The Color of Leaves

Jim Esch
10 min readNov 4, 2021

A short story for Fall about a divorced Dad’s shaky relationship with his son. This story was written a long time ago and was first published in the 1990’s in the online journal 256 Shades of Gray. It seems to be the right time of year to reissue a mildly revised version here for Medium readers.

In the afternoon he drove to his ex-wife’s house and picked up his son Ronny. Then they drove to the nearest state park and walked through the leaves.

“Why do the leaves change color?” his son asked.


“Because why?” the boy said.

He wasn’t sure. Something had probably been said in a high school science class about the matter, but he couldn’t remember little things like that from so long ago. It wasn’t a detail that he had dwelled upon in the decade since. The changing color of leaves left but the slightest stamp of curiosity in a life spent worrying about rent, legalities, food, and longing.

But he had an image to keep up with his son, so he thought about it for a few seconds more and tried to be creative. He imagined that his father would have taken the religious explanation: because God Almighty willed the leaves to change. End of explanation. But he didn’t believe that himself, and he didn’t want to be just like Dad. Better come up with a pseudo-descriptive-scientific type explanation.

“The leaves change because the seasons change.” He looked at the cloudless sky and zipped up his jacket. “When it gets colder out, the green color in the leaves dies out; it freezes up sort of. Then the other colors in the leaves like orange and red, they aren’t crowded out anymore, because the…the green color is the dominant one, so they appear when it gets colder out.”

The boy was satisfied with the explanation; there was enough in it for him to comprehend, and more that he didn’t. But he wanted to please his father and make him think he understood it all, so he didn’t say anything about it. The father wasn’t satisfied with himself or his explanation. For all he knew it could have been close to the truth according to biology. More likely, it was way off base.

Chloroform, that was it, something to do with chloroform, something his boy wouldn’t understand, and he didn’t want to delve into it much more…


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