The sun had been exposed all day, uninterrupted by clouds, and now rested in the looming veil of evening like a lightbulb behind a curtain. The hall was the largest room in David and Lily’s house. It overlooked an abstract cauldron of water and mountain too vast to comprehend, and the guests nested by the huge windows, admiring this sight.
In the midst of the oncoming niceties, Max sat on an oddly placed brown sofa in an opposite corner of the room, occasionally and blankly dipping his hand into a packet of crisps, munching loudly (though unheard). A luminous and half-empty bottle of beer sat on the floor near his right foot, and he occasionally peered down to consider it, as if it were a small domesticated animal jittering in the empty and extravagant room. He could spot David, hands tightly held behind his back, draped in a long and translucent white shirt. He was behind a group of guests, imitating their sightseeing by peering over their shoulders. Max would perhaps posit him as an old friend, though he would rather not speak of him at all. The sun was quickly being taken in by a darkness that lurched over the great hall like hands branching out. Max had found Anna, someone that he had known for eternity. It was a good sign; engaging with her would at least pass the time.
After a short while, they wandered outside, dodging a glass table in a conservatory room where a jet-black copy of Austen’s novels sat like the silhouette of a brick. Anna slid the glass door shut and gazed back at him over her shoulder with a smile that was both flirtatious and polite, feigning apprehension. They walked rather quickly over to the decking outside of the front of the hall, halting at a point where they would be scarcely visible to anyone inside. She kissed him, gently encased by the tiny circlet-beams of light that shimmered across the tops of a list of boats in the dark bay. Behind their silhouettes were the muted fires of brown roofs littering the vast hills.
Considering it strange, even vulgar to further any advances, they stood awkwardly as observers to the dance inside, which had now fractured, framing an empty circle. Lily, donning a short and lucid blue dress (almost a fixed shape in the open air), dashed into it. Anna stood, occasionally peering over Max’s shoulder at that solitary figure.
David’s stern face was heavily textured, almost woundlike; and he waited and then slowly paced towards his girlfriend as if the dance were a ritual. The two dancers held each other close, and in that brusque face Max thought he saw a tear floating down, like a river through a crevasse, but by then the couple had turned and gradually became obscured by the multitude of observers starting to dance too, as if given some silent approval.
The lights shuddered in that distant and ethereal hall. The music pulsated and knocked at the walls, and then David slapped Lily in the face; and the crack was like a drum erupting into the music and then into the bleak and catastrophic air where the two spectators stood, shivering. Lily instantly fell to the floor, contorting slightly as she landed. Each quick attempt to heave herself up ended in a slumped and bestial gesture, as if a spider-like creature was attempting to force its limbs into something stable and permissible. Time slurred its way back to constancy. Everyone flooded through the open doors of the hall while Max and Anna stood motionless. He noticed as the touch of her hands began to disappear.
After leaning against the wall and drinking for a while longer (for Anna had left almost immediately), Max paced towards his car, opened the door, and gently laid down on the backseats. Face-up, the roof of the house was just visible against the top of the car window by his feet, and he flinched slightly at the thought of easing away the next few hours in this place. A leaf dropped outside, and then another, like two blocks of stone from a cliff.
He got up after resting for a while – clambered up and stared at the strange emptiness of the hall, encased in glass. He blindly searched for his coat and then strolled outside, walking briskly to the front of the hall, where the decking lurched out onto the water.
The paper-thin grey clouds rested on the blackness of the night, stirring gently. The sky stood plainly while the echoes of light penetrated the vast mass of the lake, that was colourless and vague.
Out of the abyss of night, a fiery glow began to project itself and contort around the wooden railings. The lights upstairs were turning on. Things would go on without him, and, though wondering what had happened to Lily, he knew that he would resolve to know nothing. He was seized by an unassailable cold. He imagined it was death, or at least he thought he might stay there until he did hurt himself, or else numb all feeling. The espaliered trees were hooked to the side of the hall, the leaves swaying and beating repeatedly: the only clarity against the dissonant and fading landscape.
by Joseph Bullock