A man sat on a hillside with his wife. They watched hot air bal-loons rise over a scattered city skyline. Echoes of flame reached them. Twisted spires grasped upwards, hoping to bring aeronauts tumbling down, but fell short. There was a faint haze on the air, like a Delhi summer or a dream.

The man turned and brushed a hand through his wife’s tangled hair. The wind tugged strands out into the air where they danced, free. My Snow White, he murmured. I love you. She lay still.

The makings of a picnic surrounded them, fallen soldiers on a chequered battlefield. A battered old suitcase guarded the man’s right, a half eaten sandwich on a damp paper plate to his left. His wife reclined against the furry beachball of his bare belly, goddess against a satyr. She was very beautiful. He was not.

Champagne, he asked. She was silent so he poured only one. The city through bubbles seemed warped and strange. He took a sip and told her how good it was. She smiled at the sky, sunset fire and balloon shadows in her eyes. They’re beautiful, aren’t they, he said. His hand reached for hers, fingertips brushing. She said nothing, perhaps thinking of flying. I’ll take you, one day, he promised.

Downfield a troupe of teenagers cavorted. One pointed at the man and his wife. Like a pack of dogs to the scent they raised heads, became still. Eyes judged. Whispers gained weight. They threw ugliness at the couple. He flinched as the first words hit, curling about her protectively. She stared down at the teenagers. He smiled and nodded. Yes, he said, they’re just children I sup-pose. How could they understand?

Words turned to stone. Hurled, they shattered his champagne glass. It burst apart like rotten fruit. Amber dribbled over fin-gers. Shards in his wife’s hair. He brushed them away. The teenag-ers advanced. There was no more peace for them here. Sighing, the man folded his wife up and packed her into the case along with the chequered blanket and half eaten sandwich. Two fleshy plastic dig-its caught in the closed case, waving reproach. He didn’t notice