Flash fiction: A few words to lost parents

Sacha Black’s challenge this week is to write a story of less than 200 words about nostalgia that hurts. I started this piece and let it run on, as, I think it is meant to. Sorry if I passed the word limit, Sacha. Maybe I’ll try again with a different subject.

The painting, by Alice Liddle is of Holmfirth, not too far from home.


You have both gone now, both buried in a corner of a churchyard that had never been yours. Beneath a tree, because trees don’t mind if you were Catholic or Protestant. Or foreign. Or if your living heart had always ached for a place not so far away, but unattainable. Trees understand and bow and bend and whisper in sympathy. You had both put down roots here, children, a scattering of friends, too much to let you pack up and leave when you retired. Too much, too late. The furthest you moved was to a small house down in the town to be close to the shops and the buses, pretending it was only temporary. But you stayed and you sighed, and eventually you died, and the setting sun carried all your longings away into the west.

We dry our tears, we children left behind, and walk up the steep hill out of the town, the road that curves and uncoils as it rises up to the moor. The house of our childhood is beyond the bend after the bridge over the disused railway, that peaceful, tree-filled gulf that has been silent since before we were born. We walk, remembering the way we poked our fingers in the holes of the millstone grit walls, remembering long-dead dogs that ran barking behind garden fences. We cross the bridge and remark how tall and dense the birch and hazels have grown, obscuring the valley bottom and the stream that runs there instead of railway tracks.

We fall silent when the road curves again. Beyond the last sharp rise we will be able to see the tiny hamlet and the house where our childhood ghosts still play. I hear the foxes playing on the lawn, see the dewy morning rabbits, the banks of opium poppies and broom, roses and laburnum, stone flags and apple trees. I hear the songs of bees and swallows and see white clouds scudding overhead in the summer breeze.

Soon, in a moment, the gentle barrier of time will fall, and harsh, brash reality will jackboot its way across tender memories. I will see what the new owners have done to the house in the ten years since you both moved out. I know, without ever having seen it, that there will be a garage now and a fitted kitchen, and your Victorian scavengings from junk shops, Dad, will have been replaced by furniture from Ikea. There will be a sterile lawn and a trampoline and begonias instead of the savage mass of vegetation you loved so much, Mum. I will feel the imprint of these unconscious Philistines like a physical violation.

I stop, we all stop, we grown-up tiny children. I shake my head and my siblings too hang back. I turn back down the hill, the last bend in the road impassable, like the entrance to a lost domain, my precious dreams, your dreams, clutched tight against my heart, safe from the shredding claws of disillusion.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

25 thoughts on “Flash fiction: A few words to lost parents”

  1. Such a universal topic and experience. Sooner of later we are all orphans. I never return to my parents’ last home to see what has change. No jarring reality to the memories, please.
    I like your use of the trees here. Lovely lines:
    “setting sun carried all your longings away into the west.”
    “the last bend in the road impassable, like the entrance to a lost domain, my precious dreams, your dreams, clutched tight against my heart, safe from the shredding claws of disillusion.”
    Perfect reminder that time is fleeting for all

    1. Thank you. I have grown very conscious that my parents left so much of their own dreams and potential unfulfilled to stay close to their children. One by one we all moved away anyway, leaving them in a place that wasn’t really home any longer. I don’t want to make the same mistake. Sounds mean, but you only get one crack at life. Unless you’re a Buddhist 🙂

      Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2016 15:39:48 +0000 To: jane.dougherty@dbmail.com

    1. It got me too. I very rarely write about my parents. It’s too raw and maybe always will be. I don’t think it’s so much all the things that we ought to have said to one another, but the awful guilt that we unconsciously took part of their lives away from them. The childhood memories are what are most important to us children, but their lives went on long after we’d all left home, but in a sort of limbo, not moving on to do anything they really longed to do.

      Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2016 15:51:48 +0000 To: jane.dougherty@dbmail.com

      1. Both my parents died very suddenly. No warning. My dad was a massive heart attack, my mum was pancreatic cancer. She didn’t even live until her appointment for a biopsy. I felt something had cheated them of all the time they should have had to ‘do their own thing’, and the easiest culprit is their children who they couldn’t bear to let go.

  2. Very poignant, Jane. There is a sadness that seems to come naturally with age. I’ve been feeling it more and more acutely. Everything is passing away. My mother grows older, my son has left the nest, my childhood home isn’t mine anymore.


    1. I think the difficulty used to be in reclaiming a life once the responsibilities of childrearing were finished. Now, of course, the responsibilities don’t end for many people because parents live longer and end up needing care. You can’t go back, but you can go on.

  3. Beautifully written, and poignant. My parents moved several times, together and then separately after they divorced, so returning to a family is not something I’ve experienced–but the emotion of looking at one’s past and childhood, I can certainly relate to.

    1. I suppose it’s always the same. Childhood is a special place that we can’t bear to have tampered with. It just makes the burden heavier when it’s associated with a particular special place.

  4. Your writing always evokes deep seated feelings Jane but you surpass yourself today. The guilt of being the one who moved away and left my parents behind having given all those years to my care 24/7 and suddenly being without a purpose. Poignant and heart wrenching.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    1. Thank you, David. We are so many to have those feelings. The parent/child relationship only changes over time. It’s remains as strong a bond even after death. Maybe the guilt is a modern phenomenon. Not so long ago people didn’t live long enough to either ‘become a burden’ on their children or to plan on doing something for themselves when the children had left the nest.

  5. Blimey, I don’t think, if I had lost my parents, I would have been able to read this, SO moving, so full of loss and bitter sweet memories. Utterly beautiful. Something I am sure many many people will relate to. I have a place I lived for 6 years. Not that long by all accounts, but my aunt was there, and she was like a grandmother. Its been 10 years since she died and I haven’t been back since. can’t. It is my impassable bend.

  6. Really beautiful. We moved around so much, I don’t have a childhood home to cling to. But my mother and her siblings cried when they sold my grandparents’ house, the only home they had ever known growing up. And even cleaning out the last apartment my parents lived in was a time full of ghosts. (K)

    1. I wonder if it isn’t until you have a family of your own that you fully understand what was invested in that home. It meant being tied to one place, staying when you might be inclined to move on, just to give your children stability. Then, as soon as they can, the children turn their backs on it because it’s too boringly familiar. A family home is full of childhood memories, but it’s really the home of the parents and all their dreams. Date: Thu, 3 Mar 2016 14:06:07 +0000 To: jane.dougherty@dbmail.com

      1. So true. My grandparents’ home was always a place of stability for me, and obviously for my mother and aunts and uncles. No matter where my parents were moving us, I could always go there and know a familiar and safe place.

      2. Same here. grandparents and great-grandparents just never moved. A whole branch of the family lived within walking distance or not much more. Then my generation came along and all the young ones left.

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