The story of my great-grandmother, Hansine Marie Hermansen (1859-1942). This story was long-listed in the British Writing Competition Multi-Story, Flash Fiction in 2012.
Life of the Fishermen’s Widow
There are no ships in sight as I stand on the stony beach looking out at the living water. Not like my family, all gone a long time ago now. The wind teases my grey hair, what is left of it anyway. It used to be thick and wavy. Now I pull it back in a small bun and when strands of hair come undone and play with the wind, I don’t mind.
Hats were never for me, I would rather wear a kerchief. My neighbor, Milly jokes about that. “I would like to see the person who can put a hat on Hansine,” she says. She’s a good neighbor, Milly. When the winter nights here in the north are dark and gloomy, she lets me come and stay with her. I hear people say I am afraid of the dark, but being worried and being afraid is not necessarily the same thing.
“How do you manage?” Milly asks. “You have lost both your husbands and all three of your sons at sea.”
They wonder why I always come down here to the beach on tempestuous days. I stand as close as I can without getting wet. The blustery weather is cold enough. Here I can be alone with my thoughts. Only the ocean moves towards the shore and the occasional seagull looks for fish in the waves. There’s never anyone here to respond to my voice, only new thoughts entering my wits, wondering and grinding.
Questions about my family often emerge when Milly is around. “It will help talking about it,” she says and puts the kettle on. But I don’t speak about my children. They were given me, they were taken away. Words won’t change that.
Sometimes I will mention funny things Berner said. He was the love of my youth, the one who chose me for life. Two and a half years was the time we were allotted. Enough time to learn to love, but not enough to be satisfied. I gave birth to our second child a few weeks after the sea claimed him.
Then there was Karolius, who also chose me, a widow with two small children. I learned to love again, to live again.
“Tell me about your grandchildren,” Milly continues. She has not given up on me. My thoughts go to my daughter, who married and settled in a town north of here. Photographers enjoyed capturing her beauty, but the Spanish flu grasped her life, along with her husband’s, leaving six children nine years and under. My grandbabies were divided among families far away from me. There’s not much I can tell Milly about them.
What I would give to be able to do it over again, this life. I have spent enough time pondering on the outcome of the years past. When I was in the middle of things I did the best I could. Why is it that I think it would be different if I had a new chance at life? Both my husbands would still be fishermen, all my sons would follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
I believe that when my turn on earth is over, I will look back thinking I spent too much time worrying. Though I can state this as a fact, my whole being is permeated with anxiety and concern.
I wipe my hand across my wet cheeks, thinking it’s time to go back. The wind has picked up, a storm is approaching. As always, I will stay out of the lamp light when I return. On a night like this, I won’t engage in conversation.
Foto: Hansine Marie Hermansen