Autumn fires

Every Saturday, from late September to early November, Mr. Abrogast hobbled down his back steps – rake in his right hand, railing in his left – to rake fallen leaves from the crabapple trees toward the charred, rusty barrel on the cracked concrete patio in the very middle of his yard.

I watched Mr. Abrogast from a perch on mom’s table for tea. Over the brick wall, I knew he could see me, but he never looked up from his work.

He raked in six concentric rounds – always six – from the four walls to the center and then gathered the leaves into a pile.

Every Saturday, dad would call to me from the porch: “Is he doing it again?” And I’d nod absently while Mr. Abrogast hefted heap after heap of wet leaves from pile to barrel, pressed between fingers and tines.

Dad would say, “Goddammit,” and he’d pick up the phone. But it always seemed to happen before anyone could stop it:

Mr. Abrogast drops a match. Flames lick up the sides of the barrel. Crabapple leaves shrivel and burn. Neighbors watch in dismay as a thick smoke drifts over their homes. In the distance, police sirens wail.

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