This is one of the Newcastle Herald Short Story Competition 2020 finalists. For a full list of the finalists revealed so far, head here
Placing his hand gently on his wife's arm, causing her to pause while clearing the dinner plates from the large dining table, he softly announces "I'll do the dishes."
Looking up, she instantly recognises the youthful glint in his eye; a trademark twinkle that seemed perpetual some years ago but recently has been infrequent and fleeting.
It signalled that she couldn't turn him away from the proclaimed task, as much as she wished she could, knowing what the conclusion of this seemingly helpful gesture would be.
Filling the sink and arranging the dirty crockery while humming happily out of tune, he is slightly puzzled that the soapy water would take away the wrinkles on his hands, tightening his skin and clearing his completion.
Strange it would have that effect, he ponders, but the thought is washed away as quickly as the remains of the evening meal on the first plate as it plunges into the water.
Looking up, a warm smile spreads across his face as he gazes through the window above the sink.
Two young kids run out from under the house and into his view, the wonderful sounds of childish joy filling the air and swelling his chest.
Warm golden sunlight bathes his children as they play away the last remnants of the day.
There is no limit to the delightful mischief invented as they become pirates, doctors, shopkeepers and elephants, often, against all reason, all at once.
The vision is so captivating, just to be able to observe them unnoticed is such blissful comfort.
A foggy memory pushes at the back of his mind, thoughts of blueprint and plans hover at the edge of thought.
Something about a subdivision? A development that would rob his family of the sprawling views and potential for adventurous play?
The concept, struggling to penetrate his consciousness like a mist, is quickly dissipated with a physical shake of his head.
Bending to the task at hand, thoughts of houses springing up around him disappear as he continues to revel in the scene unwinding before his eyes, through the window above the sink.
Washing the dishes used to be such a chore but this perfect moment is savoured as he takes his time to ensure every little spoon is as clean as it possibly can be.
Willing the perfect moment to last just that little while longer, he is disappointed to discover the dirty pile of dishes has disappeared and as the now cold sink water gurgles through the drain, the last glass is wiped dry and placed carefully away.
"Tell those kids to come in for their bath, I'm nearly done here."
He bellows with an uneasy chuckle, his thoughts conflicted; hopefully thinking ahead to the next delightfully prosaic task of filling the bathtub, while at the same time dreading what he knew deep down what was to come next. His mind clouds as the completion of his task concludes the escape to a memory that can only be seen through the window above the sink.
Already behind him, close, ready for this moment she sighs.
Embracing his shoulders from behind, she tries to gently bring him home.
"You know they aren't coming in."
Her calming voice, well-practised and full of love, abolishes all doubt, bringing realisation in an instant.
The pouring rain, the black night, the bright flashes of lighting a shocking contrast.
It had started out as an ordinary drive home.
The dark corner, the hidden sign, his car turning slowly in front of the shrouded threat, and then everything happening as if at once.
The headlights. The truck.
The speed. The panic.
The horrible sound, the screeching of metal as loud as thunder, and the silence that followed.
No screams, no cries, no wails from the seats behind.
The silence that is still unbearable.
Sobbing, holding her close, the years of grief are flooding back as he gratefully wraps his arms wrapped around her, holding tight, his head resting on hers.
His protector and his salvation, he marvels at the strength possessed in her slight frame, knowing she contains the same sorrow as his ageing but solid bulk.
He can see his hands through tears as he blinks them away, spotted by the sun and wrinkled more by time than dishwater. Together they have revisited this anguish countless times.
Looking through the window above the sink the last of the sunlight is reflected in the sliding door of the neighbouring house, so close to their own.
The fields surrounding them, the open space that was once so vast, yet still unable to contain the imagination of his beloved children, have dissolved into brick and tin.
The built-up suburb, fences and houses pushing in, replacing the idealistic former tableau with the harsh modern reality.
The empty despair that regularly threatens to consume since the horrible night so many years ago was rising, opposing the sun as it set somewhere unseen across the rooftops.
"Come on," comes the order, her voice as gruff as she can muster after what seems a lifetime in each other's arms.
"You promised me dessert," she finishes.
It's an attempt to bring the routine that she hopes will banish the memory, euphoric in the moment but soul destroying in its aftermath, and return him to the safety of the mundane.
Drying the tears from his face, he is thankful for her embrace and the love she provides, the only one who can understand, and the only one able to push back the despair.
"Okay, but you're washing up" he laughs softly, sparing a final anxious glance at the window above the sink.