It was a different city than the one I left in September, when the desperate final heat blanketed the roofs and buildings and filled the town with odors of diesel fuel and rotting trash. This was a crisp city, the wind cold on my cheek and wafting scents of wood smoke, coffee, baking bread.The trees along the streets and in the parks had reached their balance point and tipped into full autumn. Washington Square was suffuse with a golden light spilling through the canopy of turning leaves. I walked beneath the arch of the ancient trees, occasional gusts setting the slender branches to rattle and tumble elegant spirals of yellow and rust and startling red, the paper cup of coffee warming my glove.
I saw old Chaim sitting alone on his bench, the usual crumpled bag of birdseed strangely absent, hat pulled low over his face. I stopped and leaned down to greet him.
He looked up. “Hello, darling. Such a day as this, yes?” His eyes rounded the trees, the city, the world itself. “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. That’s Camus.”
“Where’s Moishe today? I hope he isn’t ill.”
Chaim was silent for a long time. A cheeky squirrel ran down the tree and crossed the walkway, dodging piles of leaves. He reared up and chattered at us.
“Sorry, my little friend,” said Chaim, his voice soft as sawdust. “It was Moishe’s week to bring the seeds.”