Two white pegasi sit on a dark hill.
It is autumn, and the ground is a carpet of stiff leaves. Overcast weather looms above, and there is no sign of sunlight besides the evening brightness in the clouds. Ghostly crows flit in the distance behind the pegasi. One might suppose that there is laughter beyond the frame, where delighted fillies perhaps play in a park nearby and lovers nuzzle affectionately beneath trees, but here there is only stillness.
The two are alone here, for it is Picture Day — that sacred time of supposed familial togetherness, standing on a thick foundation of stiff postures and held together with the glue of forced cheer. It is an unspoken agreement between the two to keep this tradition intact, if nothing else. This last promise persists, though its valued existence begins to tarnish through disinterest and decay through time.
The stallion smiles broadly outward, displaying teeth that jut from his gums like bricks. He is a solid mass of muscles, rippling with inert strength and confidence. His body glistens with sweat, and his buzzed mane bristles at attention. A lumpy bag lays nestled against his side like a snuggling foal; a massive barbel peeks from within like an unwanted onlooker.
He glows with pride and adrenaline, feeling satisfaction in his relative success. For the first time in years, he has surpassed his personal best in weightlifting. It is a feat he had not come close to before, and for a time he even began to grow uncertain at his contual failure to do so; but now he at last sits triumphant at the peak of his potential, secure in the knowledge that he truly is the best he can be and fully immersed in his special talent. He wonders why his son does not care about this.
The colt sits nearby, just close enough to acknowledge his neighbor. The corners of his mouth are pulled sharply upwards, but only his buckteeth can be seen past them. A close look reveals shadows beneath his wide eyes. His skinny form is hunched, sullen, withdrawn, defeated; he is almost dwarfed by the dirty backpack slumped in the leaves close by.
He buckles beneath doubt and exhaustion. The photos he takes are lovely and almost professional; his smiling teacher told him so. She also told him, with a gentle smile and a hint of disapproval, that there are more important things than practicing his special talent every hour of the day. His questioning look was coolly answered with the sight of his most recent exam, topped with his most unflattering grade yet and sprinkled with his classmates' mocking laughter. He wonders why his father does not care about this.
Between the two pegasi is a conspicuous emptiness, devoid of everything aside from a thoughtless gesture of affection. This space was occupied, once upon a time, back when words and voices meant everything. But its occupant is long gone, and with her laughter and sincerity. They have stopped wondering why she has never come back.
In this moment of stillness the stallion's pride falters. He wonders what it means to have a son who is unenthusiastic enough to ignore his greatest moment. In a brief epiphany he considers the possibility of his own ignorance being at fault, and he feels a hint of a sadness deeper than he can identify. Loneliness and hidden despair blend messily together, melting into an unbearable longing for times that he can never recapture even in his dreams. With uncharacteristic hesitance he reaches sideways to the colt with a foreleg bulging with muscles, trembling ever so slightly in the autumn air.
The colt senses this motion, perhaps from a displacement of air that tickles his feathers. He feels the distance between them shrink, and the comfortable barrier that separates them cracks unpleasantly. Yet in a flash of half-understanding he distantly realizes his desire to allow this, to feel pride and affection from an estranged yet genuine touch that he has not felt in years. His protective shell suddenly restricts him from breathing, and so he briefly rebels. He only leans in slightly towards his hulking companion, not even glancing at the stallion as he does so. He does not hate his father, after all. Not yet.
Their bodies touch in this moment, tentative hoof making contact with grudging shoulder. The stallion's eyes flicker in the flash, and something in his grin grows less empty, more sincere. His success at reconnection, however brief, is captured in the blink of an eye. He celebrates not with his usual monosyllabic exclamation, but with simple contented sigh. Beside him, the colt's head leans toward his father inexplicably, just a little. His slumped posture is a little straighter, and his gaze is pulled upwards from the dead ground. They can almost imagine that nothing is missing in this picture, that no memory of a mother's laugh echoes hollowly on the breeze.
In all this, the unseen photographer does not count. He is an invisible nonentity, a tool to facilitate the process and nothing more. The colt knows this better than any; the stallion could not care less. No one will remember his face or his name.
Everything here is faded. The photo lays in this dusty album, inert. Black becomes gray, gray becomes pale. Contrasts wither and die. But in this moment, shapes still hold their form. Life, even in its current stagnant state, holds meaning.
Yet there will be a time when they look through their photos and point to the moment when everything went wrong and tenuous ties were cut for good. This will not be that moment. This will be one of few snapshots of their familiarity with affection: one of a dozen leaves that will fall when their family tree is finally struck down, fluttering silently on its lonely path to the cold earth and the oblivion of the forgotten.
First they champ, then they stamp, now they stand still.