In a strange place called Greenwich Village, where many artists lived in their studios. Among them were Joanna and Su, they had their studio at the top of a three-story brick building.
As the seasons changed, in November, in the bitter cold, many artists in the village caught pneumonia. Unfortunately, Joanna caught the dreadful disease. She lay on her bed, hardly able to move, looking through the small window at the wall of the next brick house.
One morning, after checking on Joanna, her doctor took Sue aside and talked to her.
"She will survive only if she really wants to live, but she looks as though she has lost all hope. Is she disappointed about something?"
"She was dreaming of painting the Bay of Naples someday, but now it seems like she is just awaiting her death," replied Sue softly.
As she started a pen-and-ink drawing, she heard a low sound from Joanna's bed. She quickly went to the bedside.
Joanna was looking out of the window intently and counting. Sue listened closer. Joanna was counting backward.
"Twelve," she said, and a while later, "eleven", and then after a while, "ten", and then "nine."
Sue saw an old ivy vine that had climbed halfway up the brick wall but was decayed at the roots. The autumn wind had blown most of its weak leaves away until just a couple more were remaining. The almost bare vine clung to the bricks, with just a few leaves left.
"What is it, dear?" Sue asked.
"Six," whispered Joanna. "Now falling fast! I am sure three days back there were almost a hundred leaves.....there goes another. There are only five leaves left now."
"Tell me, dear. Five what?"
"Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls, I will go too. I know that. Didn't the doctor tell you?"
"Oh, dear! Such nonsense! The vine has nothing to do with your getting well. The doctor this morning told me that your chances of getting well were.....let me remember.....yes, he said the chances were ten to one! I must hand in this drawing by tomorrow. I need the light to draw. Otherwise, I would have drawn the shade down."
"Why don't you draw in the other room?"
"I want to be with you," Sue said softly. "Try to get some sleep. I have to call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit miner in my drawing. I'll come back in a minute."
Old Behrman lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was a painter. He was past sixty and had a long beard that was the main feature of him. Behrman had had consistent failures as an artist. He always talked about a masterpiece that he was going to paint soon but had never got around to actually doing it.
Sue found Behrman and told him about Joanna's illusion about the vine and its falling leave.
Old Behrman shouted his contempt for such idiotic imaginings.
Sue could not sleep that night, and in the morning she found Joanna staring at the drawn green shade.
"Pull up the shade. I want to see."
But, look! Even after the beating rain and the horrendous gusts of wind, there stood the one ivy leaf against the brick wall. It was the last one, still dark green near its stem, but its serrated edges oddly highlighted with the color of decay. It held on to the branch about twenty feet above the ground.
"There is the last one," said Joanna weakly. "I thought it would fall during the night. I heard the rain and wind. I am sure it will fall today, and I shall die at the same moment."
The day progressed wearily, and even at dusk, they could see the lone ivy leaf bravely clinging to its stem against the brick wall. When night came, the wind blew again mercilessly, and the rain beat against the windows.
When the new day dawned, Joanna wanted the shade up again. She looked at the vine.
The ivy leaf was still there.
For a very long time, Joanna lay on her bed, looking at the leaf. Then she called Sue, who was making broth over the stove.
"Sudie, I have not been a good girl," said Joanna. "See, something has made that last leaf clings on there, to show me how wicked I was.
That afternoon Sue found Joanna, still on her bed, but happily knitting a scarf. Her eyes welled up. She went to her and hugged her.
"I have something to tell you, my dear," Sue said. "It about Mr. Behrman. He died of pneumonia in the hospital today. He was sick for only two days. The janitor found him in his room downstairs, in terrible pain, on the first day. He was icy cold, and his clothes and shoes were soaking wet. They couldn't understand where he had been on such a terrible night. And then they found a lantern, and a ladder, scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and ...... look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece, he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell."