Flash Fiction: Carotene

Photo by Kyle Charlton


I look outside to see the trees shimmy out of their skin. Leaves spiral down, sounding like soft footfalls.

I am overcome by an urge to clear the roads, parks, the roofs of houses. I itch to see bare surfaces, to perceive ground reality. Acting on impulse, my fingers turn to rakes, and I set out to pick up fallen leaves—aspen, maple, sweetgum. I sift through nature’s refuse.

The world is swirled in hibernation and Autumn is an entr’acte — the interlude before Spring’s sonata.

I am manic in my obsession to erase all traces of Winter. I stuff strewn leaves in the pockets of my jeans, my parka, even in the warm crevices of my boots. Before they congeal to peat, the leaves must be swept away.

Days and nights somersault into each other. Temperatures bend lower and lower, arching their backs like players in a game of limbo. The leaves turn brittle, their aged spines akimbo.

I make my way across deserted market squares and fields, collecting verdant waste. I eat wild berries and swallow their seeds. I guzzle snow. I attempt to consume Winter before it consumes me.

I cannot gauge my success. My heart is a wet log that is slow to kindle. I grimace at the sight of my hands. They have taken on a dull, orange-tainted glow. I pass my fingers through stalactites, scrape my palms against the dead bark. Nothing works. This is, of course, the occupational hazard of taking the life out of leaves. My sullied, muddied, ruddied hands.

Carotene floods through my body, rejecting haemoglobin. Arboreal replaces the corporeal. I hear the last of the ice crack.

Green tendrils snake up my veins, as Spring takes root in my heart.

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