This piece is a sort of a prequel of Traveling Back Home that I wrote last year, but specifically for my writing class where we had to revise our work using a different narrator or time, setting, etc. I don’t know if I had fixed it adequately, though. School’s been hectic with all the tests and auditions, and my schedule is so messed up that I wrote this in 2 AM in the morning. I ended up sleeping at 3. Even coffee is not helping me in the mornings anymore.
Today’s Recommendation: Le Cygne- Saint Saëns, arranged for cello and piano
Dear Rosie, Hana wrote. She then erased it, and scribbled, Dear my lovely little sister, Rosie. For a moment she couldn’t think of what to write. Hana paused. She wrapped her fingers around her pen as she looked out of the window and noticed the snow accumulating on the bare branches of the trees, like fur coats covering every inch of exposed skin. No life was evident on the cold fingers of the trees, and only ghosts of the once green season stayed within them. Life seemed to have gone to sleep below the white blankets of snow. Only death was awake, lurking in every visible corners of the neighborhood when night fell onto the streets. Days were still, without any trace of time, and some nights were chiseled with the coldest breaths of the wind and the iciest palms of the snow, but what was colder was the presence of absence within the household. What left of the house was the passing seasons and unmoving time. For a moment, Hana twirled the pen around her four fingers- it used to be Dad’s habit, but it became hers from the time she couldn’t even remember.
Everything in this house is asleep, Hana wrote. The house was built with bricks with spaces between them filled by rotten ivies that had been growing since Dad died. Every vestiges of life was inexplicably gone, and the garden had become a barren wasteland. The garden was empty, with Mom’s squash unharvested for years and her baby sister’s petunias wilting away as days go by, and Nina never bothered to touch the garden, though often Hana found her sitting on the front porch looking at the garden plaintively, and she could never assume what Nina was thinking. In the beginning Hana tended to the garden to fill the presence of absence that even the greens on the gardens have seemed to notice, watering the petunias and the daisies, and plucking overripe tomatoes in the basket, but soon weeds invaded the soil like waves crashing on the beach and from one point she could no longer touch the garden anymore. Often Hana recalled when Dad first bought this house, just as Rosie turned four, speaking of the empty garden with handful of hope that could revive the dead soil within. He said that he would save a portion of soil for everyone; Mom’s squashes, Nina’s tomatoes, and Rosie’s petunias. She had said that she would think about it more before she gave the little sapling a land to breathe, but until now her portion of land remained dead.
The winter has gone cold, and no one is speaking in the house. The breakfast table was empty today. Nina had forgotten to speak, and Mom never shows up. Hana continued writing. Her hands were stiff from the cold, and she tried to keep her lines straight. Hana wrote about the breakfast; she wrote about the breakfasts they had when Dad was around, because it felt like the reminiscence of the past was the only thing holding her to the present. She wrote about the merry words that slipped from their lips, the glances they shared as they held their forks, and the warmth of the food that touched their mouths like kisses of the afternoon spring wind. Hana had to stop writing occasionally to stop her tears from smudging the ink. She had to push her soggy toast down her throat the previous morning – or few mornings ago. The plates were rather ice than porcelain; Nina merely pecked on her food unwillingly and disappeared into the hallways, and Mom simply refused to come out of her room. Hana was used to this; she didn’t like the fact that she was, but it was true. Whenever Hana left a tray of food outside Mom’s room, the food was always there untouched. So what the tears were for, Hana did not know. Was it regret that she had let her sweet past escape her in nights of absence? Or was it sorrow that her family had stopped speaking: two gone and three remaining, but no word.
