Photo by MJ Huntsgood

A Map of the Welsh Coast as Seen by My Mother

MJ Huntsgood

My mother liked dippy eggs, so the morning I take her ashes to the Welsh coast I have dippy eggs.

They’re warm and round and I crack them messily with the end of my knife, but they don’t mind. Safe, they say. Let us fill you with warmth. I slice my sourdough into thin soldiers and spread marmite onto the crusty bread.

I don’t know if my mother liked marmite. I don’t know if she ever tried marmite. There’s so much she never did.

My hotel looks over London proper and the traffic honks and screeches in the early morning light. Cities have their own kind of music and no two cities sound the same. London is a roaring house beat, so different from the rock beat of my home city in the States.

I listen to it while my husband fixes us another cup of coffee. My egg is warm and slick, the marmite is sharp and tangy. My coffee does nothing to make up for my lack of sleep the night before.

My mother had a map of London in her office in the basement, stretched out and held up with little silver pins across mismatched wooden shelves. I ran my tiny hands across it when I was a child and watched the words age and the tape that held the printed-out pages yellow and curl up.

“It’s a crucial part of my novel,” she told me as I blinked up at her, far too little to truly understand what went into building a novel.

“Where is London?”

She flicked a long fingernail against the edge of the map. “Far away.”

Far away was my mother’s favorite place. Where was college? Far away. Where was granddad? Far away. Where was heaven?

I travel a lot.

When I moved out, I called my mom every day. She would close her eyes in her kitchen in Tennessee, the smoke from her menthol cigarette curling around her face, and she’d ask me to describe New York. She’d ask me to describe Dupont Circle. She’d ask me to tell her about the city I was living in.

I lied to her.

I told her every city sounds the same if you close your eyes.

I dip my bread into the oily egg and bring it to my mouth. I have no idea why she liked it this way, but it reminds me of her, so I eat it.

A Mercedes-Benz towncar is waiting to take me to the Welsh coast. I could have taken a train, I could have taken a bus, I could have driven myself, but I’m not sure how I’m going to react. I am an undercooked egg and my mother’s ashes are puncturing my wet insides, spilling me everywhere.

I don’t want to be perceived like this.

I brush the toast off my legs and step outside. A driver named Dimitri smiles and takes my bag. He asks me about the music in the car and gives me a bottle of water for the drive.

“Is this your first time in London?”



I nod. “It’s where my mom wanted to go.”

It’s not quite true. She left no instruction. Everything was sudden. She had idly mentioned things she liked, but never a plan, never an idea of what she wanted.

I knew what my father wanted. He made that clear. It involved my mother, and she sat and listened in that calm, patient way she always did. The way she did when he made plans to see his mother every vacation they had every year. We never traveled anywhere in our childhood, and she never saw any of the world.

Mom never made it to London.

Mom never made it to Wales.

There were never talks of “one day.” Not when I was a child, not when I was an adult. Dreams were for the children. Dreams were for other people.

When my brother was old enough to need a bedroom, my father took away her office, tore down her map of London, and built a bedroom in the basement for him.

When my father retired, they moved where he wanted to go. She left her friends, she left the home she told me she wanted to die in.

I never found out what happened to the map.

Dimitri puts on house music and the strummy beat plays us out as we leave London. A small cross hangs from his rearview mirror that promises God’s protection as he races 90 down the M40.

My mother believed in God.


I’ve heard there are no atheists in foxholes and I used to think that was bullshit, but there are those moments where you really, suddenly, need something to make the world controllable. Big and real and controllable. And I guess that’s God. Please, just make this work. Please, just make this submission stick. Please, just make this cough not what I think it is. Please, just make this day not hurt as much as it does.

In those moments, God is really real.

The city vanishes and the countryside rolls alongside us, green and lush. My mother has no eyes to see it.

The sky doesn’t even have the decency to be dark and gloomy, the clouds big and fluffy balls of gray and white above us, promising light rain and warm weather the whole afternoon.

We stop off for coffee and petrol about halfway and Dimitri is thrilled to hear the voice of his wife on the phone. She’s still in Bulgaria, he tells me, where it is 24 degrees and hot.

He shows her the sun and tells her something in his language with a laugh.

It’s just a day trip to him.

My mother is in the trunk, and my husband asks me if this is okay.

“Should we bring her up front?” he asks. “I didn’t even think when we put the backpack back there.”


All the bags are back there.

It’s already very weird.

I light a cigarette and drink a coffee and Dimitri asks me if I want another smoke before we get back on the road.

I do. I want to smoke and smoke and smoke and never think about the rolling hillsides my mother will never see. My mother knew smoke and coffee and vices so well. So well. She never knew beautiful countrysides and kind Bulgarian men who would hold the doors to shiny black Mercedes-Benzes that—“watch this, you two,”—open when you swipe your foot under the trunk door.

Dimitri is so proud of his car. He’s so proud of the countryside and his wife and the house music pulsating through the cabin as we drive.

My mom didn’t have a car this nice. It was a Ford. Silver. I don’t remember the model. Maybe a Taurus. I remember her driving it for almost a decade. Dad got a new car, Mom kept the Ford. Dad got a new truck, Mom kept the Ford.

She liked it. She was proud of it. It smelled like menthol cigarettes and a broken air conditioner and when she drove it something rattled uncomfortably inside.

When I rolled up to the house after I heard the news, my mother’s car was in the driveway and for a split second, I forgot.

It was like she was just going to be inside with her cigarettes and coffee and all her vices intact.

