When Leaves Fall
I watched my father’s body dissolve. He had always insisted that the virus was a hoax unleashed by the media, and that it would pass over like any other exaggerated-for-viewership story. He died peacefully, in his worn armchair, as if he had fallen asleep. His body was gone in moments. Dad’s death was just as easy and convenient as we expected, as recounted by friends, family, online videos—a death free from mess, or funeral expenses, or rounding up distant acquaintances for a memorial.
It was a quiet death, with no remains or evidence—which is why the virus wormed undetected for so long and was so long ignored. There was no hemorrhaging or pain; it lacked the dramatic death throes that we love to watch so much in movies, with the victim's eyes rolling back in their heads and their mouths open in agony, as if their every atom was being crucified. People vanished—all flesh, hair, and bone disintegrating in a moment.
And then it was winter in June. Leaves disappeared from trees and shrubs, and grass sucked into dirt. Tree branches stretched like desperate hands or exposed human vessels. Everywhere there was cement, industrial skylines indistinguishable from the gray sky; the stone-pallor of corpses in the streets, visible for a second before they crumbled into themselves. People lay where they sank, like toppled trees, as people walked around them in the streets, seconds later the empty space was swallowed by passerby. Entire households woke up together; their laughter turned silent by nightfall.
During this time, the government broadcasted reassurance, promises of free healthcare assistance and medical breakthroughs. The news was filled with white-coated scientists bustling in pristine labs that looked like Apple stores. Job listings for medical volunteers went up everywhere.
Most people did not panic. My family and friends discussed the latest disappearances, complained about the lack of fresh food, swapped new recipes involving canned foods and dried legumes. There were whispered rumors of a breakthrough in the labs; something about monkeys. Everyone talked about the virus passing over in time, how the news (“fake news,” our President called it) exaggerated the death tolls for ratings.
Finally, the president appeared on TV, bedecked in a blue suit and red tie, a flame of color in a charcoal-drawing world. His office’s egg cream curtains, the green tint of the outside world pouring in through the lattice of window panes, the endless oak of his desk, were indicators that the world hadn’t changed. He smiled, he looked fierce and proud, he thanked us for our courage, and stuck out his hands like he was about to grab our shoulders and kiss us, or pinched his fingers and flung them in rhythms in the air—he the conductor; we the faithful orchestra.
We will come out of this stronger than before and we will prevail, he said lifting a small fist in victory and we roared with him.
The President broke off his speech, paused and looked beyond the camera, as if taking directions from an aide. We talked in the lull, only going silent when the President released a loud huff of breath before slumping forward on the expanse of his desk, head bowed as if in grave respect to his viewers.
We waited, nodding and smiling, for the president to rouse himself, to conclude this moment of silence or prayer or whatever it was, congratulating ourselves on the durability of the human race and our country’s ability to rise above this not especially alarming disaster, and we thought of a tomorrow where the sun will rise on a nation of strong people, with color come back to gardens and parks, and leaf on trees again—all of it, an insurmountable testament to life.
And we waited. We waited. We watched the top of the president's fallen head, wispy blond hair ruffling as if from a breeze. Listened to the clamor of voices and movement off-camera. We watched as the broadcast cut out, replaced by dirty blocks of primary colors—the ‘We Interrupt This Broadcast’ bulletin—but not before the President disappeared, like a curtain opening, revealing the spindly spokes of the oak chair behind him.