil. It’s ice-cold. In an hour or two it’ll be covered in frost.
I spread my fingers, pushing aside the tall, dry grass. Absently, I notice it is grass, not dead stalks — every blade still pointed even as it cracks under my fingers.
Between the blades, there’s another kind of leaf: a spiky-eared rosette trying to prick my fingertips. It, too, is dry and dead. At its centre, a silver flower sits.
I pluck it, and on impulse put it in my mouth.
Spiky. The taste is nothing but old straw. I bite down, feeling prickles dig into my gums and tongue. Taste sweet nectar, like the soft essence of honey. This flower has died useless and alone.
The leaves are lying face-down in the courtyard, stem-tails up in the air like dabbling ducks. They’re not dabbling; just flopped ungainly down in their red-and-orange pyjamas, making leaf-angels in the wet concrete before it’s time for garden bed.
“I’m not sleepy yet!”
“Look at me, I’m a starfish!”
“I’m a starfish. You’re obviously a rose!”
When the wind picks up they’re boisterous, chasing each other around the courtyard and running up and down the roof — pitter-patter, pitter-patter — on their little twig feet. They know they aren’t allowed up there.
On wetter days they jump into puddles and make mud-pies next to the pavement, getting their bright new pyjamas all grubby.
“Who’s going to wash your clothes now?” the old maple grumbles.
But the little leaves just laugh and dive into the next bit of water. “See, we’re all clean now! Look, all clean and shiny!”
And they are, too, until they run through the gravel to cross the street.
They really do get everywhere — up and down cliffs, in and out of the river — getting caught in brambles and underfoot. Always rushing, always laughing; and laughing all the more when the unexpected happens.
The oaks and apples grumble with the maple at the folly of the young leaves, but there are smiles in their hearts. They know in the end the leaves will settle down and snuggle into the earth. Let the wind and the rain gently put them to bed.
Then the trees can finally turn in themselves for a long, restful winter, before the leaves wake up again next year. Hungry, busy, looking for branches to perch on and light to sip. Rested and calm and ready for a long year.
The ship was safe and snug, on solid ground With cosy chocks along the keel and bow. A wrap of scaffolding and gantries ’round And city power running up and down.
The engine block is in. She’s heavy now Her gears and bearings tested, true, and round. The paint on every inch of her is proud. Pull out the chocks, and let the fog-horns sound!
It’s inches, but a mountain thunders free. A blue mug on the slip-way — dust — debris! The mass that moves, no human hand can stay. The breakers waiting, break, and turn away Under a keel sharp as Eternity And might on might, the vessel meets the sea.