The machined road stretched into the distance until disappearing at the bend. Jake's perspective reduced the post and wire fences on either verge, to a vanishing point, reflective of the last ten months of his life. It was as if he had vanished, faded from notice. Army life had taken his individuality from him until he became nothing more than a bit part in a greater machine.
The hay fields were just turning brown. June was flitting away. What green was left, would soon be uniform yellow ochre, variations only caused by the action of the hot sierra winds that blew the grass this way and that. The fields he had known since he was old enough to notice had not changed, nothing was different. Even the smell of the fertile earth was the same as his memory recalled.
Clarity of this familiar landscape, felt somehow, foreign amongst all hazy memories of his recent past. Jake knew his name, knew this road, these were absolute certainties, but his recent history was nothing more than a flimsy curtain. One he could almost see through, but somehow, the gauzy material did just enough to hide the details.
He continued on the road, loose gravel crunching under foot, smelling the grasses, the smell of tarmac gently heating in the sun, until he turned the corner. His home, the home of his childhood, small and remote, standing in a cleft of the undulating hills, just as it always had, just as it always would, he supposed. White washed walls and red tiled roof welcomed him back.
Nothing different, nothing changed.
The gate was still swinging in a lazy arc, faintly creaking, the noise being carried on the breeze that always came up the valley. The same breeze as always, that brought the tang of salt from the briny channel, a mile on the other side of the cottage and at the bottom of a step cliff.
Clothing flapped on the dryer that slowly spun, looking like an old fashion moving picture show, flashing images of gradual motion, created from overlaid drawings, viewed through a small slot on a spinning disc.
The two apple trees that framed the garden path were bearing green, unripe apples that would eventually swell, redden and sweeten.
Jake stood, taking in the view, still several hundred yards away. His steel grey eyes travelled over the scene, drinking in the vista from his vantage point in the middle of the road that lead down hill to the gate and abruptly stopped in a broad sweep of tarmac and grass verge. Peaceful, lonely even, isolated in the fold of the two hills that bent the wind to its will, forcing it up the valley, no matter the direction of the prevailing weather. The cottage sat in splendid, starkness, always seeming out of place in the wilderness of the fields like a bright spot in an ochre background. It was so familiar, so welcoming to the traveller. Jake stepped forward, one more in a series of steps that would take him home.
Nothing different, just the same as it ever was.
And then, the door opened. Jake still had fifty yards to go before he reached the gate. He squinted against the sunlight, then, shaded his eyes with his free hand across his brow. The woman, bent slightly at the waist, as if carrying too much weight, emerged and shuffled along the boarded porch towards the dryer. Her movements were slow, purposeful, the actions of a disfigured hip. Jake slowed his step, observing her progress, noticing the floral dress and white pinafore she wore.
Her hair was pulled back into a savage bun high on the back of her head. Even at this distance, he could see that it was almost pure white. He stopped, now only twenty feet from the gate that still swung lazily and creaked as it always had done. She dropped the un-pegged clothing, one by one, into a wicker basket, left under the dryer. Then, when it had all been collected, she gingerly picked up the basket, slowly straightening her back and began to retrace her steps to the door.
Some instinct, as it most often is, made her look up, raise her head and then her eyes, to gaze up the road and then at Jake.