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Leaves Chelsea Hart The world was falling asleep. Leaves had burned red and orange for weeks, but now they littered the asphalt around my feet, unimportant and forgotten by the very trees who’d given such careful effort to growing them not so long ago. They crunched and ran in the wind, a nuisance to be removed by rakes and leaf blowers now. The grass was somewhere between green and brown. The world was almost still pretty. But given another couple weeks, the grass would be dead, the trees would be naked sticks jutting up from the cold ground, and the leaves would be dusted over with snow. Not pretty at all. Given a little time, things would get green again. A never-ending cycle oldened long before anything gave a thought about using legs to get around. Right here, right now, that cycle was locking down for the winter. It was just about the time the city usually decided to drain the pond at the local duck park, but they had- n’t gotten to it yet. The water was dark and cold. Barges of leaves unlucky enough to miss dry ground were help- lessly tossed around. Gusts of sharp wind rippled the water’s surface. Sitting in the middle of this water was a lone, brown duck. It looked sad. Like it knew it had missed the migratory boat, and now it was just her and the shouldn’t-be pond. She belonged here. The palette of the scenery was varying shades of brown, and she was close to the color of dirt. Fitting. The duck would drift north for a little while, flick a webbed foot and float east for a bit. Then south and west. Headed everywhere but going nowhere. The water would split out behind her, showing where she’d been. It didn’t seem to help her though. She kept turning in the same places, swimming the same circle, as if the decision to pick one direction was too big. She was just a little duck. Probably no more than three pounds of tiny bones and soft feathers. A head the size of a golf ball left little room for thoughts. And decision required thoughts. Usually lots of them. So the duck didn’t decide. She dipped her bill into cold gray water and shook the gathering beads off her back and just floated. The wind spoke. Leaves scattered. The duck changed direction. A squirrel scratched his way up an old oak, panicked over the doom he would suffer should he not collect enough food for the cold months. It was re- assuring to see all this life going on, taking no notice of the mighty problems of mankind. The duck’s problems were mighty enough for her. The squirrel had plenty to worry about. The leaves didn’t have time to worry. The sky was dark now because the sun had left this side of the world for tomorrow somewhere else. Headlights would go by every now and then. Some of the newer cars had lights bright enough to reach the park. The duck was still in the pond, but the squirrel was gone. Maybe it had found another tree to scale. The browns of the day had become purple and gray and black. Tiny points of light dotted the blackness above the horizon. After a while, one of the cars driving by swooped into the lot and a man folded himself out of the front seat. He took his time walking to the utility shed and disappeared inside. A moment later a noise cut through the quiet and pumps began their long work of draining the pond. When the man started his car and the headlights once again lit up the pond, the duck was gone. 11