When October rain worked its way between the layers of fallen leaves, her scent reminded me of the forest after we had walked all morning through the conservation area. Sunlight illumined small, glowing embers that were merely fallen leaves just enough to make me believe we were walking through a purging fire. She remarked others did not love us the way we love each other.

“Should they,” I asked? “You’re right. Our relationship isn’t about them. It is about us.”

“It isn’t that,” she said. “We deserve love because we give love. I’m talking about more than a reciprocal arrangement. I am talking about investment of time, feelings, and patience.”

Her father had been an abusive alcoholic who took out his anger on the world on her mother. She had grown up afraid and had said she never wanted to be afraid again as she made me promise to be kind to her.

“Neruda, the poet, said. ‘Let us forget, with generosity, those who do not love us.’ I think about that often. That doesn’t mean we are entitled to love. Entitlement is a rough road where giving becomes a form of demanding. I gather Neruda was saying something to the effect that we have a right to refuse to love those who hurt us. Even the harmful, the monsters, deserve some measure of dignity but we have an obligation to offer them absolution and mercy and never withhold the power that resides in our generosity of spirit.”

“You’re talking very altruistically,” she said. “It is difficult to feel any of the spirit when someone is around the house ready to hit you without notice, or gut punch you if they come in late, reeking of booze, and so disoriented they had trouble standing up to put their key in the front door.”

“You are also right on that one,” I said. “You’re on a roll today. Maybe you should become a therapist as well.”

She turned and looked away, She was uncertain if I was mocking her or attempting to be empathetic, and there is a fine line between the two that so easily becomes blurred. All the way home, and the next day and the weeks after that she held me in contempt with icy silence until one morning she woke and the entire world was hushed.

The snow was falling, muffling the voice of the world, and she said she had nothing left to give. I asked why she was going. She replied that everything has a season. Spring would come someday and maybe she would return like the Greek goddess who was called away to the Shades on days when there was nothing to hear and even less desire to say what might be heard. She added she would die without her new man, and my heart broke. I wanted to cry but she wouldn’t hear my tears or see the words fighting to escape from my lips,

Neruda says there are emeralds in the earth. Crimson leaves are rubies. Removing them bleeds the earth dry.

“You’ll get over me,” she said.

I wouldn’t but at least I could say I was in a loving relationship, albeit a brief one, with a true jewel in the rough.

After she had packed her things and driven away, I stared out the window but what I couldn’t see was what I couldn’t hear and the longer I thought about what I had said during our walk through the valley as the trees shed pieces of their lives, the less I could remember our conversation. Memory becomes the silence of snow, Once the leaves fall, nothing can restore the barren boughs.

Bruce Meyer

Bruce Meyer is the author of 70 books of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. His stories have won or been shortlisted for numerous national and international prizes including this year's Lynn Fraser Fiction Prize from Freefall, the Fish Fiction Prize (IRE), the Bath Short Story Prize, the Carter V. Cooper Prize for Fiction, and a special Editor's commendation from the Edinburgh Flash Fiction Prize, His most recent collections of fiction are "Toast Soldiers" (Crowsnest Books), "Down in the Ground" (Guernica Editions) and the forthcoming collection of flash fiction, "Sweet Things" (Mosaic Press), and a collection of longer stories, "Magnetic Dogs" (Guernica). With Michael Mirolla, he co-edited the forthcoming anthology, "This Will Only Take a Minute" (Guernica) which is the first Canadian anthology of flash fiction. He lives in Barrie, Ontario, and is Professor of Communications at Georgian College.