Adolph lay on the grass, an air of contempt about his features. The freckles that had danced across his face were now a pale imitation of what they had once been. He checked his pocket watch; he would have to go back to work soon. His eyes slid shut as he dreamed of a time when the sky did not have a metallic glare, and when he could fish freely from the little brook that ran at the bottom of one of his father’s paddocks. It was a nicer time then.
Adolph took in the familiar surroundings. He was sitting on the hill that overlooked the paddocks and, in the distance, the farm house. A sturdy tree claimed the hill peak, the trunk wider than his arm span. He ruffled his feathery hair and after smiling to himself, rolled down the hill with a boyish delight. The grass wasn’t quite as soft as he remembered it to be, and the air remained stale around him.
The man got to his feet unsteadily and looked around at the empty paddocks which should have been alive with the gentle sounds of grazing animals. Even the farmhouse didn’t have a trail of smoke breathing from the chimney. His father should have been calling him down to the barn.
Though, he did catch one sound: the faint tinkle of a bicycle bell. The bell’s metal, having long rusted, hadn’t rung for a time. Excited, he rushed across the paddocks, leaping over fences, to get to the dirt road which led to the town.
He watched her come up the road with a casual elegance. She was wearing a frock, her hair tied up in a bun under her sun hat as she peddled towards him. A smile lit up her face and she waved. To him, she was pretty as a day and as perfect as he remembered her.
He lounged against a fence post as she rode the bicycle to a stop and dropped it to the ground. Adolph wiped his sweaty and dirty hands on his trousers; he just had to go and roll down that hill, didn’t he?
“Adolph,” she said. Her pearly cheeks glowed red.
She wrung her hands together in her white silk gloves.
Adolph suddenly wished that he was wearing something other than his dirty, stinky work clothes, but Maggie didn’t seem to mind. He took her hands from under the fence and pulled her closer. They were cold. Adolph was sure he could warm them up with his touch.
Her eyelids fluttered under his gaze and he leant forward. A secret embrace was the least she could give him in that moment: a town girl and a farm boy were never meant to be together.
Their lips met and Adolph wrapped his arms around her tiny body. She remained cold, almost hollow. The feel of her reminded Adolph of his father’s pocket watch, which had turned cool to the touch following his death. Maggie stepped away and flushed again, looking down at her feet.
Her hollowness reminded him of everything that was wrong. Maggie was dead, and so was that life. A farm boy no more, he was a different person now, for better or for worse. A producer of numbers and ideas, Adolph’s work had become the by-product of someone else’s demands. His father’s paddocks, with its hills and brooks… they were no more than a stormwater drain.
Penitent, he tore away from her and sped up the hill, the metallic taste of her lips clinging to his own. The others had warned him about coming here, but he had to come and see it for himself. He just wasn’t ready to let go of the past. He didn’t want to depend on the fabricated world of his memories.
He found the door embedded into the back of the tree and pulled it open, twisting the hidden handle in the knot of the bark. It didn’t creak like the farm’s barn doors did, but swung open with ease. The noise and lights of the outside flooded in, overwhelming his senses. People darted around, not even glancing at him as he burst forward on the grey, grassless street. Feet pounded the sidewalks. Blocked by towers, the sun’s warmth was substituted with the agitated pounding of the people’s footsteps.
Retreating from the room that contained a replica of his entire childhood world, Adolph began to move toward the crowd, taking a deep breath. He was a fool to think that any of it could have been real. His watch ticked at him, a reminder once again that he had to go, or he would be late.
As he shut the door behind him he wrenched the little chip from under the green light. After tucking it carefully away into one of his breast pockets Adolph dissolved into the crowd, the sound of doors slamming and the heavy bustle of people absorbing just another insignificant grain of life.