He was the last leaf left clinging to a late autumn tree. That which nourished him had done its part and now left him with nothing more than a five-foot fall to look forward to. The wind whipped against his skin reminding him that the world, with all its might, was doing what it could to give him that extra push he so craved. He had never neared an edge, not one high enough worth leaving. But in his head he had. And in his head he fantasized about the sublime, all-encompassing bliss one must feel in the moments before impact.
She was the first winds of winter, ushering in the end of autumn. She lived to whip away those leaves that were too timid to let go of life on their own. Some would say such a life is heartless, but she knew that without an end, beginnings mean next to nothing. She made sure never to let them fall too fast, carrying each leaf along as it meandered toward the ground. It was in these twists and turns of descent that life was lived in the fullest and she had no intention of stealing that away from anyone.
He elbowed his way through the crowd of familiar strangers. All around he saw faces he’d seen before belonging to people he used to know. He did not shy away from making eye contact. If he had, he would miss the moment he most enjoyed. That moment was, as most moments are, a moment between two others. The first moment was when the familiar stranger recognized him. Their eyes would gain a glisten and their brows would spike in excitement. The final moment was when the stranger remembered where they knew him from and inevitably realized that the excitement they so enjoyed was unwarranted. It was the transitional moment, between their remembering him and their remembering why they tried to forget him, which he was so keen on making sure the familiar stranger saw him see. Most would do the polite thing and act as if they never noticed the faded friend in the first place. But he made sure they saw him see, he needed them to know he had caught them casting their shared memories aside. He looked around the room and realized it would be a night full of half-hearted, retina-restricted reunions. Such was life on a small college campus.
He looked down at his half empty cup and headed for the keg. There was no line which he assumed meant it was empty. Even so, he held onto hope and started pumping.
“Did you kill it?” asked a voice from behind.
He turned around to find a truly unfamiliar face. She stood in a forest green romper with her left leg firmly locked at the knee and the other aimed off aimlessly. Her dark brown hair would look long on him but on her seemed short.
“Kill what?” he asked.
“Oh. I don’t know if it’s dead but if it is it wasn’t me that killed it, it was everybody else. I just got here.”
“But you are pumping it. You must think there is at least a little left.”
“Yeah, I was. I guess that’s the optimist in me.”
“You don’t look like an optimist.”
“You don’t take up enough space. Optimists take up their entire space. You cave in on yourself, like you’re trying to be in this world as little as possible.”
“That’s… great to hear.”
Their words took a hiatus, broken by her asking, “Do you want to get out of here?”
“No, I think I’m good.”
“Cool, cool. I was planning on staying too. Let’s dance.”
“I don’t really do that.”
She took his hand in hers and led him to the middle of the mob. She danced like a hippie having a seizure, wielding a smirk on her face that screamed “happiness is a choice.”
She was mouthing something he couldn’t quite make out.
Hesitantly, he leaned close enough to hear her say, “Man, it’s so loud in here.”
“It must be the drum machine” he replied, doubtful she would get the reference.
“You know this used to be a corner store?” she said with a smile.
All at once the lights flashed on and the walls retreated, expanding the room. The black licorice floor was washed white as tiles stretched out from his feet in all directions. They blearily reflected the fluorescent lights lining the aisles. He was soon flanked by shelves of industrial cleaning supplies. Across from him stood a short woman wearing a forest green polo tucked in to khaki pants. She had a name tag on that read “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”
Wielding a jug of off-brand Drano, she impatiently said “I don’t know what you are looking to do with it but yeah the only difference really is the label.”
He reached his hand out to meet hers half way as she offered him the jug. When his hand made contact with hers, the room fell back to black and he was across from his hippie high priestess once more. Their hands overlapped as she passed him a drink. He drank the drink in a hurry.
“Another then?” she asked.
“Definitely. Should I come with you or should we meet back here or…”
“Sure” she said. So he followed her, trailing a few steps behind.
On their way, she was approached by a face from the faceless crowd.
“Hey Trixie! I feel like haven’t seen you this whole semester.”
“We’re only five weeks in.”
“Tell me about it, shit’s crazy!”
Just then he caught up to her. He noticed the face she was talking to immediately, but didn’t say anything. Neither did she.
After a while the face broke the silence, “are you gonna introduce me to your friend there Pixie?”
“We met freshman year, your name is Derrick. You’re from Austin and pretend like that’s the south.”
“Oh shit my man, I don’t remember. I must have been trashed!”
“You were drunk as fuck when we met but you still called me Pixie just now.”
“Yeah, well… yeah. I mean it’s just so good to see you again. Like really good.”
She grabbed his hand and began to lead him away, turning to ask the face if he wanted another drink. The face smiled and started to reply but not before they were well out of earshot.
They couldn’t talk much as they snaked their way through the crowd, but when they reached the keg he asked “Did he just call you Pixie?”
“That guy, Derrick, he kept calling you Pixie.”
“No, he was calling me Trixie.”
“Oh, okay, well it’s nice to meet you Trixie, my name is…”
“That’s not my real name, that’s just the name I give guys like him.”
“What name do you give guys like me?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” she said with a smile.
“Do you want to get out of here?”
“Do skeletons have teeth?” she replied. He couldn’t say for sure if they did or not, but he smiled and she smiled too. These skeletons had teeth, and that was enough for him. And so began our leaf’s five-foot fall.
