Fall by Zoë Ruiz, with a photo by Alexander Gilbert

Photo by Alexander Gilbert
Photo by Alexander Gilbert

More of Alexander Gilbert’s work can be found here.

 

My sister says that my father will die soon, and the leaves on the tree turn yellow. When the leaves are gone, my father will be gone, too. I stand on the balcony each morning, drink a cup of coffee, and look down at the tree in the backyard. From the thin branches, leaves drop one by one, unless there is wind. Then they spiral in the air and drop to the ground in clumps of yellow.

***

In the forest, where it is dark and cold, pine trees cover the sky above the creek, and the water reflects shades of green and brown. The rocks in the water shine like silver, and in the middle of the creek, a tree glows yellow. I balance on the rocks until I am standing beside the tree. I hold my breath and reach out my hand. My fingers touch a large yellow leaf and I believe that I am touching my father’s death.

***

The sunlight streamed through the yellow curtains and I noticed the whites of my boyfriend’s eyes were yellow. It was Valentine’s Day. I left him on Valentine’s Day. I drove down the 101 to Malibu. I sat on the sand underneath the glare of the sun and wrote him a letter on a legal pad. I was at Zuma Beach while he was in an emergency room in Oakland. That was eight years ago, but the yellow of that day is with me now.

***

I tear off a piece of white sage and say thank you to the plant on the hillside. I rub the fresh sage into the palm of my hands and breathe in the scent. I walk along the dusty trail for miles, place one foot in front of the other for hours. I pause to look at the forest. Thank you, I say to the mountains. I sweat and feel exhausted and empty. I sit down and bite into an apple. A woodpecker drums its beak on a tree above me and I say, Thank you.

***

In the backyard, the tree is bare and my father is still alive. The man is skeletal. His translucent skin hangs loose from his thin bones. Each of his ten fingers are crooked and bent, and he holds them in the air, above his sunken chest. He has little lung capacity left. He opens his mouth, his teeth are rotten, and he says, Help me. His voice is a whisper, and repeatedly, like a prayer, my father says, Help me.

***

The storm causes strong winds and hard rainfall. Rocks slide from the hillside onto the narrow and curvy road that leads to the forest. Trees and branches collapse onto the muddy trail. The forest is blocked off to the public. The forest is deemed unsafe.

***

Paris is attacked. An attempted bombing and mass shooting takes place at a holiday party in San Bernardino. My father is dying in a room in Burbank. A man with a gun enters a clinic that offers abortion services and kills three people in Colorado Springs. Nine women who work in the adult film industry accuse their Los Angeles-based male coworker of rape. My sister says that she fantasizes about driving off a cliff, that she will be dead before any of us. I do not sleep well these days but then again who does.

***

I listen to the rain and look at the mountains. I take down the dry sage that is hanging from my bedroom wall. I light a match and hold the flame to the tip of a leaf and the whitish-green leaf turns into a bright yellow flame. The flame turns into an ember and smoke rises. I wave the sage slowly around my body. Black ashes fall on the floor and the sharp scent of sage fills my room.

 

Zoë Ruiz lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in The Weeklings, Salon, The Rumpus, Two Serious Ladies, and the anthology California Prose Directory (2014). She is also a freelance books editor and publicist and has worked for Kaya Press, Phoneme Press, and Writ Large Press. She curates a LA-based reading series called “readings.”