A Memory in the Wind
By: Joseph Russell
Swaying back and forth, the shriveling orange leaf clung to its tree. This tree was not special or unique, except for one detail. In a forest full of barren trees, with winter just days away, and the brisk arctic winds settling in, this last leaf hung resolutely. With every gust of wind, it threatened to fall, yet there it hung desperately opposing nature’s forces.
At the base of this tree there stood a young man in a soldier’s uniform. He was looking around his army’s camp, more specifically at his comrades and fellow soldiers. They were preparing for the battle that would occur in less than an hour’s time. The young man had been preparing to head out with them, diligently polishing and cleaning his rifle, until a stray wind blew in and carried with it a faint scent. The scent tickled the man’s nostrils and flung his mind to thoughts of days that were only a month past. These thoughts were of his one true love and their last picnic.
Rachel and he had traveled by foot, holding hands, chatting, and passing quick glances at the other’s face. Finally they had come to their favorite spot right next to the riverbank. They ate their basket lunch, held hands, and told each other in many words over and over again how much they loved each other. They talked about things that young people in love talk about: how wonderful the world is, how happy life is, and how on that day the sky was tremendously blue. Then, at the end of that perfect day, just before they were to start the walk back, he took her hand and knelt before her. Pouring out his heart to her, he said, “Rachel, I love you with all my heart. There has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone as perfect for me as you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Pausing for a brief moment, he appeared to be searching for something more to say. But then he looked up at her, a desperate look on his face, and said, “Will you marry me Rachel?”
Looking deep into her eyes, he waited for what seemed like ages for an answer. The whole time she looked down at him with love, and finally gave a slight nod of her head followed by the single word he longed to hear, “Yes.” She pulled him to his feet, and they shared a long passionate kiss. The love they felt for each other seemed to radiate an aura around them; their happiness was constant. They ran the whole way back to her parent’s home, bursting with joy to spread the news.
Their joy was short lived. For the next day, a notice arrived at the young man’s door, giving him a mere three days to pack. The war that had hung over their lives for several months had finally called for him to go and fight. The young couple parted at the train station, ending their embrace just as the train began to pull away, causing him to run after it to climb aboard. As he quickly found his seat, they continued to wave good-bye even after the train had disappeared from view.
A tear came to his eye as he finally stopped waving and dropped his hand. It landed on top of his right pocket which, he was surprised to find, was not empty. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter. He ran it under his nose and smelled her perfume. He ripped open the envelope and greedily read the words his love had written for him,
I must tell you one last time that I love you. I implore you to hurry and finish this horrible war so that we may live our lives without further interruptions. I will think of you day and night and dream of that day when I become your wife. Please stay safe.
The words ran over in his mind while the perfume consumed him. Its fragrance was imprinted on his mind. Then another smell came to him.
Gunpowder. He shook his head and looked around. His comrades were preparing for battle, and he was back in his base. He bent down and picked up his weapon as the wind blew away the scent that had swept him to another place. Wiping his rifle once more, he joined his fellow soldiers falling into squad formation. Bravely, they marched off into the woods to face the enemy.
The tree, with the last leaf, stood watch over the base. Just as another brief wind passed through, with shots ringing nearby in the bare forest, the final leaf fell.