by Scott Cameron
Frankie Robbins had a thing for autumn. When September 23 rolled
around, he left for school an extra thirty-seven minutes early. This was ritual. It would happen every day just like story problems and story time until the snow had taken over the ground. Then Frankie would revert back to nonautumnal time. I know because Frankie lived three houses down from me. My mom and I moved in two and a half years ago, and Mom didn’t like me walking to school alone. Every morning she’d say, “Looks like Frankie’s leaving. You‘d better get your jacket.” I don‘t think Mom understood. I might leave at the same time as Frankie, but I wasn‘t going to show up at the playground with him that might have been the end of my kickball career or my hopes of being picked as a hall monitor once a month. At our school, there were certain taboos. You didn’t talk to Lana, the custodian, about who pulled the fire alarm. You didn‘t eat the cafeteria food, especially not the cheese, because everybody knew it was made of rubber (And although none of us had seen it, Rob J. swore that his brother had made the cheese bounce almost two feet off the ground.) And I quickly learned, you didn’t spend too much time with Frankie Robbins. You might catch his continual cold chat he claimed was allergies.
So for two and a half years, Frankie and I walked to school together, or rather, we walked to school the same way every day, with Frankie counting steps, putting flowers or red and yellow leaves in his pockets, and with me keeping a safe twenty or thirty yards between us. I think Frankie knew I was there, but I’m not sure. Our daily routine wasn’t anything special, but when it came to autumn, the world opened up for Frankie; he saw things. He knew that acorns turn slightly yellow before they brown. He watched the frost on the grass as if he could see it growing. He turned circles like the crumpled, windblown leaves. Once I saw him throw rocks into patches of scrub oak, making sure the leaves knew it was time to fall. In school he would look out the window and whisper words like equinox and migration, repeat them again and again as if he were casting spells. I didn’t let anyone know, but I wanted to see what Frankie saw; I wanted to be able to stop, tilt my head skyward, and know that if I waited another minute, a V-shaped flock of Canadian geese would pass overhead.
One day, with only six and a half minutes of morning recess left, I watched Frankie from a distance. He was studying a katydid that moved slowly on the frost-covered grass. He didn’t say anything he just sat and watched as if his heart was beating along with the katydid’s. He turned and caught me staring. I think he knew all along. Then he jumped up, ran over to me, grabbed my jacket, and dragged me behind the pyracantha bushes near the edge of the playground. He said he had been praying to become Jack Frost for one hundred and forty-three nights straight. He wouldn‘t be walking to school tomorrow because he was certain he would be out coloring the autumn leaves and adding a thin layer of white to the grass. I said I didn’t care, and I burst out from behind the bushes, my heart pounding all the way up into my throat.
Frankie didn’t come in from recess, and he didn’t walk to school the next day. I had no idea when I should leave for school. I didn’t know how many steps to take or when to circle with the leaves. At recess, kids whispered that Frankie was gone. Anne Marie talked about kidnappers and murderers. Ann Marie always swore that she knew everything, but she never knew that none of us ever believed her. When I came home from school, Mom said Frankie had been found down by the small lake just a mile from the school-his body tucked under long, bank grass and covered with a slight layer of frost. The police thought he had fallen from a tree or something, but really I didn’t believe them. I knew Frankie wasn’t dead. A week later I started going to the lake every day. I threw rocks at the trees, crying to knock off the last few leaves. I turned awkward circles in the wind. I stayed there long enough to see the water turn orange, then peach, then pink and end up a cold blue. I tried to let the wind slip off the lake and under my jacket. I wanted cold to seep into my lungs. I wanted the world to open up for me. I wanted to see Jack Frost to know it was Frankie.
Today while I was walking to school, something green landed at my feet. At first I thought it was a leaf, but it fell too quickly, too heavily. I recognized the green of a katydid. I wish now chat I had stopped to pick it up, co couch its slender legs, co move it off the sidewalk. I can‘t stop thinking about all the falling leaves I’ve missed, all the frost I’ve passed by without stopping to see if it grows. Frankie is whispering to me. Tomorrow I’m going to leave for school an extra thirty-seven minutes early. I’m going to watch the world ease into winter.
Scott Cameron is graduating from BYU chis April and is planning on heading to Boston University to further his education. He can’t seem to escape writing about nature and personal experience. This doesn‘t mean chat he has actually prayed to become Jack Frost, but he has definitely thought about it.