He grew up to be a writer, even though he never wanted to be a writer. He didn’t respect it, in his mind, anyone could write. But he only felt that way because it came easy to him. And it only came easy to him because he had low standards of excellence. He wrote well enough to feed his habit, mostly instruction manuals. One of the proudest achievements of his career was getting contracted to write for Ikea. It was a thankless job, he never had his name attached to any of his work and he knew more often than not people ignored it all together, reasoning they could figure assembly out themselves. On occasion, he did write what others considered to be creative work. He didn’t see it as creative because he was merely relaying his reality, but the world around him found it so foreign they assumed it was fiction. He had one piece published, but it was nothing to be proud of. A local newspaper interviewed him about it.
“The protagonist of your most recent work, ‘Last Leaf’, idealizes death as an escape but is unable to make that escape on his own. What are readers meant to make of this? Are we meant to understand his desire to die as ill-conceived?”
“No, not ill-conceived. His desire to leave this world is genuine and well thought out. His body is just too afraid to put into action what his mind desires. It’s a lot like when you go on a zip line. On the way there you are nothing but excited, then you get fifty feet in the air and they tell you to jump and you just can’t do it. In your head, you know nothing bad will happen, that it will be a liberating experience. But your gut cements your body to the platform. Eventually, most people are able to override their instincts. Some people can’t and have to climb back down the ladder. And then there are those who just need a little push from the guide up there with them. I was inspired by a lyric from one of my favorite artists, he writes ‘used to drive around at night contemplating suicide / I was too scared to do it couldn’t even buy the nine / but I figure all these drugs gonna get it done fine.’”
“But this seems to normalize suicide, misrepresenting it as a solution when really it is an end. How do you rationalize perpetuating that misconception?”
“Despite what many will tell you, artists have no responsibility to instill good values in their audience. Raising someone right is up to nature and nurture not literature. Regardless, your question is based on the assumption that there is no after life. Now I’m not saying there is one, but how can you be so sure there isn’t one? Those too skeptical to believe in an afterlife must realize that to believe in the lack of an afterlife is just as uncertain. Disbelief is just as assumptious as belief. You may not be religious, but I urge you not to count any possibilities out on the basis of unfounded assumptions simply because faith is a risk.”
“Well perhaps, but even if you believe in the afterlife surely you don’t believe you can take your loved ones with you. What about those you leave behind?”
“I never said I believed in the afterlife, I said I couldn’t say for sure one way or the other. And as far as the whole argument that suicide is selfish because of the loved ones behind left behind… well, I just don’t really entertain it.”
“So you do think you take your loved ones with you?”
“Again, not what I said. Let me explain it like this. Did you go to college?”
“Well, of course, I mean these days…”
“Right, so you went to college, and I’m sure you knew at least one person who transferred after freshman year.”
“Yes, actually I myself transferred.”
“Great, so you transferred schools. Why did you transfer?”
“Well there are a lot of reasons but mostly I just didn’t feel like I fit in. I mean I had friends but I just didn’t seem to enjoy my time on campus as much as everyone else.”
“These friends of yours, what did they say when you told them you were transferring?”
“They said they would miss me but that I should do what’s best for me.”
“Exactly. Now you see my point I’m sure.”
“Alright, well, I guess my next question is in regards to the protagonist’s wife. Many have expressed complaints that she falls into the trope of a ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.’ How do you counter that accusation?”
“I don’t, she is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. People get too caught up on trying to avoid clichés. Here’s a little secret about writing, cliché is king. That’s how I got into writing in the first place. In 8th grade I wrote a story about a guy who lost his mind and murdered his whole family. I essentially strung together as many clichés as I could and ended up winning an award for the piece. Things don’t just arbitrarily become cliché, they are cliché because they are true, and in writing, clichés are cliché because they work. Look at The Hobbit or Star Wars. Both are filled with archetypal characters following a Hero’s Journey narrative and yet both are wildly successful. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
What I find more interesting, what I would have asked me if I was doing this interview, is what it means that the world perceives her character as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Her only function in the narrative is to open his eyes to the parallels between alcohol and poison. He has this vision of buying Drano in a corner store and once he returns from that vision he realizes she can serve as his guide on the zip line of suicide. He doesn’t love her, he loves what she represents: a way out. Maybe people missed that, maybe they saw her as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl because they thought she saved him from himself by showing him what it was to love. Or maybe, people did understand her Kevorkian role and labeled her Manic Pixie Dream Girl anyways. Because they understood that, for him, she was all he ever dreamed of.”
“I see, well, that’s certainly one approach to writing. I have one final question.”
“Yeah, it is one approach and I bet it’s one you use, I bet your last question is something about where to buy my book.”
“Well, yes but I would argue the writing I do is different from…”
“Sure. You can find my book on Amazon or in the Self-help section of your local book store.”
The interview never got published.
Having made a lifetime out of those blissful moments preceding impact, he lived out his fantasy in full. The impact, when it finally came, was much warmer, much more welcoming, than he had ever dreamed it would be.
His name never appeared in the obituaries. The funeral was sparsely attended. Of the few there, most would have been seen as familiar strangers in his eyes. When they went to offer her their condolences, they spoke of his passing as a tragedy. And it was tragic, but only so much as it’s tragic having to shoot a deer in the head with the hopes that what awaits it is better than the fate you gave it when you hit it with the front of your car on your way to pick up your son from soccer practice on an idle Saturday.
Winter’s here for but a while as Spring soon makes all new. Fall and summer falter too, all that starts must end. A life is lived between these first and final moments. Seasons change and leaves release, some by way of wind.