Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: REMEMBER (10/19/17)
- TITLE: Hiraeth
By Ann Grover
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She’s never been here before, but she feels. She knows. She’s enveloped by the smell of grass, the sweetness of damp loam and fallen leaves, and wild green things growing along the edge of the road.
Around the bend, there is a church on a rise, lichened gravestones lurching unsteadily in its shadow. The door creaks open, as she knew it would, and in the dim light, she greets the scent of candle wax and old wood, wood that has been worn and shaped by generations of supplication and entreaty. The pews are austere, unyielding, yet when she seats herself, the narrow plank welcomes her, conforms to her bones.
Her fingers are familiar with the feel of the smoothed wood; her eyes recognize the font, the altar, the carving on the elevated pulpit, the ray of light slanting through the small window.
The voices surprise her, a diaphanous humming, rising and falling and drifting, like mist on a fall morning, and here and there, a tone, a word, pulls a murmur from her, a sound of her own.
Reluctantly and feeling bereft, she leaves the church, but it will remain within her.
From the church, it’s not far to the house, the path to the timbered cottage overgrown. The house is small, shrunken, settled into itself, and a tree has grown through the roof. There are vestiges of a fence, decaying posts embracing a smothered garden. The fragrance of lilacs lingers.
The door hangs askew and she sidles inside, taking care not to snag her sweater on a nail. Chimney bricks tumble around a rusted cookstove; tattered rags flutter at the windows, and a splintered and warped tabletop lies crookedly, legless. But here, here, beats a heart, and her own heart harmonizes with the cadence.
I know this place.
And like an old movie, scratchy and wavering, the room comes to life. The air is heavy and moist with the odors of boiled mutton and woolen socks and wood smoke. Hair silvery-blond, children clamour around the suddenly righted and gleaming table, and a woman places a steaming platter in its centre. A whiskered man sits at the head of the table, suspenders crisscrossing his broad shoulders.
“I Jesu navn går vi til bords...”
She whispers the words as they come one at a time, unbidden, to her lips.
“So får vi mat i Jesu navn. Amen.”
Impossibly, for it cannot be, one of the children is her. Wispy, flaxen hair in her eyes. She knows the feel of the itchy stockings. The brown dress, with a stray string unravelling from the hem, a stain on the skirt that she tries to hide from her mother. The tow-haired boy beside her pinches her under the table, daring her to cry out.
She knows what will happen next and she braces herself for the cascade of milk, the mother leaping up, the gruff rebuke from the man, the shamed downcast eyes of the clumsy one.
And suddenly there are candles, on the table, on the window sill. Snow gently patters against the glass. The children cluster around a small tree in the corner, and she knows one of the bulky packages contains river skates. Another has a crimson scarf. A picture book.
The mother’s eyes reflect the glimmer of candlelight, and joy is a brightness on the face of each child. Even the bearish man has a hint of gladness lurking on his grizzled face.
She dares not breathe, not wanting the scene, so foreign and so familiar, to vanish. She yearns, with a longing so intense that every thrum of her heart brings a pang of regret, of infinite sadness, to be truly here at this hearth. To stay. To be with them. To be them.
And then all dissolves like snowflakes in a flame. The damp, earthen floor is at her feet. She sees the rotting, tilting walls and the glassless, gaping window. She emerges from There into Here, from Then into Now, stricken with grief.
The ache will abide in her forever, she is certain. For the water that quenched their thirst still flows in her veins; the skies of yesteryear that sheltered them will always cover her. Each breath she takes is an echo of a breath already taken. Their story is her story, inscribed on every cell of her being.
Her blood remembers.
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