Monday 28 June 2021

'Leaf After Leaf' by Judy Darley


You’re taking your Government-sanctioned daily exercise in the park when you see her. A woman with cropped, white hair strides towards a small leafed lime tree and halts.

Your brain hisses with shuffling unease about the shrunken job market, your precarious health, the worsening climate emergency, the future…

The woman tips back her head and opens wide. Her long, low cry surges from somewhere deep and guttural. Leaves shiver. Squirrels freeze. A knot of sparrows unravels, stitching surprise against clouds.

Her roar wriggles under your skin. Your anxiety quiets in that moment.

You keep your gaze on her as she lowers her chin, relaxes her shoulders and walks away.


You want that scream to make a difference. To spread across the city and beyond until everyone’s at it – walking onto park lawns, choosing a tree and allowing negative emotions to soar out.

You envision mental health helplines reporting dips in suicide attempts; police officers recording an all-time low in violent crime.

You picture doctors prescribing weekly ‘let it out’ sessions.

You smile as you stroll.

Arborists will report that the trees absorbing our shrieks are thriving, you decide, and your pace gains a jaunty bounce.


You emerge from the park onto the dusty roadside that leads home. 

You think of the oak shoot sprouting from an acorn buried by a squirrel. Recently, it put out its first loop-edged leaf. 

Later, when everyone else is asleep and the Milky Way prickles the sky, you kneel in the flowerbed beside the tiny oak. Drawing in a breath of cool, still night air, you lift your face to the stars and open your mouth. You let out every shred of angst until there’s space in your heart for something that feels like hope.

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