My Home Is Hnme, p.1Bernard Fancher
My Home is Hnme
Copyright 2011 by Bernard Fancher
All rights reserved
The story that follows is fiction.
My Home is Hnme
January 1, 1987
Here is where I live: Across from the long leaning carriage shop last used as a gun firing range when I was a girl, up from the road that curves ascending the big hill out of the valley, in a house that stands between the road and the old Ingham spring where the first settlers here got their water. The house stands closer now to the spring than the road, ever since the county changed the approach to the new bridge after the old one collapsed under the weight of a full lime truck the Saturday before Easter of 1968, a moment I distinctly remember, being as I was playing in the back yard and heard it happen. Our house is set now in the very place I was then standing, pulled back in the aftermath of the collapse on a bed of steel rails and thick timbers, moved so gradually and carefully that Mama stood at the kitchen sink window watching, feeling nothing; not even the level of the half full Coke bottle a workman placed on a support beam that projected out into mid-air from underneath the right front corner of the house altered enough at any time for anyone to notice.
Mama says I told anyone who would listen that we were moving back into the swamp, though I don’t personally remember. I’m sure she’s right, though, because Mama has a mind for such things. And it sounds like something I’d say, because I tell people even now we live virtually in the swamp, ever since the Ingham Spring was replaced by the town well for most people’s water around here. Subsequently the spring has tended to produce a rather profuse overflow, saturating the surrounding grounds even more than it ever did back when I was a fearful child and worried more about such things. It could be, though I don’t remember, I might even have been looking off towards the spring, daydreaming of the coming deluge, standing where the house stands now, at the very moment when the bridge collapsed. Or maybe I was planning an expedition into the swamp to find the old gaol built, legend has it, in a first failed attempt to civilize these parts. We all grew up believing—knowing—it was out back there somewhere, certain that its collapsed rotting planks and rusting cell lock and bars would eventually—inevitably—be unearthed and rediscovered as a result of our persistent searching; giving proof to our dedication, my younger sister and brother and I, as well sometimes our parents, seldom let a week go by without fondly evoking its memory, often adding a passing, if entirely unnecessary, reference to the gaol in an otherwise unremarkable statement of fancy or fact. Once, in a dry season, we even embarked on a full afternoon’s exploration with another family who’d come to visit for the day, but not even that concerted effort resulted in our managing to rediscover and substantiate the gaol’s presence. But I believe in it still nonetheless, though it’s time to concede the old gaol has by now been so long sunk in the muck as to be irretrievably disappeared or dissolved.
Dear Kitty, this morning, Georgina, who lives catty-corner across from us on the far side of the old tumbledown firing range, brought me over a packet of Jean Naté bath soap and eau de toilet. I had given her a sweater for Christmas and this was her way to reciprocate; yet, it made me feel guilty, as she has so little to begin with, and now must have even less on account of this gift. But she was so happy, confiding proudly to Mama as I opened the package she gave me: Well, you know, that is the same brand I use.
Oh Georgina, you are such a sweetheart. Do you know?
My heart aches to think of her as a fatherless child, coming to this rough country with her mother, who set up first as a cook in a lumbering camp before opening her own diner in the woods. Rumor has it the mother served more than just food, but it is the remnants of that earlier, more refined, life in Canada that prevails. It shows itself sometimes, unexpectedly, in the most ordinary ways. I am thinking now of the dainty manner in which Georgina holds up her cup at tea, lifting it with just a forefinger and thumb, extending the pinky. Mama notes her refinement and says, Georgina, aren’t you just the lady? And Georgina always smiles at this recognition, thoroughly pleased that someone should notice. Well yes, she replies, in a voice softer than one would imagine, I was brought up to be one, you know.
So I put on Georgina’s Jean Naté and go outside, smelling her scent, thinking of her as I walk up the bank through a narrow border of trees at the upper side of the house. I go to stand on the little plateau where Midnight, my brother’s horse, used to live, in a small enclosure of fencing. The remnants of his old stall lie flat on the ground, the half rotten boards buried under the snow, frozen beneath my feet. I stand where Midnight used to stand looking down on our world from his enclosure. I feel an affinity with Midnight this night, looking upon the house and beyond to the sparse lights of downtown, to a world that seems beyond reach even as I watch it.
