A Delicate Language
Frank Rudolph Paul (1884 – 1963)
October Birthday News
Take It Or Leaf Itby Shannon Wolff
"For the last time, you can't substitute the leftover spring and summer flower colors for the fall leaves," I snapped into my cell phone. I tapped my foot in annoyance at the elevator’s sluggish assent. "Because people will notice if the leaves suddenly turn forget-me-not blue and peony pink! That's why!"
I grumbled under my breath and snapped the phone shut. Honestly, didn’t those guys know any better? Sure, the general consensus was that most mortals were a little... unobservant. But they’re not fools. Autumn leaves had been turning shades of red, gold, orange, and brown since the beginning of time, and those guys didn't think people would notice if that trend suddenly broke? My department must have gotten the dregs of the class.
Fortunately, my particular department was only in charge of a sparsely populated area just east of nowhere. The double unfortunates here were the facts that small departments were always lacking in supplies and it would only take one of the few inhabitants with a camera and a computer to let the entire world see just what kind of leaves were falling east of nowhere. In short, if I didn’t manage to get some fall-type leaf colors within the next few hours my department would be making botanical history in the mortal world, and I would be under official review in this world. All because someone, somewhere, messed up and the fall colors weren’t delivered.
So now I found myself in reality’s slowest elevator, listening to reality’s most irritating elevator music, praying I could get to Mother Nature’s office sometime before the snowflakes were due to fly, in the hopes that I can get this all straightened out. Oh, I’d talked to my supervisor on the matter; his pearl of wisdom was “Be creative.” Which was why the guys in my department were about to shower east of nowhere with “uniquely” colored leaves.
“Finally,” I muttered, when the elevator dinged and the door slid open with hesitant, jerky motions. I fled the moment the door was open wide enough for me to get through. I wasn’t about to risk the elevator changing its mind about letting me off.
My sense of victory over the elevator and its maddening music was short lived. No sooner did I give a triumphant smirk at having escaped its relentless clutches than I found myself at the end of a very long line to see Mother Nature. I know it sounds like I'm exaggerating, but I honestly couldn’t quite make out the other end of the line.
“Excuse me,” I stated in the most civil tone I could muster as I tapped the shoulder of the man in front of me. “Is this the line to see Mother Nature?”
“Unfortunately.” He sighed without bothering to turn around.
“Well, I guess it was too much to hope they were here to see Father Time, Jack Frost, the Sand Man, Jack of the Green or pretty much anyone else, huh?”
“You could say that.” The man chuckled and turned around to face me. “Nobody really comes to see Father Time ‘till New Year’s, Jack Frost isn’t due for another few weeks, Jack of the Green won’t be by until spring, and the Sand Man... well, let’s just say he’s had his own problems to deal with since mortals discovered double shot espressos.”
“I can see how that would give him trouble.”
“So, what brings you to Mother Nature’s door? You think that there should be a peanut butter fish to go along with the jellyfish?”
“Interesting concept, but not why I’m here,” I said cautiously, and rubbed the back of my neck, not sure whether to hope the line ahead of me had more pressing problems than that or not.
“Let me guess, you’d like to know the difference between a weather forecast of partly sunny and partly cloudy?”
“Would be good to know, but not why I’m here.”
“Okay, how about this one? You’d like to know if four quarter houses make one full-sized horse.”
That last question left me dumbstruck for several minutes. All I could manage to do was blink a few times and wonder if this guy was for real. If these were the kinds of questions Mother Nature had to answer before I could even get to tell her about my problem, then I might as well hand in my resignation right now and leave the department with a little dignity. I’d heard the Sand Man was looking for some people to paint dreamscapes.
“Aw, don’t tell me I guessed it,” the man said in an exaggerated sigh, clearly in a better mood than when I first asked him about the line.
“Actually, I don’t know if anybody comes here with that question.”
“All right, I get to keep guessing then... I got it. You want to know why there’s no such thing as a bread-and-butterfly.”
“No,” I moaned and flinched slightly, suddenly doubting he was going to stop anytime soon.
“You want to know why there’s a dragonfly, a damselfly, but no knight-in-shining-armor fly?”
“If you must know, my division never got its shipment of fall leaf colors. So now we have no colors to change the leaves to and we’re supposed to start changing them in...” I paused to glance at my watch. “Yikes. A lot sooner than I’ll be able to get through this line.” I sighed, dismayed at how little the line had moved during the course of the silly conversation. Maybe my chatty new friend could help me figure out what to say when I’m dragged before the review board.
“Why didn’t you say you had an actual problem?”