Dad’s study is sealed with layers and layers of locks. It was just there one day, like it had been there all these times, and I suppose Mom had locked it. All I can do is peek through the crescent-shaped opening through the door knob. Hana glanced at the pile of envelopes on her desk, the ones she took from Dad’s study. The study smelt of stale air, as if from another era, and it always felt like somewhere far, a time distant from her own. Hana ventured into Dad’s study on sleepless nights; she never did much: sometimes opening the lid of the silver box containing dried peppermint drops that Rosie would always sneak a pocketful from, or scribbling with his quill on his papers. At least when she was in Dad’s study, it felt like something was alive and breathing. It felt like something was resting there, a flicker of light that illuminated the cave. Mom must have found out she had been wandering by Dad’s study, because one day, it was locked. Mom could never take it the easy way, and she became utterly cold whenever the names of the gone were mentioned. It had become a taboo among the remaining three, and Hana swallowed the names that always lingered by her lips. Hana found Nina standing by the locked study the other day. Hana had not known how long Nina had been standing there, deep in her own reverie, eyes rather red-rimmed. She stood next to her sister whom she had not spoken to for days, until Nina turned towards Hana and slowly nodded. Nina held the doorknob frozen with rust and ice, and ran her finger over the tiny opening on the knob. I think, she had said, folding her lips into a thin smile. This is where it ends.
Nina left as winter began. I saw her by the doorsteps, but I didn’t stop her. I don’t think I’ll ever know where she headed off either. The house is even silent than it has always been. Hana stopped and looked out of the window. The blizzard was devouring the night into its white gulf; it had snowed too, although not as much this, the day Nina left. Hana saw Nina leave footprints on the thick snow as she waddled her way to the train station. She had watched her sister leave their hometown until she disappeared as a white smudge in the snow. Hana didn’t send Nina off, now she thought that she could have at least said farewell, but thinking back, maybe she couldn’t, after all. Hana would have wanted to grasp at the slightest hope and asked her sister to stay, knowing that this house was not home. She would have packed her yellow blanket, her books, and perhaps a couple of Dad’s letters to them, and left with Nina. But she didn’t. And now she was regretting that she hadn’t. All she could do was write letters, letters that would never reach her little sister. Dad always said that letters contained his heart as he wrote each word and phrase, and because they did, it was like sending a paperful of love. Those letters were what kept them in relief and a tinge of sorrow, but when even the letters stopped arriving from the distant land where he was called to fight, everything started falling out of place. Mom never recovered from it, and Hana wondered if anyone did.
Rosie, Hana wrote. This place is a dead end. What remains of this house are unfulfilled dreams and nights of misery. I don’t know how much longer I can stay. Hana paused. The words ‘dead end’ floated before her eyes like the faint candlelight in the corner of her desk. She had hoped so dearly, though well-knowing that it was a futile wish, that her house had been like it was few years back, when the gone were still there, the traveler back to the start, and the sad once again merry. Hana choked on her own stream of thoughts, and the candlelight danced in the winter night, as blurry and faint it could be. Hana remembered Dad, who had tea and insisted on listening to Mozart or Beethoven before two in the afternoon, and remembered Nina had to have her bath every evening, and always held her pink bathrobe with her; she would be angry at Hana if she had misplaced her bathrobe. Hana remembered Mom, who loved to bake a giant sugar-drizzled lemon pound cake every Sunday afternoon, a cake so big that they always had some portion left on Mondays- she remembered Rosie, her sister who sat by the garden every morning, watering her petunias and if asked what she was doing, she would always say that she was talking to her tiny friends. Hana thought about her youngest sister, the day Dad kissed them on their foreheads and waved as he disappeared beyond the hill under the midday sun, the day she sat in the empty study whose owner will never return, playing Dad’s old classical records over and over again, and the day she caught a bad cold and lied in bed all day, and never recovered from it. Hana closed her eyes; she wrote her final sentence.
Rosie, I am going to travel away from home.
Hana might regret this decision, and she might have a wistful yearning to turn around and run back home every passing hour or fits of sleepless nights in a foreign land; the silent whispers of the past recollections would tug at her sleeves, calling her to return, but in the end, she would leave her home like the others did. Home was a dead end, and she was balancing herself precariously on the edge, counting the moments she shared with her family, in the very house that gave her warmth and a particular mellow softness that could never be replaced by anything else. But it will never happen again. Hana held her pen close to her palms, so tightly that it sunk into her skin, and signed off her letter.
With all my love, Hana.