I feel anxious, unsettled and uneasy—in short, in need of a walk. I consider going towards the lights to look off the bridge into the open darkness below. The old mill crumbles, slowly sliding off the steep bank towards the water and one day or night soon it might just all at once let go and collapse in a frighteningly loud denouement. The possibility of this happening now on my watch for some reason scares me, and so, still anxious, unsettled and uneasy, I decide to go the opposite way and walk up the road to the high meadow.
The road is nearly clear, except for a couple inches of fresh snow mixed lightly with sand and gravel to the look and feel underfoot of brown sugar. But halfway up the hill a plow passes, its chained tires jingling like sleigh bells in the night, clearing a dark swath of pavement. Swinging the beam of my flashlight ahead, I gladly walk in the plowed path to the top of the hill where the meadow lies, quiet and lonely, apart from all else. I step off the road and over the ditch, and lift the single strand of barbed wire enclosing this snowfield pasture with the barrel of the extinguished flashlight. The sky is black, the stars pinpricks of light surrounding all overhead. I whistle softly through my teeth for Midnight, wondering if he’ll hear, doubting he’ll come. Yet then suddenly I see his form moving towards me, darker in the darkness, stopping a way away to make sure it is in fact someone he knows and can trust to approach before closing further.
He stands so close I can hear the breath escaping his nostrils. He touches his nose to my outstretched fingers, nuzzling my arm next, wanting the halved apple I hold in my other hand. I ask him if he’s been a good horse and does he really miss me, or just the apple, and he snorts once, impatiently, at the delay. So I give it to him, by halves, offering the apple on my upturned palm, feeling his eager lips on my skin as he takes it before backing quickly away, as if suddenly afraid he’s been baited and tricked. Poor Midnight, I think, knowing what he can perhaps only dimly suspect, that something is up. Tomorrow this time he’ll be gone from here. Mama says he’s become too much responsibility for her to attend to all alone, even though it’s not actually her doing the attending, but the farmer next door. Even so, with Daddy gone, Brother away to school, and both me and Sister away as well, it’s all on her now. Whenever he escapes the pasture and somebody comes knocking on the door to tell her her horse is out once again, it offends her sense of fairness no end.
It would be different maybe, she says, if indeed it truly was her horse, but it isn’t. She bridles—ah, there’s a pun, don’t you think?—at the suggestion that it’s her responsibility, when in fact it isn’t—or by rights shouldn’t be. And I can’t blame her for feeling that way. None of us can. Still, it is with great feeling of impending loss and some resentment for Mama that I tell Midnight goodnight, and turn away.
Too late, down by the road, I wonder if I’ve captured the sounds of our last encounte
Home is Hnme. It says so on the little sign that greets me halfway back down the hill a little before the first house that marks the far outskirts of our dear little hamlet. Two years ago, some vandals proceeded in the night with paint and brush to deface all the markers of entry, turning each u into o, making explicit a secret my heart tells me is still true. Replacing the signs, the state highway department inexplicably reversed and inverted the u, which engenders no little confusion and amusement among new visitors to these parts. For those of us who have for some long time lived here, and been privileged to call this place home, the cipher-like, cryptic misspelling lends an aura of strangeness, suggesting also a carelessness bordering on desecration.
Even so, rightly or wrongly, my home is now and forevermore Hnme. The name, I have come to see, accords with the mystery of things; it is a philosopher’s puzzle, originating in homage to the great Scottish thinker David Hume, whose surname originally—coincidentally—was Home.
I shine the beam of the flashlight forward, illuming the sign, highlighting the enigmatic yet oddly appropriate word in the dark, and pause for a long minute as I look down the hill at the twinkling star-like pinpricks of light clustered by and beyond the bridge—lights extending but only a little beyond the settlement the weird appellation Hnme describes, before the darkness of a distant ascending hillside rises to meet, but not quite merge with, the night sky.
As I let out a long sigh, it seems as if my breath carries the sound of an impending homesickness being captured and made ready—to give back to me a measure of solace in the dark and lonely times to come.
My Home Is Hnme by Bernard Fancher / History & Fiction have rating 2.6 out of 5 / Based on34 votes