George stared at his imaginary flag from the comfort of his chair in the garden. Freshened by an early morning shower, there was a horizontal stripe of lush green grass, which ran away down past the pond and giant willows to the border beyond, there was no fence, just a yard or two where the grass and weeds on either side were allowed to grow unfettered.
Next, there was an equal stripe of gold as the barley rose up and took command covering the entire centre ground, leading eventually to the hedgerow in the far distance, it moved and swayed as one in the gentle breeze and sent ripples of yellow and ochre through its entire being giving the impression of gentle waves washing ashore in a sea of molten metallics.
Finally, there was a band of blue as the sky rose up from a graduating pale pallor to an exquisite azure, which lay overhead like a comforting blanket. The sunlight, which bounced off a few cotton wool clouds, made them appear as if they could be plucked from the sky with an outstretched arm.
Late in the afternoon on a mid-September day, the light was as perfect as he could ever remember. Every colour was at its finest, sharp in pigment and flawless, even the scent of the verdant grass and sweet honeysuckle hanging from the pergola were pure perfection.
He marvelled at a kestrel as it hovered effortlessly over the hedgerow just waiting for a slight movement or a sign of an impending supper. A dozen dragon flies flew around each other in the centre of the lawn enacting a merry-dance in a closing summer celebration. One or two would venture over revealing their glorious colouring of petrol blues and emerald greens and then quickly rejoin the party.
George pulled his blanket slightly tighter as the wind had changed direction and started to blow in from the North. 'Autumn is almost upon us,' he thought, 'but not yet, please, not yet.' He heard china rattling on a tin tray behind him and began to smile.
He then felt a wetness on his hand as he gripped his chair arm. It was a familiar wetness that would bring an even greater smile to his face. He looked down into the wide black orbs that belonged to Rascal, his border collie. She licked him, it was a signal that she needed a pat or a stroke. George duly obliged.
The tea-tray was gently lowered onto the rusting bistro table and immediately the teapot was lifted into the air and swirled around to enhance the flavour and to add a little drama to their afternoon ritual. The sound of liquid falling from a height into the bone china cups was one of the little pleasures in life, the ones that should be cherished.
In the distance he suddenly heard it, his heart sank. It sounded like thunder.
Cassie handed him a cup of steaming Earl Grey with a digestive precariously balancing on the saucer. He carefully held it above his blanket and waited for it to cool a while, but his thoughts were disturbed by the noise in the far off distance, his mood dropped and he no longer felt like smiling.
Rascal limped over to the willow to see if there was anything happening in the pond and to get a sneaky drink if her master wasn’t looking. She looked skyward and sniffed the air, the thunder seemed to be getting nearer.
‘Do you think she knows?’ he asked, quietly.
Cassie stared at the collie as she gingerly lowered herself down to the water's edge.
‘I think so, dogs are so clever and they sense so many things.’
She leant across and put a hand on his, it felt warm and gentle, but at the same time so fragile.
The thunder got even louder.
He lifted the cup and saucer to his lips, it rattled as his hand shook, he hated the thunder. They both stared at Rascal as she sniffed the air again, something was definitely coming.
They sat in silence and took in the view. For over forty years they had sat and admired the same outlook and never tired of it. They had been lucky, they had travelled the world and seen many fine things, but nothing compared to this. It was home.
And then it appeared.
The thunder in the distance burst through the gates in the far corner of the beautiful golden sea, a fire breathing red beast that would lay waste to the field of glorious barley, that would render that middle stripe of molten metallic ocean into a drab band of brown decimated earth, leaving just a few snapped stems clinging desperately onto life. It would take a while, but it was happening and sadly unstoppable.
His heart sank lower and he dropped his cup and saucer to the ground. Rascal assumed the biscuit was for her and quickly gobbled it up and licked her mouth with her grateful tongue.
‘Sorry,’ he said.
Cassie quickly picked up the cup. It was broken. She looked sadly at her family heirloom.
‘Sorry,’ he said again, as he saw her staring at it.
She put her hand on his and gave it a gentle rub.
‘It doesn’t matter, we have a few more in the set, I’ll fetch another, shan’t be long.’
She held the two pieces like an injured bird and carried them back to the house. 'Maybe a bit of glue,' she thought.
Cassie stood at the kitchen window and watched her George as he sat motionless and then beyond to the decimation taking place as a large cloud of dust rose into the sky. Rascal lay by his feet.
A tear ran down her cheek.
He felt his anger increase as the red beast ripped up his flag, it happened every year and every year he would curse the day that the harvest arrived. He would curse the day that his Elysium and endless perfect days were destroyed. He pulled the blanket tighter to keep out the sudden chill.
‘Here we are, I found another cup, I knew we still had one or two left.’
Cassie smiled, but he could tell she’d been crying. He felt guilty about the broken cup.
They both looked at Rascal as she hobbled over to the imaginary boundary and barked at the red beast that appeared to be edging ever nearer.
Within an hour it was almost complete, the dust cloud was almost upon them.
‘George, I think we should go in now, don’t you?’
He didn’t answer straight away, his eyes were focused on the grey foreboding cloud as it rose slowly into the sky and met up with the retreating September sun. A ghostly shadow crept across the garden.
‘Do you believe in something more than this, something beyond our existence?' he asked, ignoring her question.
She was surprised and thought for a while.
‘Why do you?’ she replied, unsure of a correct answer.
‘Oh yes, I believe in Elysium, it even has its own flag.’
Cassie looked at him and stroked Rascal who was sniffing around by her feet.
She didn’t reply.
They just stared at the changing view and the dust cloud. The kestrel and the celebrating dragon flies had long gone.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he said.
She was collecting the cup's and putting them on the tray, she stopped and sat down again.
‘What for George, what on earth are you sorry about?’
There was a few seconds of silence, except of course for the red beast which was almost at their invisible border.
‘I’m sorry that I will never hold your hand anymore as we look at our wonderful view. I’m sorry that it’s almost over.’
Cassie tried to hold back a tear, but she couldn’t. She stood up again, quickly wiping it away and picked up the tray. She had tried so hard to be brave, but she knew that wall of strength was starting to crumble as she realised her George would never witness another golden ocean.
‘Be back in a jiffy,’ she said, with a hushed wavering voice.
He stroked Rascal as the combine harvester came within thirty yards. The driver waved as it passed. George lifted a weak arm in a resentful acknowledgement.
She soon returned and put a hand on his shoulder.
‘Right mister, let's get back inside shall we, it’s far too loud and it's turned a bit chilly out here.’
She pushed the wheelchair with all her strength to get it moving on the lush grass, eventually the wheels began to turn. Rascal limped ahead realising it must be nearly dinner time.
‘I do believe in Elysium,’ she said, as they neared the house.
He turned and looked up into her eyes and placed his shaking hand on hers as she gripped the handles.
‘Thank you my darling, I shall be there waiting for you in our beautiful garden with a nice pot of tea.’
They both smiled as they went inside, shutting out the noise and the dust from the growling red beast as it continued to decimate their flag.
Autumn was at their doorstep and it was unstoppable.