When Arnold brought his tablet to work on the day of the Christmas
party, people talked. They talked about how he’d been leaving later,
with emails from his work computer sent after midnight. They talked
about how he had lost weight, and the way that his navy trousers
barely stayed up over his hips. They talked about his relationship,
and how he’d taken down the picture of himself and his wife squinting
and smiling atop Macchu Picchu. They laughed and all looked at him
from their huddled group. Arnold finished the rice cracker he was
eating and went back to his desk.
The image on his computer screen, as always, was a leaf. It wasn’t
a picture or a drawing, but a three dimensional model; he hunched
himself over with his stylus pressed against the tablet to watch it,
rotating it to see the light green underside and the veins which laced
the surface. Towards its tip there was a blank space, where the dull
grey of exposed model replaced the intricate floral texture. He
brought this segment to the fore, zooming in and then out again,
squinting and tilting his head.
– You know we ship the week after New Year’s. What are you doing?
Here, just fill that and we’ll get it in before release. Relax. We’re
– Yeah. Sorry? Do you think the Botanic Gardens are open on public
– The gardens. If the office is closed over Christmas, I might
spend some time there.
– I don’t think so, Arnold. Just get it done, or we’ll roll it
back to the last revision.
– But the last revision – the last revision was completely wrong,
it would look absurd.
– Arnold. It’s a leaf. Fill the damn model, email it to me and go
home. If you’re really still concerned go to the gardens over
Christmas and start thinking about the sequel. Alright?
Arnold looked back at the screen.
– How about I-, he said. I think I need to go for a walk.
The only birch tree in the area was between the carpark and the
highway, a scrawny and bent specimen that looked like it might have
been run over by a delivery truck and then propped carefully back up.
Its white and naked branches spiked up at the grey sky like bones.
Arnold kicked at the grass and flat dirt under it. There were a few
old leaves, but all were imperfect – soggy, dead, they had been torn
by footsteps and beaten by rain. He could only find one worth taking
back. Shaped like a heart, he held it to the sun to examine the slight
blush along its innermost cheek. He slipped it in his shirt pocket,
looked again at the tall tree and then trudged back through the
carpark with arms crossed high against his chest.
– You alright there, Arnold? I’m heading off. There’s some cake left
in the fridge and, ah. I guess I’ll see you next year.
– Oh, sorry Shelley. Yeah, I’ll see you next year.
– Have a good Christmas, okay? Arnold?
He peered up over his cubicle. Shelley was standing by the doorway
with a backpack slung over her shoulder.
– Oh. Merry Christmas.
– Will you remember to turn off the lights? I’m not sure when the
cleaners will be in. Goodbye, Arnold.
At nine o’clock Arnold remembered the leaf in his pocket. He slipped
it out carefully and placed it on the tablet. He traced around it idly
with his finger, then lifted it again and held it against the light of
the display. It was thin enough to see right through – its dessicated
veins thrusting out from the central stem in parallel. He noticed
something about the way the ragged edges merged at the tip; the way
the lines angled inwards until they met in a single spike. When he
went back to his stylus and tablet, he began to gently manipulate the
nodes of the model and brush on new textures.
By five A.M. on Christmas eve, the leaf was finished. It glowed
perfectly at the centre of a white canvas, angled slightly so the tip
was at the fore. Arnold rubbed his eyes. In structure it was a replica
of the one sitting on his tablet, but the digital version was alive.
Once dead and wet, it had been summoned up behind the tiny pixels of
the monitor and rejuvinated with green blood. The leaf would make it
to release. It would be multiplied countless times on a forest of
polygon branches, viewed from all angles and illuminated by the
coloured light of a hundred different sources. And each time, it would
He left his tablet and the leaf behind. He turned out the lights. On
the way home, he stopped at the convenience store to get ham and eggs
for Christmas breakfast.
As Arnold slept soundly in his silent apartment, and the bells of
strange magic tinkled outside the windows of children around the city,
the dead leaf on Arnold’s tablet rose up in the dark. His monitor
buzzed as it clicked on and the white light it created washed the leaf
and Arnold’s empty chair. The leaf began to spin and, in tandem, its
on-screen copy spun, too. It lasted for a long time – unwatched at the
end of an empty office hall. When the dance ended and the leaf finally
fell back down to the tablet it was green and real, as alive as when
it had first sprung from a curled bud. And looking over it from the
screen, behind a wall of tiny pixels, was its brown, soggy replica,
angled so its broken tip pointed to the fore.
JEREMY OHLBACK is the editor and administrator of birdville mag, and his first novel, Squire Nation, was shortlisted for the 2009 Vogel/Australian award. He’s currently getting involved with the Sydney Story Factory, working on a second book, and working himself up over the ice hockey playoffs.