I dreamt, and in my dream I saw a tree.
The tree stood among other trees near a river. The river was cold and slow, feeding off the nearby ocean waves. But even though the summer was past, I could see summer days remembered in the waters, and when I breathed I caught the salty taste of long days spent fishing and swimming. The river grew larger and smaller with the tides, imperceptibly creeping across the sand and rock until it touched the brush and then gradually falling back again. The sea poured itself into the river bed continuously, flowing past the beach and into the wildness of trees and cliffs and little islands.
The tree stood at the point where the forest started to take over the sand, looking down on the river as it had for as long as the waves had been washing the shore. It was tall, so ancient that I could not see where it ended. October had stripped the branches to the bone, leaving none of the crinkled leaves that had clothed the towering skeleton.
None except for one. I saw one yellow leaf that still refused to yield to the wind. Its companions had long since let themselves be carried away by the breeze, but this one still held on.
I turned my eyes to the sea. In the surf I saw a figure standing alone, looking toward the horizon, her dress fluttering in the same breeze that had taken the leaves. As her dress fluttered, the sun drowned in the watery horizon, and I saw stars falling like leaves in some kind of galactic Autumn. The constellations blew around in cosmic winds. Orion danced with Cassiopeia in the northern sky, and dying stars walked along the Milky Way toward some celestial eternity.
The night was over in what seemed a matter of moments, and I walked toward the surf. As I neared the water, the woman turned, and I knew her to be Time. I saw a summer smile on her ageless face; I saw a thousand years in her sad autumn eyes. A lone raindrop landed on her cheekbone and rolled down her face like a lone tear, falling to the sand with the tragic reluctance of a lone leaf.
And then the yellow leaf, its battle with the winds of the endless seasons lost, tumbled past my feet and surrendered itself to the tides.
Time smiled as raindrops flowed from her eyes like tears for long-past days, and I found myself walking into the surf, my eyes searching aimlessly for the leaf that had let the wind carry it into the waves.
Soon the sea had embraced me; the waves swept over my head, and I sunk. Under the water I opened my eyes to the salt and cold, the currents that I knew would be as salty and cold as the raindrop tears that were streaming down the clock face of Time herself, but all I saw was the moonlit grey of my bedroom ceiling.
Outside I could hear the night breeze as it made the leaves dance. My midnight imagination believed that perhaps the leaf I had been chasing was dancing out there in the wild and windy night. And so I wept, because I knew that even if I danced with the leaves until dawn, I would never know which one was mine.
I fell asleep to the sound of lapping waves and ticking clocks, and stars tumbled like leaves beneath my eyelids.