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that there will be a garage now and a fitted kitchen, and your Victorian scavengings from junk shops, Dad, will have been replaced by furniture from Ikea.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.