My new friend, whom I was really starting to wonder about, stole a quick look around before leaning close and gestured for me to do the same. More out of curiosity than anything else, I followed suit and leaned in close enough for our noses to almost touch.
“You would not believe how many of these jokers are waiting to ask questions like that,” he said in a low whisper I had to strain to hear. “You see, Mother Nature is a busy lady and really doesn’t have time for fools playing word games. These guys should really go see Wit and Witticism. Those two are always looking for new material.”
“But what does that have to do with me?”
He opened his mouth only to snap it shut again. He bolted upright to look around. No one was watching us.
“This way,” He whispered and slunk off towards a pillar.
If I’d had more time I probably would have decided this guy’s behavior was suspicious and stayed in line, but I didn’t have more time and the line hadn’t moved at all since I’d gotten off the elevator. So I looked around to make sure everyone was still preoccupied with something else and followed my new friend towards the pillar. And prayed I wasn’t making a horrible mistake.
“You see, this isn’t really the line to see Mother Nature,” my new friend whispered. He twisted a knob I hadn’t noticed before. “It’s here to keep those with silly questions occupied so she can do her work in peace. My job is to take anyone with an actual problem to her so she can help them without being overrun with fools.”
“Isn’t that a little... dishonest?” I asked hesitantly as a narrow passage way opened up in the pillar.
“Perhaps, but if Mother Nature were so inundated with these dolts that she couldn’t get her work done, the outcome could be disastrous.”
His words still hanging in the air, my new friend darted down the passageway. For a long moment all I could do was look after the place where he’d been swallowed up by the surrounding darkness. Was this guy for real? Was that entire line of people out there really just wasting their time? I supposed they eventually gave up and either went back to work or went home, but were they really only standing there to keep them out of Mother Nature’s hair? I guessed it was possible. After all, if one really wanted to keep fools at bay the line wasn’t a half bad idea, and I suppose a line to keep fools at bay would be that long, too. What could I say; no matter what world you’re in there’s no shortage of fools.
I took a cautious step into the passage way and instantly found myself in a nice, comfortable little office with none other than Mother Nature behind the desk talking to my new friend.
“Will o’ the Wisp here has told me of your trouble,” she began with a gentle smile. She took a massive tome from her desk drawer. “Now, let’s see if I can find out what happened to your leaf colors.”
Yes! Results. With a little luck Mother Nature would find out where those colors had been sent and would make one little phone call to straighten it all out. Then all I’d have to do is thank her and start organizing my department to begin changing those leaves. Yep, it should be a total cake walk from here.
“Oh, my,” Mother Nature sighed. She shook her head and gave a slight click of her tongue. My stomach turned to ice.
“What?” I moaned, wondering if the Sandman still had that position open.
“It seems that the leaf colors you were supposed to get were sent to another department. And since the area they’re in charge of already has fall well underway they’ve used up all the extra colors.”
“It seems they thought there’d been a surplus somewhere and they’d simply been given more to work with. Apparently their region is having one of the most spectacular autumns on record.”
“Good for them, but what am I supposed to do?” I tried to keep the whine out of my voice, but I’m not sure I succeeded. “My division is supposed to start changing leaf colors any time now.”
“I’m afraid you will have to use your own creativity to find some leaf colors. Perhaps there are some leftover from other departments. I can give you a few more days to think of something, but that’s it.”
Well, it was something at least.
“Thanks anyway,” I sighed, and turned to go back through the passageway.
I guess I should have just been glad I had a justifiable reason from Mother Nature why I was about to mess up, but I just wanted to do my job well. At least I had a few more days to scrape together some colors that wouldn’t have the mortal world talking about new pollutants or something.
Then again, maybe they didn’t all have to be leaf colors after all.
“Hey, Aspen? Yeah, you remember how you wanted to use the leftover flower colors for the leaves?” I said into the mouthpiece of my cell phone as I watched the elevator doors close. “No, I don’t think lilac purple is appropriate for birch leaves. But daffodil yellow should do the trick. Yes, I’m serious. Get everyone out collecting whatever leaf colors the other departments can spare along with every red, orange and yellow flower color they can find. Got that? So that’s daffodils, marigolds, nasturtium, red and yellow roses, sunflowers, yellow daises. If a flower has red, orange or yellow petals and you can get your hands on the leftovers, round them up. I’ll be down soon.”
I snapped the phone shut before Aspen could argue. So east of nowhere would be a little lacking in autumn browns this year, with a little luck no one would notice. And if someone complained, they could take it up with Mother Nature.
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