It was late afternoon. Joe sat at his desk shuffling papers as the tightness in his chest increased. This job is going to kill me, he thought. He turned away from his desk, away from the computer, away from the stress, and looked out the window to the huge maple tree that stood on the hill across from his window. Every year he watched the tree as it changed into deep colors of yellow, orange, and red. There had been times when he had taken photos because the beauty of the tree in its autumn glory had left him awestruck.
That was how Joe felt now, awestruck. Last year the drought had muted the colors. But this year the colors were brilliant. Joe stood up and took the couple of steps between the desk and the window and stayed there gazing out. The wind picked up and leaves blew away in the breeze. With the weather turning colder, the tree would be empty soon. Undressed as it were, for a long winter’s slumber.
The tightness in his chest hitched up, becoming more pain than pressure. This job is going to kill me, Joe thought again. Maybe it was time to let go. Maybe when the tree was completely bare, he mused, he would leave too. Walk away from the piles of reports and forms in near-toppling piles on his desk. Walk away from his computer where the email in-box filled with upwards of two hundred new emails daily. Away from the constant knocks at his door with someone wanting something from him. He could leave this job and never look back. He imagined himself at home with a framed photo of the tree in all its glory, smiling as he showed it to his beloved wife.
Then the old fears crept up. How to support his wife and his son, who was now in college, without this job. Maybe he could switch to a less stressful job, he pondered.
“The tree is so beautiful,” he said out loud, though no one was in the room. His mind made up, he turned from the tree back to his desk but didn’t make it into the chair. The pain seized hold of him. He clutched his chest unable to get a full breath, unable to call out for help. He fell, just missing the desk and chair. It seemed the air around him turned heavy, pushing him, but he couldn’t let go. Not until the tree is bare, he thought. He tried to let his body relax, to lessen the pain while he waited.
The door banged open. A man and a woman entered. The man walked over to the desk while the woman walked over to the window.
“I am sure I heard something this time,” she insisted. Her office was on the other side of the wall from Joe’s desk.
“I know, “ the man said, “I heard something too, but there’s no one in here.” He wouldn’t admit to her that this was not the first time he had heard a noise on the other side of the wall that he had shared with Joe.
“Maybe it was just the wind against the window.” He said looking out the window as the leaves slowly flew from the tree in a colorful parade.
“I don’t like it,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself, “It just feels so weird in here. Something just feels so off.”
He looked at her and frowned, “You’re being silly,” he declared, “You just feel that way because no one’s been in here since Joe passed away. Once they’re found his replacement and someone’s in here all the time, you won’t feel that way anymore.”
She dropped her gaze and rubbed her arms, letting out a long sigh. “You’re probably right,” she said, “I guess it’s just … you know … “ she faltered, “with him passing away so suddenly it just sometimes feels like he’s still here.”
His whole face scrunched in disapproval. “Joe had no reason to hang around here when he passed. He’s gone to a better place.” He looked out the window watching the leaves rustle and flutter in the wind, a few releasing into the autumnal dance before dropping from the breeze to the grown. It was hypnotic to watch but soon, he knew, the tree would be bare.
[Short story copyright November 2012 - Lelain de Peche]