When he woke up that morning Joe was alone in his bed. He rose and entered the kitchen where his girlfriend Mary was laying breakfast on the table. “Eat up”, she said. “We’re going for a walk.”
It was too early for Joe’s bleary eyes and pulsating head to fully acknowledge the mowing of lawns, the playing of children, the hymns from church; the ideal painting of a Sunday morning. Besides, he had finished the bottle of gin last night and squinting in the harsh white light it was all he could do to stay upright.
They walked for hours. Out of the town they picked up on a trail that took them away from their society and out of sight, into nature, alone. Mary led the way, whistling, singing, running ahead to investigate anything that took her interest. They traversed fields that lay for miles and found themselves in a sea of green with no evidence of the interference of man. The trail they took ended atop a rolling plateau of long grass and sporadic trees and still they pushed on and down into a valley they descended to see a wooden house covered in moss, with peeling paint, with empty windows.
“Let’s take a look”, Mary whispered. With the awe and innocence of a child.
“It’s old.” Joe stood with his hands on his waist. “There’s nothing to see.”
She ignored him and waded through the field anyway, without looking back. He eventually followed.
She walked through the house, lingering in each room in an attempt to fully understand its purpose. She did this three times, continuing to notice intricate and underlying beauty within those aged walls. Patches on the wall less worn where a painting or photograph had hung, but no longer. A vase with the desiccated and stale remains of stems and petals at its base. Tables and worn chairs with discoloured fabric upended upon the scattered detritus that covered everything. It was earthy and warm and in the light that poured through the puncture holes and windows she could see the illuminated paths of a past life.
Joe took one look inside then stepped out and watched the hills. When he grew tired of this he returned to find something to entertain him. Moments later he sat on the porch flicking through a stack of sepia photographs of people who may have lived here. He found one family portrait and they stared without smiling, standing at attention. The backdrop could have been any of the fields surrounding the house. He took a lighter from his shirt pocket and set the photographs alight, watching them curl and blacken into flakes.
“Why do you think they left?” She stood behind him, watching the fading flames in the dirt in front of the house.
“Because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It became irrelevant.”
“How terribly sad.”
“Why did you bring us up here?” Joe asked.
She considered the question for a time. He watched her, her dress moving in the slight breeze, her mournful eyes black with no reflection. She simply shrugged.
“Come on.” He stood, rubbing his arms tirelessly. “It will be dark by the time we get back.”
They walked back to the house in silence under the bright light of the moon, a cosmic streetlamp. Searching for intentions on that still night but finding none. Joe slumped in front of the television, to drink. Later he went to bed and when he woke he was alone again.
© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015