Phillip spun round on one foot as he avoided a chunk of rubble sticking out from the ground to look to his brother.
“Yes, be careful. As rubble tends to be, it is everywhere, and not necessary in some sort of orderly pattern.”
“Yeah,” young Peter rubbed his shin, hoping that no skin had broken. Peter hated to admit that, although he was in the army, the sight of bloody wounds made his stomach twist.
“Why didn’t we bring a bigger torch? Or another one, for that matter?”
“It must have slipped my mind, I suppose,” Phillip mumbled; he was starting to regret returning, as the feelings of guilt and sorrow also accompanied him; intensifying with every step further in. “Sneaking out and avoiding the parents and foes around every corner does that to one.”
Peter understood his brother’s sudden change of heart.
“We can go if-”
“No, we’ve taken the time and effort to get here. I…don’t want to leave,” he admitted.
“Okay,” Peter clutched at his brother, standing uneasily, “Show me where you saw the tree.”
Phillip pointed his torch into the coal sky, and peered through the gloom. After a minute he headed off towards, what looked like to them, a particularly large chunk of rubble wedged into the earth. It wasn’t exactly a sinister place, but it didn’t have the aura of safety either. Peter didn’t know how, but he had known, so certainly, the way his brother was going.
They pushed through the night until, in a heartbeat, they were standing beside the beautiful tree. Phillip put his hand to it, touching the baby pink fabric that dangled, and caressed the tired, worn bark.
“I don’t know whether it’s just the light, but, in half a day, this tree seems to have grown at least half a metre…”
Peter stared at the growing tree, transfixed. Like his father, Peter’s eyesight was not great, especially in the dark hours, but he could see the tree so clearly; it was almost luminous. As he put his hand out to feel the size of the tree, Peter trembled involuntarily. The still air became cold, and the atmosphere became enclosed, as though they had just stepped inside a building. The air was thick with must, but Peter could also feel the warmth of the two people sitting and chatting comfortably; women bonding over something so simple as tea and a miniature supply of biscuits.
Phillip realised that suddenly his brother had shut his eyes tightly, and was shaking throughout his body as he clutched at the tree. The concentration on his face was painful, even to watch, and if his knuckles were not white from the effort of gripping the trunk with all his little might, they would be soon.
“Peter?” Phillip was about to reach out to shake his brother by the shoulders, when, with a gasp, Peter was back to his normal surroundings.
Wide-eyed, Peter gazed around the ‘room’ as though he was seeing it in a new light. He took in the dark lumps that he now identified as upturned furniture, he took in the colours that he had briefly glimpsed through the women, he took in the house-and-garden image still hanging on the wall opposite. How he knew it was there, he understood not, but, through the physical night that covered his vision, he could see it so clearly in his mind.
Most of all, Peter took in the surprise growth of life in the centre of it all.
“Are you okay?” Peter heard Phillip mutter beside him.
Slowly, he let his head nod up and back down, before finally trusting his voice to speak without shaking.
“I can feel it. There’s someone here…”
Phillip frowned, looking around the ruin.
“There’s no-one here,” he said, frankly.