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Fall Portrait

A woman passes through each season of life

Once, there was a little girl with two pigtails. She was a joy to all those around her and was constantly happy. Her backpack was a bright red, and her shoes were a colorful pink. Her small feet carried her across a new street, and she skipped and skipped her way toward a woman who wore a placid face and held a silence that even the innocent little girl could hear. The woman didn’t look up, but instead kept on raking those beautiful autumn leaves. The girl passed by with the smallest glance at the strange woman and then skipped all the way to her first day of school.

At school, she learned and learned and played and played. The girl lost her pigtails and then her ponytail and finally had her hair down straight. She was one moment the happiest person on Earth, then the next moment crying through school. She was in a constant state of tears and laughter and much-regretted idleness. She stopped her skipping after a year and started running after three, for bullies ran fast. But in time, she slowed down to a walk. Her red backpack was lost and so was her green one, and at some point she had none. And finally, after all that change, winter came, and she went down the street again.

She was nervously walking, tripping over her heels and carrying a stack of books. She headed toward the old woman whose face remained unchanged except for her hair, which had become grey. By then, the woman walked with a limp but still kept on shoveling and shoveling snow. Her tired rags were dirty and smelled of a stink that made the girl remember a much darker time. However, the grown child had only a whispered thought of the sad woman. She instead looked toward the future.

In college, she learned and studied some more. The grown child became a young adult, and then a lady. She learned the rules and the laws of the world. After some time, she understood unfairness and started growing attached to the independence of adulthood. Her days were filled with another round of battles. She was shunned, hated, loved, disliked, envied, and many more things. Her hair was dyed a bold red, and her bitten nails suddenly became shiny and covered with a new layer of polish. She tripped less and developed a gracefulness. But, once more, the seasons changed, and spring came.

The dead branches littered the ground and the new blossoming of flowers could be seen everywhere. The birds sang a lovely song, and the sun shone over the land once again. The girl, now a woman, headed toward her new job and walked with solemn dignity. The street was silent except for the clicking of the elegant heels that the young woman wore and the shuffling of worn shoes. The owner of those shoes was the sad woman who was picking up large fallen branches. She had finally become old. Her hair was turning white and wrinkles had appeared on her skin. Her limp had turned into a stumble, but she kept working with a stubborn resilience.

The young woman didn’t even look at the old woman anymore. She kept her head held high and walked onward. The young woman worked and worked and learned manners too. She made some new friends who took her a long way, and she grew a bit more. The woman’s heels turned to boots, then to sandals. Her evenings, once filled with parties, eventually became dates. The woman soon turned into a bride and then to a wife and, at some point, a mother. And after all that growing, it turned to summer, and the mother strolled onto the same street.

The sky was a bright blue, and the birds were singing a happy song. The mother took slow, deliberate steps with her stomach the size of a balloon. Her hair was curled and had lost its red tint. Her face was full of happiness and a glow surrounded her. But the glow did not reach the old woman who still stood on the street. She was slowly trimming the bushes. The old woman had shrunk to the size of a child. Her face drooped, but her eyes still held defiance in them. However, the new mother saw nothing and continued walking toward motherhood.

The days turned into nights and then into days. The mother was filled with worry and happiness and sadness. Her baby cried and cried, and she wept and wept—for one moment the baby grew too fast, and the next the baby seemed to not grow at all. The mother always gave up each evening and started anew each morning. The baby turned into a girl, then a woman, then a wife and finally a mother herself. The new grandmother looked upon her children and grandchildren and thought about how far she had come. Her hair turned grey and her eyes dull. And slowly, again, the winds blew by, and the weather became cold, for fall had come once more.

Leaves fell softly onto the ground. The grandmother walked with a deliberate ease through the wild weeds and puddles. The bushes and trees were overgrown, and leaves littered the ground. Near the side of the road lay an old wooden rake. A rake that she knew was part of some long-forgotten memory.

There was a sad song in the wind. A song that told a story. The grandmother suddenly stopped and listened. She didn’t hear words, but instead, a soft lament that swayed the trees. She looked around and sought for the reason to mourn. There was no one around. No funeral was arranged, no memory, nothing of the woman remained except the voice in the wind. The grandmother stared at the empty road and realized who was missing. Her heart shattered and tears streamed down her cheeks. She wept on the ground for the old woman and cried until the sky was no more.

When finally she stopped, she looked up to see the rake that had been forgotten too. The grandmother stepped forward and picked up the rake. Then, she began to rake the beautiful autumn leaves.

Rachael Ding
Rachael Ding, 13
Cupertino, CA

Mia Fang
Mia Fang, 13
West Lafayette, IN