Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Hiraeth is originally a Welsh word, now stolen by the English language. It’s a noun meaning false nostalgia, or more specifically: ‘homesickness for a home that never was’. Write a story or a poem which includes the feeling of hiraeth.
By Connie Phlipot
Anneli fidgeted on the slippery faux leather seat. The man next to her frowned when she muttered an insincere “sorry” for bumping his knee. The train slowed —the route was single-tracked here, it had been that way forever — shuffling through the spindly-treed forest. She opened her book, a thick novel by a distinguished author, a Nobel Prize winner in fact, that she had been saving for this long journey. The words tumbled around the pages; she lost sight of what century, what country, what people this woman was writing about. Anneli close her eyes. A cool stream lapped around her ankles, the sharp edges of pebbles massaged her feet and lithesome grasses tickled her calves. The sun was an upturned bowl, capturing her dreams, her fantasies.
Anneli closed the book and wandered back through her memories. Collecting thin, smooth stones to skip across the wide deep part of the stream. Her father had taught her how to cock her wrist just so, putting a hand on her upper arm to make sure she didn’t swing it back too far or fast. In turn, she had taught her cousin — the curly haired imp, daughter of her mother’s only brother — how to skip stones. Afterwards, they galloped up the hill to the brick cottage her grandfather had built after the war. A draughtsman, then a rifleman, he had a perfect sense of proportion. The cottage was as precise and delicate as a Christmas tree ornament. Grandmother sewed the curtains from muslin flour sacks. They hung at the windows until the sun bleached them into white slivers. The scent of basil next to the step was heady; the bees flitted among the peppermint flowers. Her cousin rushed ahead, clattering clattery screen door open to grab the heel end of the just-baked bread.
A train swooshed past in the opposite direction. Her train had stopped completely. The neighbor snored, the abandoned newspaper draped over his stomach moving up and down with each breath. She moved stiffly on creaky knees around his legs stretched forward to go to the bathroom. She leaned out of the corridor window. Dry fields had replaced the thin forest, fields like she had scampered along, with her fleet of imaginary stallions. The tallest, thickest weed was the general of an enemy army. Her horse leaped at him, while she slashed away with the branch of the apple tree. Victorious in battle, she vanquished her stead and gathered apples for a pie she knew her mother would bake. Although the apples had been laying on the ground, they had few bruises or worm holes. She brushed dirt from a chubby Macintosh. Sweet tart juice ran down her chin.
The train started up again, picking up speed in the flat, open space. Should only be an hour more before she would reach that 19th century stone station. Splashes of red geraniums would welcome her even before her father or uncle picked her up. No, they were long gone. Instead mother would ask the neighbor to fetch her, which he would do willingly because she promised him a whole half of the pie she just baked.
No, that’s not right either. Mother was gone, too. And so was the neighbor. Ah, no mind. Her cousin, now a professor at the university was summering in the old home and would pick her up. She had a new car, she had written, and they could go places in the country. But Anneli wrote back she preferred to bike around the area. And her cousin replied, fine, just great.
The man was gathering his suitcases from above the seat. They must be nearing the stop just before her village. There was no real station there, just a narrow platform and a shabby wood covering over a metal bench, little better than a rural bus stop. “Good-bye!” she said to him. He coughed in reply.
She spread her legs out on the now empty seat. No one ever got on at that stop, so she would be undisturbed. In fact, there was hardly anyone on the train. That always surprised her. Such a lovely little town, but no one seemed ever to travel there except for her. Her back ached, but soon she would be under the plump comforter her grandmother had preserved for decades, adding more goose down every year or so when it became flat.
“Last station: Step!”
Anneli stretched above the seat to retrieve her small, light bag. She didn’t need much; she had left clothes and toiletries in the cottage.
She stopped out on the platform. No geraniums, no eagerly awaiting cousin. The station was cement block dating from the 1970s, not stone. Anneli crossed the street over to the bus bay and boarded a long distance bus back to the city where she lived. She nestled into a seat, wiped the steamy window with a tissue and opened the award winning novel. What a wonderful visit it had been! She couldn’t wait until the next journey home.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.