Once Ryan was out of sight, Phillip pushed aside a piece of rubble that was in the way, and stepped into the wreckage.
He looked around, but could see nothing resembling the house as it was; no silver, no gold, no wood mixing with steel, no touch of florals here or there.
The upstairs seemed to have collided with the downstairs, forming a messy pile of rubble that might have been the stairs. As he walked further inside, Phillip noticed pieces here and there that had not been damaged or that had not decomposed yet. A post of wood stuck out of where the right-hand side of the house would have been, and shreds of white cotton and pink silk lay tattered amongst it.
Phillip almost sunk to his knees, weeping, as he realised that this was all that remained of Adielle’s and his marital bed, broken so easily by the devils in the sky.
Tearing his eyes away, he picked his way on through the rubble, dragging his leg in the haste to do so.
The injury had been caused in the final year of fighting, a time when the army knew that the war was coming to a close, and a time when there were going to be winners and losers. Phillip had been working to decode a message delivered at enemy lines when a mine had gone off; they had been expecting him. It was only the sacrifice of an officer in Phillip’s platoon that saved his life. When the officer pushed Phillip out of the way of the mine, he took the full force of its explosion, whilst Phillip was only injured with a maimed leg. He had considered himself lucky, but now there was no point in being lucky. Who was there to share the luck with? Who was there to be lucky for?
Without Aidelle’s love, Phillip felt nothing in life any longer.
Walking around the remains of the house once more, Phillip noticed a small scrap of baby pink fabric poking out from under the twisted remains of a kitchen appliance. He tugged it out and was surprised to be holding a christening gown, filthy and faded, with fewer frills than it was made with. He marvelled at what such an item was doing here. Surely it wasn’t Aidelle’s? No, it must have been swept along from one of the other houses in the road when they were bombed.
Still, he was lost for any words and thoughts as he held such a beautiful garment, something that would have belonged to a beautiful child.
Backing away, out of the ‘section’ of the rubble he was in, Phillip noticed a slice of colour behind what remained of a wall. Curious, he wandered. In fact, the room beyond was the most intact part of the house. It had no roof and only one and a half walls bordering it, but a once-ruby chaise longue existed upside-down and jammed behind rubble in the corner, and another sitting chair (this one beige with a faded, possibly velvet, throw over its body) was still intact, although most of its stuffing had been blown apart and it would not have been used for sitting now, in any case.
But, what really shocked Phillip was the object in the centre of the room, and that which had drawn him in.
It was a tree. Albeit, barely larger than a sapling, but an evergreen spruce was growing out of the rubble directly in the centre of what was once the sitting room. Its bark had a mesmerising reddish hue and, although it was still an infant tree, its branches were many. Phillip touched the tree, felt the coarse wood beneath his skin and suddenly found himself wondering about what it was like to live. To truly live, without the war and the hatred between friends, without the loss and the bodily pain. To live like a tree, to grow where one pleased and not to be ruled by the word of man.
As Phillip hung the christening gown on a branch, he noticed that another seemed to be pointing. Indeed, the tree was pointing towards the wall that remained standing, and through which Phillip had entered the ruins of the sitting room. He had not yet turned and he had not looked towards the wall previously, but now, having been compelled by something from the tree, he turned to look.
Hanging amongst the peeling, golden wallpaper was a picture, completely intact, and untouched by time.
A picture of the house and garden as it used to be.