When The Last Leaf Falls | A Tender Coffee Break Tale

couple kneeling looking at fallen autumn leaves

Enjoy this poignant romantic story from our archives by Rob Nisbet

Ours was only a summer love. Silvia was quite frank about that. She told me beneath the great oak in the clearing, dappled and warmed by sun slanting through the leafy canopy. She made no pretence, no excuse. She’d love me for the summer, and no longer.

“That’s my condition.” She laughed, like a sprite in the stream, water giggling over smoothed stones. “Take it, or leave it.”

Of course I took it. How could I resist? She leaned back against the tree, whorls of her auburn hair melding with the weathered bark. Her leaf-green eyes watching me, knowing already that I’d agree.

She had no thought that her condition was unreasonable. There was no concern to mar the bright freshness of her face. She was a free spirit, wild, like the forest.

That’s what I found so attractive, what I needed from her. She was a product of nature, living and loving without care. A nymph, riding the wind, whatever its course: rustling the uncurling fronds of springtime, basking in the untamed colours of summer, plucking the dying leaves from autumn trees. I couldn’t imagine her in winter; she was too alive with the glow of summer sunshine. And she was mine, for a season.

Her voice whispered like a breeze

We always returned to the forest. The clearing around the great oak sprouted a carpet of fragrant grass and we lay watching the tree tops sway like batons. They beat at the sky, marking time, eating away at my fleeting summer.

“How will I know,” I asked, “when my time with you is finished?”

She rolled warm against me, her slender white fingers curled into mine, clinging like roots reaching through the earth. Her voice whispered like a breeze.

“When the last leaf falls from the oak tree,” she said.

I stared up into the branches, at the thousands of leaves. Silvia pulled her fingers free and traced a slow meandering line over my cheek and brow. I relaxed at her touch – and a bobbled oak leaf, like a sliver of jigsaw, drifted to the ground.

While she was with me it was always summer, but, beyond our control, the Earth orbited inexorably through to autumn. The days cooled and the forest relinquished its freshness, succumbing to frost and the lengthening nights devouring the ever-shrinking daylight. The forest wept flakes of gold, but she shrugged away my concerns, pointed to the remaining leaves, laughed and told me to live for the moment.

She was infuriating. I wanted to transform her, reason with her to love me beyond the summer. Yet if she changed, she would no longer be the entrancing enigmatic sprit I needed.

Only two oak leaves remained

By the end of October, only two oak leaves remained. The sky was crisp with cold and laden with cloud, and Silvia seemed physically shrunken and fragile in its grey light.

“What is it?” I asked.

She stood beneath the oak, scanning its branches.

“The summer grows old,” she said. Her voice crackled like the brittle litter of autumn underfoot. Her eyes found the leaves and she pointed.

One leaf I knew would never fall, how ever brown it became. I’d painted it in glue from leaf to stem to branch, unnatural and contrived, the deception becoming more obvious as it decayed.

The other leaf was a mystery. It was deep green and glossy, while around it the tree withered into gnarled skeletal fingers.

She whispers, “Our time is nearly over.”

Be here in the spring

A shaft of sunlight burns through the cloud, transforming the burnished woodland with orange and gold. Silvia glows, her spark of life ignited as if by summer lightning. She is vibrant and fresh again, like the mysterious leaf. She combs her fingers through her hair and holds out an acorn. I take it; she smiles.

I look into her verdant laughing eyes, and I suspect that she knows what I have done to preserve the dead leaf.

“Be here in the spring,” she says.

The light fades. Silvia is gone. The final leaf somersaults on the breeze.

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me kbyrom@dctmedia.co.uk