The Leaf

Susanne Brandt
12.04.2015
 
The Leaf
I'll be back the day after tomorrow, he had said to his friends that evening.
Then he tried to sleep for a few hours, got up early, packed his backpack and walked down the road to the shore of the lake.

If he had taken the bus for the first kilometers, he would have made it to the cave quickly. But it wasn't about how quickly the goal was reached. The journey had to begin at the lake. Exactly where they had met for the first time, swimming. 24 years ago.

The trees, he thought, stopping in his tracks and looking upwards. The trees are still whispering their mysterious language that we sometimes try to understand when we walk silently beneath their crowns blowing in the wind. He wanted very much to see her from the side, when the leaves magically cast moving patterns with their shadows in her face. Many things about her had to do in special ways with motion: the fingers with which she drew strands of her hair away from her face and her smiling eyes that were so awake and at the same time gazed with such incredible warmth upon his face when they talked.

They often talked to one another. Argued as well, but that came later. In the initial weeks, they lost track of time and forgot everything that separated them when they told each other of the books they were currently reading. She loved stories with open endings. He was interested in everything that reached out to the boundaries of human imagination: the philosophical, especially however things to do with natural science. He was still convinced that she had learned the really thrilling things about space not in school, but in the wondrously clear starry nights there on the lake through his stories.

The lake was not the only place where they liked to meet. Not far away from the cave there was a small clearing in the woods, which seemed like a leaf-green chamber in summer. It was here for the first time that she unexpectedly seemed completely withdrawn. She would occasionally break off in the middle of a sentence, look away and say nothing for a long time. He never asked her about it. There was a kind of unspoken agreement between them to respect each other’s secrets.

Only after her disappearance did he ask himself now and then what kind of unspoken messages he had missed. Still, what he had discovered about her was not at all insignificant. With time, he had developed a good sense for when she was doing well and when she wasn’t. He could see in her expression when she was exhausted after practicing on the cello for hours. And he could see the joy in her face when a piece of music had begun to live not only in her fingers, but in her soul.

“As long as the music is not also alive within me, all the sounds I produce are dead”, she had often said. Sometimes it seemed to him as though she would listen to the world and search for something out in the woods that she could not find at home with her instrument.


Every now and then he would wait in vain at the clearing in the woods because she didn't appear at the agreed time. Since she had never gotten a telephone, there had to be a different means of sending messages. And so, at some point the cave came into play.

The cave wasn’t far from the clearing, nor was it large. It was simply an indent in a wall of stone, barely large enough for two people to find shelter from bad weather and passing strangers.

From the village on the other side of the mountain she would have to run about four kilometers to the cave. For her that was still far better than letting herself be distracted by a telephone from playing, thinking or dreaming. Telephones were time-killers that busted - unasked - into one’s hours and thoughts, she once explained to him.

A walk through the woods was in contrast a gift of time, one that actually was able to bring back together the torn threads of thoughts.
Whenever she was not able to make an appointment, she would take it gladly upon herself, even at night, to walk the path to the cave to leave there for him in a well-protected crack in the rock a small, piece of paper, so full of words. Most of the time such a letter contained a suggestion for a new meeting and several friendly, after a few months even tender, words.

For that reason he was not immediately worried when she did not show up as planned at the clearing in the woods 20 years ago to the day. First he waited for a while. Then he made his way to the cave and searched with his fingers as usual in the small, secure place; then he wondered to himself, and felt for something again. The place was empty.

All those years they had been meeting regularly, he had never visited her at home. Where she lived he could only roughly guess based on a few things she had said. When he still did not hear from her a week later, the first thing he did was to try and search for her. But no one seemed to know her. And their letter spot in the cave also remained empty – weeks, months, years.

At some point he stopped looking.
He had not been back to the cave in 17 years, even though the thought that he had possibly missed something had never completely left his mind.
Naturally, he had made other attempts to find her. Unfortunately, neither the internet nor people in the area could help him out at all with her name. “Lara Lento” she had introduced herself as in the beginning. And because a melody resounded in those words, one that seemed to fit her, he never once doubted the name at all.

All of the memories accompanied him as he once again took the path from the lake to the clearing in the woods and then from the woods to the cave. The cave had hardly changed over all those years. Effortlessly, he found the crack in the rock; his hand trembled as he began to feel around the cavity with his fingers.
This time he did not find nothing. Between the stones he felt something. And then he saw it too: evidently over the years something secret and hidden had grown, found nourishment and had now filled the entire crack in the rock with fresh green leaves and small flowers.

Carefully he pulled his hand back. One of the paper-thin leaves was stuck to his finger. He stepped back from the cave, stretched his hand with the leaf to the sun and waited until the leaf flew away on its own. As though blown by a gentle breath, it wafted away. He followed the leaf with his eyes. Then he turned and walked away.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
 
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