For a brief moment, James stopped and stared at the miracle, transfixed by a reverence that seemed to have materialized in his heart out of nothingness. He was late for his next appointment, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Or, at least not in such a hurry that he didn’t have time for admiring a miracle. After all, miracles were in unusually short supply these days.
“The leaves are beginning to turn,” James noted consciously, as his mind caught up with his soul. He loved it when the leaves turned. He liked to watch the slow, steady, and incomprehensibly-instantaneous transformation from green to gilt-edged, to gold and crimson and ripe barley. Something in the death-process of the leaves stirred that part of him which was still capable of feeling anything without first being exposed to a glowing screen.
It was good to feel.
Musing on nothing but feeling something, he reached the door that marked the entrance to the next scheduled block on his calendar: an appointment with his counselor.
As far as counselors went, so far as James knew, Mike Smith was decent enough. Mike’s office, which was also his house, which was also his cat’s house, (an order of descriptive priority that the cat, a tabby whose purpose for existence, it seemed, was to provide a perfect and living definition of the word “supercilious”, would undoubtedly have taken exception too if he could be bothered to give his opinion on the matter) was pleasant enough.
But James had about had enough. He was sick of counseling. He was sick of scheduling blocks on his calendar for being counseled.
And he was sick of the cat.
So, James’ presence on the stoop that day was not an exuberant one, his reverence pouring out from a hole somewhere near his elbow as he raised his hand to knock on the door. The steps he took inside, the return greeting he gave, and the manner with which he undid his coat’s zipper, could have been described as lackadaisical if they had not so effectively communicated his doneness with it all.
And James was done, he told himself for the umpteenth time.
And he was tired. He didn’t typically walk as far as he had to come here today. Mike had somehow gotten the idea that James’ walking to their next counseling appointment would benefit James somehow. James wasn’t entirely clear on the concept, but it included a great many words from Mike about “fresh air” and “change of scenery” and “consciousness” and other worn-out clichés about the benefits of eschewing convenience.
But James was not one of the iron-willed, self-deterministic members of society. Indeed, James was part of that significant subset of humanity that seems to exist for the sole purpose of doing what other people tell them to do. He liked to pretend that he was capable of independent existence. But he wasn’t. Like many others, James was only happy when he had someone telling him what to do. That way he could mentally complain about them while he did whatever it was that they wished him to do and thereby give meaning to his otherwise meaningless existence.
So James had walked to his appointment today.
And he sat down in the austere fabric chair across from Mike’s plush leather one. Mike Smith was one of those counselors clichéd enough to recommend walking to appointments, but he wasn’t clichéd enough to have a chaise lounge for his counselees to lay upon while he asked them about their childhood. And he certainly wasn’t one to scratch illegible notes on a yellow legal pad and mutter insightful “uh-huhs” at appropriate intervals while James was speaking either. He used a phone with a large screen and was strictly silent except for when he was talking.
It was James who supplied the “uh-huhs.” Mike was prone to long speaking fits. He would break out into one after every few answers James gave to his questions. James would maintain eye contact with Mike, nod appreciatively on occasion, and utter appropriate “uh-huhs” whenever Mike delivered some rehearsed line that he thought was smart and seemed to be trying out for the book he was writing. Mike fancied himself an expert on some esoteric branch of some field or another and, like most self-fancied experts, couldn’t resist at least a small amount of preening in front of the less-informed members of society.
James fit the bill. In fact, he barely qualified for “less-informed.” Like a boulder levered out of rest by external force and bounding down a hillside, James operated less on information than on sheer momentum.
He was in counseling because the sentencing judge in his drunk and disorderly conduct case had told him to be in counseling, along with completing 30 hours of community service.
The reason the case had been one of drunk and disorderly conduct with a sentence of court-ordered counseling and community service instead of the more serious charges of public nudity, defacement of government property, and drunk and disorderly conduct was because he did what his lawyer told him to do and pled guilty to the lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence and having the other charges dropped.
The reason he didn’t also have to negotiate a charge of assaulting a police officer was that he had done what the police officer told him to do and stopped peeing on the officer’s car instead of swinging at the officer like his friend Joey had.
The reason James had been peeing on the car that night was that he had been doing what Joey told him to do: namely, to go out on the town, then to drink more than he could handle, and then to urinate on a parked police car while Joey filmed the incident.
And the reason he was out drinking with Joey was that when James’ girlfriend, Amanda, had replied to his request for her to join him out on the town with an “I’m busy. Ask someone else,” he had.
“Uh-huh,” James mumbled, not because anyone had told him to, but because it felt like it was time.
After the hour was up, James left the chair, zipped his coat, replied to Mike’s farewell, and stepped back outside. He mindlessly groped around his pockets before realizing that he had walked here and would have to walk back now.
Grumbling vaguely to himself, he set back off in the general direction he had come from earlier. He crossed wide sidewalks and narrow streets before coming to the path through the park that stretched out across the lane from his apartment. He stopped there, ostensibly to catch his breath.
Instead, he pulled out his phone. No badge icons to indicate a new message or notification. He pressed the calendar icon and stared at the screen blankly while a swirl of colors in the center indicated that it was thinking about his request. After a few heartbeats, his schedule finally swung into view. Nothing. It was blank until tomorrow morning’s shift at the shop.
He hit the home button and then gently tapped the icon for his favorite social media app. It leaped at his touch, springing to into action and almost immediately flinging updates from friends, both real and digital, against the glossy glass screen. He scrolled for a moment, saw nothing going on that captured his attention and pressed the lock screen button.
He looked up at the trees lining the park, marshaled like barbaric champions pressing back against the encroaching urban hordes.
A bit of reverence slid down from the crook of a branch, entered just at the top of his spinal column, and suffused his being. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. He had time for a walk in the dying woods. After all, today was a day for miracles.