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I’ve vowed do it when the last leaf falls. There are still three clinging on- brown, desiccated, wizened things. At night time they take on a different appearance. The cherry tree burns in the orange glow of a streetlight. On the tip of a low branch two leaves overlap, a third hangs below, silhouetted against the sky. A black crow. A black crow waiting for me to act.
I’ll know when it happens. Within a few hours at any rate. I don’t go out much anymore and the tree is just outside the front window. I like it best in May when it’s a cloud of pink blossom afloat on the lawn. A present for my birthday every year. The tree doesn’t forget.
I didn’t plant it but I did nurture it from young. I cut the stake that was strangling its trunk; I removed the vines that wound like veins along its branches. I cut it back in the summer to encourage new growth and I raked its leaves in the autumn. And now it’s home to the crow, the crow that shivers and rustles in the breeze.
Everything’s prepared but it’s good to have a deadline to work to. I’ve moved a table under the front window so I can keep watch. I eat there and work there. To borrow a cliché- it’s my window on the world.
There’s a huge tree in my neighbour’s garden that dwarfs my little cherry. It’s a scots pine- a slender, straight trunk four stories high and a crown that at night looks like the ace of clubs. The big birds roost there- the magpies, the pigeons and the collared doves. Down here tiny sparrows, robins and yellow finches balance precariously on branches thin and crooked like witch’s fingers and then flit away. Leaving my black crow alone.
There was a strong wind last night and I feared the worst. The crow has lost a wing. Two leaves remain and when they are gone I will make the phone call. The call that marks the end or the beginning. You can look at it both ways.
At night I see foxes and a hedgehog now and again. I tap on the window and the fox freezes. It moves, I tap and it freezes again. A cruel game. Am I afraid like my fox? There are birds in my belly and I do not eat. This morning I dragged Daddy’s old armchair closer to the window. I can sleep in there with a blanket and a pillow. And continue my vigil. The contraction continues.
It has been raining all day. I fear that the remaining leaves will become soaked and heavy. Dead, wet leaves lie black around the base of the tree like a pool of blood. I count the time by the rain as it drips from the blocked gutter above the bedroom. The water falls past my window and splashes into the rose border. Only the roses have long since died and no amount of water will revive them. Inside the stems they are as dry as old bones.
One good thing- with the heating off there is no condensation to impede my view. People pass. The postman passes by. My tree doesn’t hide me in the leafless months. Do they see me here? A little girl did. She was wearing a red coat buttoned up against the cold. She waved a tiny hand. Her mother pulled her away before I could wave back. Are they frightened of my face behind the window?
And now only the tail of my crow remains. One leaf left. Bills are paid. Bags are packed. I wait. I watch. It blew a gale again during the long night. I listened to the evergreens whooshing like pebbles in the tide. The little cherry bent and shook, swayed and bowed. But as long as I watched, the leaf clung on.
Like the tree, I too am wavering. The feverish thoughts of the night. I could set a new deadline; perhaps when the first snowflake lands or, looking further ahead, when the first bud forms. Or when the cuckoo calls or when the clocks go forward again or…
I missed it! The leaf has fallen, my crow has flown. My heart goes BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM. Mustn’t think. Pick up the phone. Hand trembling. Ring the number. Blood in my ears. Ring ring. I can still call it off. Ring ring. I’ll give it six rings and then hang up. Ring.
A man’s voice.