HIRAETH by Paul Joseph Enea
by Paul Joseph Enea
Ever since she’s lived in the village, Hanna’s floor fan sounds more like static than white noise. She’s certain the static taints her dreams, which used to be innovative, like prestige television. But these days her dreams are closer to reality TV than a nuanced narrative. They play like reruns of her day at work, where she blurs through long corridors dispensing meds to post-ops. Every day, she rests her hand on the shoulder of a doomed patient. She wonders why she doesn’t dream about people she knows and loves. It scares her that she only thinks about Oliver when she’s awake. She misses him in her dreams. When he was alive, smooth white noise filled every room in their home.
At one-thirty in the morning, it’s hard to tell the difference between bored and haunted. Hanna rolls out of bed, dresses in jeans and a pullover, then walks three uphill blocks to a park perched on a bluff. Sitting on a bench outside the glow of a lamp post, she watches a bright moon scan the surface of an ocean-like lake. A breeze carries the sway and scent of rye grass and wild flower. Hanna forgets her eyes are closed until a chorus of teenagers enters the park, headed for a railed platform jutting off the bluff. If Oliver was here, he’d say, “Let’s hope they survive their youth.” He’d say this because he said it before, when they were on a different shore, gazing at people. He enjoyed speaking his mind in her company. By the time the teenagers reach the platform, she’s sorry she can no longer hear their voices.
The following afternoon, Hanna skips her nap and goes for a walk. Besides locating the grocery store and hospital, she hasn’t explored the village until today, even though this is where Oliver was born and raised and where she felt compelled to live soon after he drowned. But when she first arrived she had a hard time identifying the casual village he often described. Her apartment building sits kitty-corner to a church compound and a middle school. On weekday afternoons the cutthroat traffic of minivans and cyclists diminishes her faith in people. Taking refuge on the sofa, she wakes from naps with a dry throat and a longing to be elsewhere.
Today, however, the sky is vintage blue and she remembers Oliver liked to say the next best thing to sailing was walking. He had wanted Hanna to visit the village, certain she’d experience some sort of communion with the lake. Once, during sex, she received on a prescient frequency a sense of life without him, as if he was already a ghost. He noticed the abrupt stillness in her eyes and became very still himself, waiting, as if someone should say something. Today, the distinction between ghost and flesh is tenuous because she can still feel the pulse of his gaze. “I’m pregnant,” she says, beneath her breath, in case he’s listening.
Paul Joseph Enea’s poetry, fiction, and journalism has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, including Porcupine Literary Arts, Portals & Piers, Blue Canary Press, Verse Wisconsin, Brawler Lit, and The Irish American Post. His flash fiction piece “Hiraeth” received Honorable Mention in Cleaver’s 2022 flash fiction contest judged by Meg Pokrass.