Potato soup

Agneta’s bags fell to the floor with a thump.

‘Is this it?’ She stared in disbelief at the bare walls, the curtainless window and stained floor of the single room and her bottom lip trembled. ‘I want to go home.’

‘We can’t.’ Gregor’s tone was flat. ‘You know we can’t. Pa wanted us safe. Better to be living here than suffering back there, don’t you think?’

‘Don’t!’ A hot prickle began in Agneta’s eyes and she tried to blink it away, prevent the tears from falling. Throughout the journey she’d tried not to think of the friends and neighbours who hadn’t listened, who’d decided to trust The Elite and were most likely dead or slaves by now. Pa’s decision might have saved her life, but Agneta hadn’t expected this. She wiped away a leaked tear and sighed. ‘You’re right, Greg. Of course you are. But there’s nothing here. Nothing.’ She shivered. ‘And it’s cold.’

‘We’ll be home before you know it,’ Pa said, as he struggled into the room with the trunk. He set it down with a groan.

Hope flared in Agneta’s chest. ‘You mean we can go back?’

Pa shook his head. ‘Not while The Elite rule. I meant that we can make here our home.’

Agneta’s face must’ve shown her disappointment and disbelief, because Pa beckoned her close and put an arm around her shoulders. ‘Look around you, Aggi. What do you see?

‘Nothing, Pa. There’s nothing here. Except me, you and Greg.’

‘Are you sure? Look again. Tell me, what do you see?’

‘Bare walls, curtainless window, stained floor, stove,’ she began. Then paused. Stove? Yes. A small pot-bellied stove she hadn’t noticed before. Was there anything else? ‘A table in that corner, two stools under it … box beds …’

‘See?’ Pa gave her a little shake. ‘All of the basics in one room. Right now, it’s empty, but we are going to make it ours. Shall we get started?’

 

By suppertime the room had been transformed.

The stove was lit, its orange belly radiating warmth to both the inhabitants of the room and a pot which Agneta had left bubbling gently on the hotplate.

“Nothing like the smell of potato soup to make you feel right at home,” Pa said, breathing in a great lungful.

Perhaps. It wasn’t just the soup and the stove, though. Slowly, Agneta’s gaze ran round at the changes.

Now, there was a curtain – of a sort – at the window. No one else would know it was really her second-best underskirt, tacked above the lintel and hooked out of the way until darkness fell.

On the freshly scrubbed table, a simple lantern cast a warm glow in the previously dark corner, a sturdy log pulled up beside it to serve as a third stool for Gregor. Three sturdy earthenware bowls, three plain spoons, and three wooden cups set out in readiness hinted at the supper to come.

A hint of lavender hung in the air, released from the linen and blankets now laid on the newly-made beds. Atop them lay the quilts, Joining Ceremony presents from Grandmare for Ma and Pa from so long ago. On the bed that was to be Agneta’s lay her favourite quilt: a ring of stars in shades of gold and cream on a background of midnight blue. Thank goodness Pa had thought to bring them all. Not just for their warmth, but because each quilt was a miniature family history; a piecing-together of dresses worn and torn and grown out of, of too-short trouser legs and shirts too worn to be mended, mixed with precious offcuts of outfits made by Grandmare in the days she was a seamstress to the wealthy.

The only new piece of furniture was the shelf. And on the simple plank lying across two upright logs were the family’s most precious possessions.

Pa had left many other things behind in favour of these and for a moment, Agneta allowed herself to remember some of them… The silver teapot and matching milk jug that was always used for birthday teas. The ornate candlesticks either end of the mantel that had been handed down by Pa’s family for generations. The pictoframes of family faces long dead. The leather-bound books in the library, including the one filled with fairy tales that she’d loved so much. Her favourite peacock blue beaded dress with the matching kitten-heeled slippers…

Remembering would not make them suddenly appear. None of those things had been practical and Pa had packed only the essentials when they left. So the only things sitting on the shelf were two books, a single pictogram, and Pa’s pipe and tobaccy tin. Agneta ran her finger slowly down the spine of The Regulo, the code by which they both lived and were persecuted. Next to it stood The History of the Armenta, a thick tome telling the story of her people. The pictogram was Ma, taken in happier times, sitting in a meadow with her skirt pooled around her and her hair hanging loose about her shoulders. She hadn’t lived to see the Elite’s persecution of the Armenta, or make this journey. Agneta couldn’t decide whether that was a good or bad thing.

‘It’s better, isn’t it?’ Pa’s voice broke into her thoughts. He was watching her.

She shrugged. ‘I suppose. Still not home, though.’

‘Really?’ Pa’s arm swept out, encompassing the room and its contents. ‘We have the Regulo and no one in this place to tell us we cannot follow it. We have plenty to remind us of the past and the place we came from.’ His voice softened. ‘We have food and warmth and each other, and the here and now. What more do you want, Aggi?’

‘I want our house,’ she whispered, her eyes prickling again. ‘I want our village, my friends, everything we had … I want to go home.’ A solitary tear tracked down her cheek.

‘A house does not make a home, Aggi,’ Pa told her gently. ‘We become attached to one place, it’s true, but you can make anywhere your home if you take the most important bits with you when you travel.’ He looked round, smiling, though his eyes were full of pain. ‘This will be home. One day.’

Agneta wiped her cheek dry with the back of her hand and looked round the room again. It didn’t feel like home, not really, not yet. But she understood. And maybe, one day…

One day.

She smiled weakly. Best get on with it, then. ‘Potato soup, anyone?’

 

About the author:

Katherine Hetzel has been an egg-pickler, weigher-outer of pic’n’mix sweets, bacon-and-cheese-slicer, a pharmaceutical microbiologist (the serious job choice), a mum, a learning assistant, and a volunteer librarian at a primary school. At the moment, she’s a published author who writes fiction for children (StarMark and Kingstone with Dragonfeather Books, Granny Rainbow and More Granny Rainbow with Panda Eyes) and visits schools to share her love of creative writing with lots of little people. On the side, she writes short stories for adults. Several have been accepted for publication, including Homeland in the first Stories for Homes anthology. She blogs about life and writing at Squidge’s Scribbles, http://squidgesscribbles.blogspot.co.uk, and is a member of the Word Cloud, writing as Squidge and usually appearing as a rainbow.