I paused as I reached the gate, looking up through the blank nothingness of my headphones. The house was lit, glowing, the unshaded windows spilling gold onto the drive. The scene visible through them was a photograph, a perfect still image of family life, a mother and son eating dinner together.
Twilight had gone, the last hopeful vestiges of the day vanished from the sky. I could see the neighbour’s tree, the one that overhung our garden, outlined in shadow against the warmth. The indistinct form ruffled slightly in the breeze.
For a moment, a branch creaked down and obscured Jeff’s face in the window, hiding his grim scowl. Then the branch swung back up and I could see my son glowering at his green beans. His mother mouthed something, her words lost in the breeze, and a terrifyingly adult mix of lust and desire and greed flashed across the little face.
Sarah didn’t notice the effect of her words. She had stood and was delicately placing a bowl over the plate sitting at the third, empty, place. Jeff looked at her, then back at his beans. Then he picked up his fork and speared them with a sharp stab, trying to inflict every ounce of malevolence and indignation he felt about the basic unfairness of life.
I found that my finger was tapping mechanically on my leg, spurred by the white noise of the music in my ears. I pulled my headphones free and began to walk up the driveway towards my house, the twittering of birds floating intermittently through the air on the gusting wind. The gravel crunched beneath my feet. The tree looked more detailed up close, the wrinkles and gnarls on the bark thrown into ancient shadow by the upstart electric light. It creaked and swung again, and tales of forests and elves, fantasies and dreams and myths spoke in the creaking.
Then my foot fell. It crunched again, flatly, and the moment was gone.