by Lissa Staples
I am walking Beau around the puddle known as Swan Lake. Well, it’s a little more than a puddle but I’m from Connecticut where most ponds dwarf this cupful wherein no swans swim.Beau the boxer, eighty pounds of four-legged joy, is bounding deerlike along the shoreline whose woody smells remind me of back East and the broad lawn which my father raked every fallinto one long cornucopia of autumn through which our dogs chased each other, the tunnels of terrier undulating with their bodies. I too ran through the ruby valentines and coins of gold – leaves still supple with sap - breathing October, shivering with happiness while Father watched, patient and nonverbal, content with my presence, steadily assembling the leaves into a pyramid. A last chance to cannon-bomb before the book of matches emerged from his pocket, the tiny stick tugged free, the snick of the head against the striker strip, the flare of phosphorous, the miracle of fire. My father bending to touch the tiny flame to compass points. The blue-gray billows. The crackle of the burn,both of us watching the smoke curl over the trees. This was whenI felt closest to him and didn’t question his habit of silenceas the façade of the house patiently observed the ritual, my mother’s face in the window, the distance between my parents not remarkable then until, like the leaves, one fall he was gone. But I knew nothing about such things, only that the next morning, on my way to the bus stop, there was the lawn, pristine except for one scorched circle. In my coat pocket was the maple leaf I had saved, still red with love, curling like a hug, safe in my hand as if one can truly hold something as delicate, as perishable, as love.