We pull up to the Village. It’s a small, Mediterranean town located on the coast of Portmeirion, Wales. It’s the most visited town in Wales, according to the woman at the front gate–which doesn’t seem right, considering Cardiff exists and it’s much bigger.

I’ve always wanted to go to Cardiff, but I only have one Welsh trip on this vacation.

We pull the backpack out of the trunk and tell Dimitri we’ll be back in a few hours. He stuffs a cigarette in his mouth and wishes us well.

I am sore and hungry as it’s been over six hours in the car and I haven’t eaten since around 8, but I’ve got shit to do. I head over to pay to enter and ask what I need to do to enter with human remains.

This was a huge deal entering the UK and I figure entering the Village would be similarly frustrating.

I’m not wrong.

Unlike at the airport, where we were searched, applied with drug scanners and x-rays, everyone at the Village is just so surprised.

“There’s procedures. You need to call people.”

I can’t do that. I’ve spent thousands of pounds to get here. My husband has my mother in his backpack and I’m standing in the cold wind, literally begging them to let me in.

The woman from the front gate says we didn’t have to tell them. We could have just done it.

That’s usually how I operate, I think.

I just do things.

I park where I’m not supposed to and deal with the consequences. I apply for jobs I’m not qualified for and get them. I ask men who are out of my league for dates.

I just want to do this right, just this once.

For her.

My husband stands near me, still deeply out of my league, and asks if there’s any way they can make an exception.

For her.

The woman waves us through with no charge for a ticket. Shows us where to go to get privacy. I’m not a hugger, but I hug her.

The Village is surreal.

It’s a slice of the 1960s and Mediterranean architecture slammed into each other all twisted on a rich Welsh coastline. The gaping maw of an angel stares down at me from a hot pink wall as we pass a giant chess board and the once-green copper dome that dominates the Village proudly shines black across the bright skyline. A blue mermaid swims, frozen in time, above the cobblestone steps leading us to the stone boat above the high tide.

My mother thought this place was beautiful in pictures. She never dreamed she would visit, even in death.

I take her to the craggy rocks that overlook the brown, murky waters above the smooth, sandy beach below where, at some point in the 1960s, Patrick McGoohan declared that he was not a number, but a free man in The Prisoner, my mother’s favorite television show.

That show had been such a big deal in my house. My mom was the original BNF, or “Big Name Fan.” She was in a chat on the Sci-Fi Channel when it aired the show, and the New York Times featured her chat name, and the channel sent her a bag that I still have in my basement.

“She had kind of a shitty life,” I tell my husband as we cross the Village.

Understatement of the fucking year. My mother had to deal with my father, and for some reason she thought he was better than being alone and that was better than being with her parents.

My grandparents were hard. Cruel. Evil, my dad said. Coming from my father, who proudly hung a belt over the kitchen sink for everyone to see that he beat his children, that says something.

Television was my mother’s escape.

I lean into my husband’s arms. We’ve been together eleven years and I’ve tried to escape from him, often, because I don’t understand what love feels like. It frightens me. Television and movies, they’re things I understand. Real love? That frightens me.

“If you could ask Patrick McGoohan anything,” the Sci-Fi channel asked my mother in an email interview, “what would you ask him?”

She smirked across her little office at me as I played with the pins that held up her map of London. “It’s such an easy question.”

“What’s the answer?”

She laughed, and it was one of her best laughs. One of those laughs that I keep close to my heart every day.

“‘Can I have your autograph?’”

She didn’t tell me what she wanted when she died.

This has to be it, right?

To be a free woman?

I pull out my phone and put on her favorite song.

Sandra” by Barry Manilow.

It’s about a housewife who tries to kill herself because she’s so sad. I would catch her listening to it and crying in the kitchen. She told my father her favorite was “Weekend in New England” but I knew the truth.

I think about it a lot.

I crack open a beer and light a cigarette. One more with you, Mom.

We open the bag and the ashes start to scatter in the wind over the rocks. I lift it up and let it go out over the water. In a matter of moments, she’s gone and I’m crying huge sobs that take me over completely.

I’m so fucking sad.

She was so totally miserable her whole life and the only thing that brought her joy was this stupid little village in Wales, thousands of miles away from where she lived. She never made it here, and she would have loved it here. Every single part of this stupid, stupid place would have made her so excited and I can’t even enjoy it because all it does is make me hurt.

I put on Panic! At The Disco’s “Hey Look Ma I Made It.”

My husband and I don’t really laugh. I apologize for crying and he gets it. He curls his fingers with mine and doesn’t push me into a hug.

We call Dimitri and get back in the car. The sun settles low under a fluffy white and blue sky and it’s unfair that it’s so beautiful today.

It’s not gray when I say goodbye to my Mom. Sometime, somewhere, someone is going to tell me it’s because she is watching over me as I leave the Village and we drive down Hereford road back towards London, and I’ll tell them to fuck off.

Tomorrow, I’ll get a tattoo. On Thursday, we’ll go to Stovehenge. On Friday, we’ll do some tourist shit, I don’t know.

Today, my grief is as bad as the day it happened.

But at least she’s free now.

I took her somewhere she never thought she’d go.

You made it, Mom. You might not understand love, but I love you.

Photos by MJ Huntsgood

MJ Huntsgood is a speculative mystery and horror author. When she's not running your local D&D game, you can find her trying to beat an escape room in every state in the US, or hanging out with her 18 plants, 2 cats, and trophy husband. 

X: @MJHuntsgood

Instagram: @MJHuntsgood

Tiktok: MJHuntsgood