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The Leafist by Don Urbanus

     Don had been a successful retail nurseryman but he had given it all up for his real passion as a Leafist. He carefully adjusted the turban on his head and stepped outside his colorful signature theme – a canopy covered with pictures of leaves.
     The county fair had been a pretty good gig. Still, he was hoping for more and larger venues where he could demonstrate his unique abilities and satisfy the cravings for adulation that fed his ego. Perhaps on Oprah or Jay Leno? He glared at another canopy set up not more than fifty feet from his own. It was one of those “run of the mill” palmists that you see at every Renaissance Faire. “Madame Hugo” was painted in gaudy pink letters on a sign hanging outside her booth. “Madame Hugo”? What kind of a name was that? Don snorted and went back inside his canopy to arrange the chairs where his customers would sit eagerly awaiting his every word. He arranged his own sign carefully with tastefully carved green letters spelling “Dr. Don” and he set his business cards carefully off to one side of the table. Of course, he wasn’t a ‘doctor’ in the literal sense, but he had paid his dues over many years. He had earned it. Besides, it had a certain ring to it.
     Don had been studying leaves ever since he was a child. He was always fascinated by them, especially tree leaves. He estimated he must have read at least 50,000 leaves in his long storied career. Now at the pinnacle of his insight and powers, he had hit the road to show the world what he knew. He glanced outside his canopy and smiled. A middle-aged lady carrying a plastic bag was hurrying toward his booth.
     “Oh, Dr. Don! I am so glad you are here. I used to go to my local nursery but they got squeezed out by all those big box stores.”
     “Well,” said Dr. Don, placing a finger and thumb on his chin thoughtfully, “Why don’t you go to them for advice?”
     She rolled her eyes. “Oh, really, Dr. Don.”
     Don smirked. “Well, what do you have for me, Miss…..?”
     “Oh, it’s Sheila.” She smiled and pulled some leaves out of her plastic bag. The leaves were fresh and supple – unlike the dried and crispy leaves that some customers brought in. He felt a kinship with her already.
     He picked up the first leaf and smiled slightly. Years of nursery work had made this an easy pick, but he played his part. He frowned and turned the leaf around and studied it carefully. “It’s palmate in shape which generally suggests a northern climate.”
     “Oh, yes. I knew that.” She bit her lip and leaned forward eagerly.
     “The size and texture suggests an oriental background. This is a Japanese maple leaf,” he stated firmly.
     “Excellent!” she clapped her hands together. “I thought it might be something like that.”
     “The size and color of the leaf suggests that it most likely is a potted tree that is probably root bound and without sufficient nutrients. Notice the slight stress lines on the outside ridge of the leaf? You should protect it from the afternoon sun, repot it with fresh soil or put it in a larger pot and give it some slow release fertilizer at least twice a year in the spring and summer.”
     Her jaw dropped open in amazement. “That is amazing! I don’t know how you do it.” She whipped out her checkbook and scribbled out a check still shaking her head. “I don’t know what we would do without you traveling Leafists.”
     Don clasped his hands and shrugged slightly. ‘What indeed,’ he thought to himself. He thanked Sheila who kept bubbling over about all her friends that she was going to send to him. Yes, this is what is was all about. Servicing the world one leaf at a time – and getting paid for it. He placed the check in a small metal box and placed it back under his chair. He turned around and was startled to see Madame Hugo standing there in entry way. He frowned.
     She stood there, hands on hips, with loose flowing lavender pants and a pink long sleeved top. Her large dark brown eyes, heavy with eye-liner, stared down at him, taking in him, his canopy and everything in it in one swift decisive glance.
     “I have some leaves I want you to identify.” It was not a request, it was a challenge.
     Don motioned with his hand at the chair, his eyes locked onto hers.     “Come sit down.” She entered slowly, sat down gracefully and produced a bag of leaves from somewhere.
     “Why are you…….” Don started.
     “Called Madame Hugo? It was my late husband’s name.” She offered no more and Don asked no more. She pulled out a leaf and slapped it down on the table.
     Don glanced at it briefly and stared back at her. “A pinnately compound leaf. The leaflets are shorter than some of their species. Coloring and shape suggests a Raywood Ash.”
     She slapped down another leaf. “You can use Latin if you wish. And don’t bother with the descriptions.”
     He took the leaf and put it up to his nose. “Cinnamomum camphora.”
She slapped down another leaf.
     “Betula pendula.”
     She continued to place one leaf after another on the table.
“Salix integra “Hakura Nishiki. Lauris nobilis. Eucalyptus polyanthemus. Albizia julibrissin. “
     She glared at Don and then a tiny smiled creased her lips. She set the last leaf down on the table. Don reached for the leaf and turned it over carefully to catch the light. It was familiar. He had seen it before but it had been over thirty years.
     “Well?” she demanded.
Don took a deep breath searching his mind. She rose up almost crouching over him like a cat stalking a mouse. Don shut his eyes following the path back to his memories. The only sound was her breathing and he blocked that out of his mind.
     “Lyonothamnus floribundus asplenifolius.”
     “Ahhh……” she sputtered in frustration. “Very well, I will admit that you are very accomplished at what you do.”
“And you?” Don asked, holding out his palm. She sat back down, took his hand and caressed it open looking at every fingerprint, every crease. She took his other hand and studied it equally, absorbing every line, every contour. One eyebrow lifted slightly and then she turned her dark eyes onto his.
     “Dr. Don, there you are! Oh, are you busy? We can wait.” Two heavy set middle-aged women backed out of the canopy.
     “No, I am just leaving. Just give me a moment.” She glanced back at Don. “Come to my tent after the fair closes. I will tell you your life purpose and life lessons that may be holding you back from achieving that which want the most.” She turned without another word and walked quickly out of the booth.
     “Oh, good! Now we have lots of leaves we want you to look at. Jeanie, get your other bag out,’ insisted the taller of the two.
Don walked past the two women and glanced out of the canopy but Madame Hugo was already out of sight. Don raised his hands and looked at each one. My life purpose, he thought, what was she talking about?
     “Oh, Dr. Don. Are you going to read our leaves?” asked the shorter lady, “I especially want you to look at my sister-in-law’s cousin’s leaf. They don’t know what’s wrong with it.”
     “Um, yes, yes.” He walked thoughtfully around the table and sat down and smiled. “Now, how can I help you lovely ladies?”
     They chatted happily away but Don’s mind was distracted. Could palms be read like leaves? He decided he would take Madame Hugo up on her offer.
     “That’s an Azalea and this one is a Gardenia. Looks like the variety Mystery. They both need some iron,” he mumbled absentmindedly.
The two women broke out in smiles and looked at each other. In unison they declared, “That’s amazing!”

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