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Traveling Back Home
By Sophie Hwang
*Editor's Note: This piece was first published in Home Issue of Thistle Magazine.
My home is empty. Everyone left, one by one as seasons changed, as fall accumulated rotten leaves on our front porch, and warmth swept the snow away from our roof. Nina wanted to find a new life, a world outside humble mornings of pancakes and syrups. Hana was sick of this house. ‘Smelly old town’ was what she called it. I kind of expected her to leave- she always kicked our mailbox and tore her buttered toasts with her fork rather aggressively. I beckon, what triggered their departure was Dad’s death. Our lives fell apart, snippet-by-snippet since then. Mom was gone when I woke up on one morning. She was the last to leave. I am all alone now.
The silent epiphany always frightens me. The moment I open my eyes in the early morning, listening to hummingbirds sing their aubades- it’s a beautiful day, the sun lights up my room in a pleasant orange glow, then I realize there is no one to share the nature’s beauty with. What I’d do is change into a nice sun-colored dress and pour myself a cup of lemonade, reading a book or two. Dad loved reading and music. He would relate the fictional world with music. “Creators of music and literature are very similar to one another. Listen. They breathe etudes, they shape the hidden cadence in our lives, unravel dissonance into timeless consonance. Their hearts beat to 4/4 time signatures,” I would repeat.
I can never leave this house. It feels like if I leave this house, then no one will remember the times we shared together. Ah, speaking of time, all the clocks stopped working. It got slower after Dad died, even slower when Nina and Hana left, and its cold hands came to a halt when Mom left. Our times never moved together. The phone collects dust, and the door creaks when I open it. The only thing alive are Dad’s old rusty gramophone and myself. A simple yet baffling paradox strikes me whenever I play one of Dad’s classical collections. Debussy was his favorite, and mine is Tchaikovsky. Debussy’s works are like pieces of poems, he said.
Dad and I used to sit on a hill behind our house, overlooking Mr. Hemsley’s vast field of wheat. I remember, we sat on one summer’s end, watching the sun set on the wheat, splashing its soft golden glow on the grains. The wheat danced along, waltzing with the afternoon breeze, sweeping the light on the hills. The cotton candy clouds accompanied us. No words were needed. And when the golden glow spilled onto our faces, we laughed and slowly walked back to the house. Some days we would chase each other to the forest, climbing trees and picking wild berries. In the morning he was a professor, in the afternoon he was a lad, and in the evening he was a friend. Dad is gone, but I would stay to protect this house. To protect our time.
After breakfast, I go to Dad’s study and play a song. Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt. I write a letter to Nina, to Hana and to Mom. I don’t write to Dad, because I know he is somewhere around, beside me. I try not to think he is away. This is a sort of ritual I carry out every year. Nina ran away in spring; Hana rode a bus to the city in winter, and Mom hurriedly packed in autumn, as if someone was chasing her. The envelopes are always sealed and addressed, though they are never sent. I put them in the mailbox, but somehow the letters remain in there, and only time rests in it too. I still write it anyway, because it feels secure that way. I miss them too, I miss the times Hana, Nina and I cuddle together and share our daily dose of stories through whispers under our blankets, with single candlelight lighting up our room. I miss the times cocooning in Mom’s embrace, and her hand gently stroking the crown of my head.
The longer I stay here, the deeper I reminisce into the fading remnants of our history, the oblivion gets stronger. Some nights I would wake up screaming for things I cannot remember. Now I remember Dad, I did try to leave; right after Mom left, and I just could not stand the absence of human breath around me. The coldness of absence, the lifeless touch of an unknowing stranger. I took the yellow bus, and when I reached my destination, I was back at home again. I cannot leave. I tried walking away from home too. I packed a turkey bacon sandwich with lots of mustard and cheese, and I put on my best shoes. I walked and walked, sat down for five or more minutes. I reached the forest and walked right through it, the leaves rustling above me. I ate my lunch by the mulberry tree and continued on my journey, until it ended at the end of the forest, and I was back home again. Home, such a sweet, morbid trap.
My old friend Takuya said love is the handful of sand that you grab from the beach. Then I suppose farewell is the sand that falls to the beach through your fingers, I said then, and he smiled. I told Dad about this, and he did agree. He held me close and said, “the sand that remains in your hand even after some had fallen to the ground is sleepless nights of yearnings.” I asked him what it meant, but he only smiled. I never got to know what he meant. Dad, are ‘sleepless nights of yearning’ the feeling of absence bothers me all night, the emptiness nestled between my ribs and I wake up shivering from the nightmares it had molded into, with little creatures under my bed coming out every night to whisper in my ears? If so, what am I yearning for?
I roam the hallways like I always do, searching for vestiges of hope tucked into pages of books, concealed in Mom’s teapots, or scribbled on margins of coffee-stained napkins, that one day, I would find Nina covered in a pink bathrobe complaining that Hana had used her towel, that I would find Hana sitting on the swing set, lost in a reverie, coming back home holding a pair of boots smeared with mud, that I would find Mom in the kitchen, flipping the sizzling bacon strips, pouring earl gray tea in Dad’s cup and orange juice in ours. That I would find Dad in his study, humming an unrecognizable tune. That there will finally be myself in the family picture, not alone but alive.
Yet when I open my eyes to unspoken words of good morning, I find myself in an unending labyrinth. Weary-hearted, I sweep the corridors like a wandering traveller, a spook, a grain of dust hanging in the air. The only relief I find in this old house is that the sun still rises. Or it seems as if it is. The darkness that creeps in from a shattered edge of the glass makes the nights terribly long, and there are some nights that I just cannot bare to tide myself to sleep. I sit in the kitchen and prepare myself a decent breakfast. The awful silence bothers me; after being used to all the noises Hana and Nina make shouting at each other to be quiet. Then again, I get ready for another day. My days move along, while their times have stopped behind. The clockworks are cold and unmoving, but I am still here. Amongst us sisters, I am the slowest runner. That is probably the reason why I am the last to run away from home.
Dad, you told me that to be able to yearn is the jewel in human relationships. I yearn to find accompaniment, another’s presence that would light up the empty home. I am home, but I am in a different time. I want to leave, to where Hana, Nina and Mom are, where you are. Well, you see, I can’t. Home is holding me back. I return home each time I leave. The clouds weep, a wrenching sonata of raindrops is holding me back to where I started off each time. I will find my way home someday, where I do not have to spend the night waiting for the sun to rise, where I can wake up without having to realize the absence of presence around me, where I do not need to yearn, but simply feel it. The end is at the start, and I wonder again, if I ever started in the first place.
#Unreal #Fiction #House #LastDays #Answers #Memories #Death #Abandonment
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