Will had perched on the edge of their bed. He brushed Danielle’s cheek with his thumb, and told her he was going for a walk, receiving a half-awake mumble in reply. Ten years together and he still looked at her sleeping form in wonder; still had the old urge to play with her hair while she slept; to watch her chest rise and fall, skin covered in goose pimples from the morning frost. He kissed her temple before slipping out of the flat and onto the street below, mostly empty but lit by sterile white street lamps. With work so busy, he didn’t have the time to think. But now, with only the sound of his own footsteps on the pavement and the brief breaths of the breeze fondling his cheeks, he started to hear the familiar sound of his thoughts.
It was their tenth anniversary when Danielle had told him that she had kissed someone within one week after their first date but that nothing else had happened, and only that she couldn’t not be honest with him. It had been her ex, she hadn’t fully cut it off with him; she had been confused. Despite knowing that this shouldn’t bother him, not really, it had changed him – perhaps not noticeably, but he had been quieter than usual.
The trees were just wavering silhouettes, their leaves looking full and dark and pulsating – but that was an illusion. Leaves littered the sides of the streets like abandoned chocolate wrappers. He stopped at a Jack O’ Lantern on a brick wall and smiled – carved into it was a perfectly round moon with a witch on a broomstick flying across it. He thought about his childhood and Halloweens and winced – his father telling him off at a friend’s party; his mother giving out bouncy balls when she ran out of sweets, only to have children trying to bite into them . . .
He had been walking towards the beach, naturally, though the sea was only visible by the sound and smell of the waves crashing against the bay. His phone vibrated, and he fumbled to get it out of his pocket. It was Alice. He had seen Alice last week in work for the first time in what was nearly nine years. Her smile of recognition had delighted him, and they had been gently reminiscing about college over text since then. Prone to periods penetrating openness, and the woozying effect of the sea air, Will typed out a message confessing the crush he had had on Alice for years – including his want to tell her of it on the last day of college despite being with Danielle, and his dream that he would one day visit her at The White Horse pub where she had worked. He hit ‘send’ before knowing he meant to and dropped the phone back into his pocket, already forgetting.
Stood at the bottom of the street, listening to the sea, he remembered the night not long before Danielle agreed to go on a date with him. He had walked along the pier looking up at the stars whilst on the phone to Danielle. She lived in the countryside then and was also watching the meteor shower, but from the back of her house. He had asked her what she wished for, but she wouldn’t tell him because then it wouldn’t come true. But he knew what she was wishing for, and he was wishing the same.
His phone buzzed as he started walking back towards the flat, passing the same houses on the opposite side of the street. He was about halfway back when he stopped at the sound of some loud trick-or-treaters that had stayed out too late. He watched the three of them, two of them tried to pull the mask off the other one, and then one of the two punched the Jack O’ Lantern off the brick wall, laughing, and then they walked on.
Crossing, Will looked over the brick wall and down onto the patio where there laid the smashed pumpkin. He opened the gate to the front patio, careful not to let the hinges creak, and confirmed for himself, from the shards, that it had been the flying witch.
He felt the rising motion in his chest and grimaced. And sighed. He collected every fragment he could find in what moonlight the clouds allowed him; the extinguished candle, every little piece of pumpkin matter, and some of what wasn’t. He looked up at the house; no lights were visible in the windows. Squatted on their patio, with the mess in his arms, he imagined one of the family discovering in the morning that the Jack O’ Lantern was missing. Will imagined the possibility of them thinking perhaps someone had loved the carving of the witch so much that they had taken it home to keep until it decayed. Smiling, he stood up and left, shutting the gate with difficulty.
Walking back up the street to the flat where Danielle lay in bed, a cold cup of tea by her bedside that Will had made for her when she asked for one, he took a deep breath and slowed his pace. He looked at the smashed bits of pumpkin cradled in his arms and smiled. He hadn’t noticed that he had stopped thinking, he was too happy for that, the image of his neighbour smiling at the vacant brick wall had pleased him too well. As Will slipped back into the flat, further leaves fell off the trees, joining the ones below, and, all of them a different shade of autumn; they set the scene for morning.