Beth walked through the cool criss-cross of shadows beneath the apple tree, the shadow fingers swirling softly in a gentle dance across the path, reaching upward against the gable wall.
Stepping around the corner, she had to close her eyes to the blazing sun, slowly opening them again as green light seeped in then formed into the familiar garden that she hadn’t seen for so long.
Two picnic tables stood ready, everything layed out on white table cloths, glasses glinting in the sun.
When her parents saw her, they lept up from their reclining chairs under the gazebo, nearly knocking a glass of wine across a newspaper.
As it had always been, her normal struggle for conversation was not an issue here. After half an hour they were still in full flow, and already working their way through the olives, buttered bread and chocolate cake, and washing it down with sparkling water, when the first guests wondered out into the light from the trees at the bottom of the garden.
Some children soared around and past them like little red arrows and tore around the garden. More guests began to appear, one leaning a bike against a tree, one couple folding their reflective strips into their pockets as they smiled and waved, one person leaning on another’s shoulder explaining something of great importance, and a few cars started crunching forward onto the gravel.
An old music player cut in, playing jazz and seemingly transporting everyone back a hundred years.
The hand of a red arrow was deftly caught just as it passed, a hand pointed, everyone hushed – whisper: quick, put off the music – and a cautious circle crept toward a bird box where the first chick had sprung out, the next beak already assessing what to do.
Soon the air was full of busy chatter, figures scattered in groups and ones and twos, lounging in chairs, in sunshine and leafy shade, some moving into and out of the house, food and drinks circulating and being picked from the tables.
Colourful clothes shone like finches in the sunshine as contrails traced silently across the deep blue sky above.
It was early evening before the final guests completed their goodbyes, and it was much later by the time Beth’s family had finished their follow up conversations while still slowly working through the remaining food.
Once Beth was home, with various left overs stored in her fridge and cake tins, she sat alone for a few moments before turning in.
Lock downs and quarantines were finally to become truly a memory from the past.
The future lay ahead.
It was too early to tell exactly what that future held, but she did have a sense, a feeling, of how it would be different. How people would put each other, and themselves, first – and not allow that to change. How they would follow their dreams, and value their time, and ensure they had time, to walk, to cycle, to enjoy being in nature with its simple pleasures, from the moods of winter to the warmth of the summer sun. How happiness and wellbeing would become central values for society. How systems and organisations, large and small, would have to adapt – as some would – or otherwise receed into inconsequence as others inevitably came into being.
Enough thinking for now. She had had a wonderful day.
She had two weeks ahead. To see family and friends. To enjoy being outdoors.
And then, she was going to start her next life adventure.