Clay first noticed the leaves rustling a week after the new neighbors moved in. Normally he paid no attention to those who came and went in this neighborhood, and they returned the favor. But the something in the branches of the tree that stood between their houses was much too big to be a cat, and Clay gave it glances from the corner of his eye as he carried in his groceries.
Perhaps groceries wasn’t quite the right word. It was mostly beer and cigarettes, but Clay had found that if you had enough of those with the right combination of drugs, you could make do without much else. That was a good thing, too, because he was broke, though tonight would change that.
A crash startled Clay and he jerked toward the tree. The branches jerked wildly and a kid dropped out of it, tumbling to his hands and knees in Clay’s yard. The boy couldn’t be more than eight and Clay scowled. They didn’t get too many kids around here. Well, plenty of high school drop-outs, but no one this young.
The boy hesitated and then scrambled to his feet. “Hiya mister, I’m Seth, your new neighbor.”
“Seth. Well if that ain’t a wimpy name I don’t know what is.” From the look on the kid’s face, Clay realized he’d spoken out loud.
“Seth was in the Bible. He was in Jesus’s lineage.” The boy looked at him curiously.
Clay swore. What a little Bible-reading kid was doing in this neighborhood was beyond him. Clay dropped his bags on the ground and rummaged for a cigarette. He lit it and surveyed the kid, who was watching him with an expression he couldn’t quite read. “Yah, well, you be careful around here, you got that?” Clay shook his head and went to put the beer in the fridge.
When the video game Clay was playing started swimming fuzzily, he grabbed another can of beer and headed for some sun. “Stupid chair!” Clay kicked the patio chair he’d stumbled over and found the hammock. In a pause between blaring rock songs, Clay heard the tree rustling again. He found it strangely disconcerting to know that a little kid was watching him, though why Clay cared he couldn’t say. He took another swig of beer. It would be dark soon--he supposed he should lay off.
Clay opened his eyes to find a pair of big brown eyes staring at him. “Wha--” Clay jerked and the hammock dumped him face down.
“Hey, you OK, mister? You don’t look so good.”
Something stopped Clay right as he was gearing up to punch the kid’s lights out. Maybe it was the way the boy was looking at him with big innocent eyes.
“Is that stuff good?” Seth nodded toward the beer can, now on its side in a growing pool of brown liquid.
“No!” The kid jerked back in surprise at his vehement tone. Clay ground his teeth. “Now git outta here!”
Seth disappeared into the shadow of the tree and Clay rubbed at his hair. Darkness had fallen, but he didn’t bother turning on any lights. He paced. That kid better stay hidden.
A man appeared suddenly before him. Clay jumped.
Clay licked his lips. “Naw, you just startled me, is all.”
“Some lookout you are.”
Scowling, Clay jerked his thumb toward the back door. “Hey, you want the stuff or not?”
The man laughed. “I came over to look at the stars.” His voice changed to a growl. “Of course I want the stuff. Stop yammering and get it.”
This encounter had started off on a bad foot. Clay grabbed the paper bag sitting on his table and slammed the door behind him. “Where’s the money?”
“Give me the stuff and I’ll give you the money.”
Clay stalled. “Show me the money and I’ll give you the stuff.”
The man towered over him, sour breath making Clay gag. “What’s going on here? You don’t trust me? You implying I’m crooked?”
Was this a test? Should Clay back off, or stand strong? “I reserve my judgment. Show me the cash.”
“Watch your tone, dog.”
A fist swung out of the dark and Clay fell, blood spurting from his lip. The man ran. He had the bag.
Twisting fast, Clay pointed his gun, the traitor’s head in his sights. In the split second he hesitated, a familiar sound reached his ears. A rustle in the tree.
The man left. With the rocks and the cash. And his life.
Clay turned toward the tree. There was a breeze tonight.
Whoa! Sucked in from the first word, Amy. How easy to forget someone's always watching ... prepared to follow our footsteps. May we never loose the ability to hear the rustling of the leaves ... and may it always give us pause. Powerful piece ... and I thank you for much to reflect on today, in my own life.