“Not in this case, there isn’t. So, tell me about what brought you here to South Carolina.”
“Ah, so you don’t want to talk about you.”
“I don’t.” I fiddled with the side of her bedcover, spread the fringe in an even pattern across the sheet.
“Well, then. Where was I in my story?” She gazed upward. “When his hooker—”
“His hooker?” I took a sharp breath and suppressed a laugh, held my palm over my mouth.
She glanced at me. “A hooker, my dear, is a sailboat in our Galway Bay. It is a sailboat so distinct there is no other like it in the world. It has three brown sails, and is bowed like a water creature flying over the sea. This boat has carried and nourished our Claddagh village for hundreds of years, bringing in the herring and cod.” She pointed to the oil painting on the wall.
“I see,” I said, glancing at the sailboats moored to a foreign dock.
“Trawlers have replaced these boats—but Richard fished with nets from his hooker even when they were telling us we needed to use trawlers, that we would be lost to the modern world.”
I pointed to the painting. “Is that Galway Bay?”
She smiled. “Ah, yes, it is.” Maeve stared off at the ceiling and continued. “When his brown sails flew back to the bay, I was filled, not emptied. There was nothing more I could do, but it overflowed my heart, spilled into my soul for all of my life. The simple sight . . .”
I took a deep breath. “What?” Her story had wound around to so many places, I was uncertain where we were in this timeline of leaving and returning, of lost and found. Her eyes came back to mine from the far-off place she’d gone. “There are certain people, certain events that will fill you up, and others that will drain you. And whatever is in your life is taking life from you. I can see it.”
Her words caused an ache, like an old bruise, to rise in the middle of my belly—the ache for Mama. Her words were something a mama, my mama, would have said. A warm swelling rose to the base of my throat. I placed my hand there, tried to swallow.
“I’ve upset you,” Maeve said in her singsong way.
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m tired.”
“That is what I’m trying to say to you—no need for that.” She glanced around the room as if she expected someone else. Then she leaned forward and patted her hair. “Did you find him?”
“Find who?” I asked.
“Jack,” she said.
“Of course not. I’m not looking for him.”
“I looked for him everywhere I could—for months, then years I waited.”
“Tell me.” I felt I was on the edge of a new day, a new discovery.
“My parents, they didn’t like him at all. He lived across the lane, you understand?”
Then Maeve slipped into the place of story, the place where she must have lived and understood back then.
“Spruce trees hang low and cast shadows between us. Long whispers of leaves and wind carry our words back and forth. The houses are lime-washed, and the roads are mud in some places, cobblestone in others. When it rains, the houses are splattered with mud, making Claddagh appear as though we don’t take care of our clachans built in jagged rows. But we are neat, clean, and we love our land. From my home at the edge of the sea I look up to St. Mary’s on the Hill and down the path to the bay and Nimmo’s pier. I think how strange this is—how we worship God and nature at the same time.”
She stopped, her mouth open.
I touched her hand. “It sounds like a beautiful place.” And I meant it; I wanted to go see this magical village.
“You have never seen nor will you ever see anything more beautiful than the simple, exquisite Claddagh village. Rocks are strewn at the side of the road; peat moss grows at the edges. Behind our homes there is the Big Grass, where we play hopscotch and tag and the boys hurl rocks. We dive for coppers—coins—for the tourists and play hide-and-seek by the water. The wind off the bay is often harsh, but never too much for us. Never. The wind tastes and smells of freedom and life and sailboats. . . .” She stared off toward the ceiling. “The sky is blue—so deep and wide and changing by the minute. It is the year 1918, the year I am nine years old, that I know I love him. He has dark hair, the same color as the sky before night—when the sun is gone, but the light has not fully escaped. His eyes . . .” Maeve looked at me, squinted as if she’d forgotten I was there.
I nodded for her to continue.
“Where was I?” she asked.
“His eyes, Maeve.”
“No, not his eyes. The morning . . . the morning he left.”
“Yes, the morning he left.”
“It is 1922. I am thirteen years old when I understand that he loves me as much as I love him. I’d known I loved him since I was nine years old, but ahya, my mam told me no one knows who they love at nine years old. But, Kara . . .” She looked at me, leaned forward. “It doesn’t matter the age, only the knowing. Mam told me I didn’t even know what I wanted for dinner, much less who I loved, but I told her that I knew who I loved and what I wanted for dinner.”
Maeve said this last sentence with a voice and a face so young that I laughed before I could stop myself.
Her mouth formed a round O as she blew out a long breath. “You know, Mam wanted me to marry the boy down the lane— always had. It was decided when I was born. But I loved Richard, I did. But soon—you’ve got to know—soon, our families’ expectations influence what we believe, who we love.”
“Yes?” I asked, eager for more.
“Oh, yes, dear. This is the thing we must guard against: that others’ expectations, especially our families’, do not become our own.”
Then in a song of story, Maeve described her home and her love for the boy across the lane.
“The morning arrives cold and empty—I feel it when I wake between my two sisters. I shiver, and pull the quilt to my chin. The previous day was the most beautiful day of my life—we had a procession to carry Our Lady of Galway statue to St. Mary’s on the Hill. She’d returned from Dublin after being cleaned, she did. He and I had marched together in the procession, brushing our fingertips against each other, singing the hymns, holding our rosary beads. All in our village, even our houses, were dressed in finery. But the next morning an unfamiliar sound rises in the predawn light—gravel crunching, low voices.
“I crawl from between my sisters, put my feet into the lamb-skin slippers made from sheep on the green hills. I slip down to the front door, past my brother’s room, past my parents’ room. The fireplace is full of ashes. I open the front door a crack, enough that a blast of frigid air sucks the breath from my lungs. I become even shorter of breath as I spy the dark cart, as black and gaping open as an evil monster, in front of Richard’s home. We have no streetlights, so only the full moon reveals the road.
“I draw my shawl around me, open the door wider. I pray to the statue we had carried up the hill just the day before. Oh, Our Lady of Galway, please don’t let anything be wrong with Richard. I’ll be a nun, I’ll sacrifice . . . just not him. I reach up and touch the Siera tile over our doorway that signals our dedication to Jesus. These are the selfish words I pray—to help me, not Richard’s family, but only me. Maybe what happened afterward was my punishment . . . like the color of the sky—gray and shadowed with the brown sails of the Claddagh fishermen—” Maeve stopped, stared at me, lost as though she’d wandered down this lane where Richard lived, and found only me on the whitewashed stoop.
“Go on, Maeve. The black cart . . .”
Her face lit from within. “Yes, yes. Please, not Richard, I begged.” Maeve grabbed my hand. “Have you ever been that desperate? Begging, begging . . .”
She didn’t wait for an answer; I had none. She stared up at the ceiling as if watching the story on a screen.
“My wild black curls fly around my head in the cold, my thin, transparent skin turns red in an instant. I step out onto the stoop, open my mouth to call or scream for Richard, but only hollow sounds come from my throat. I see no one; emptiness as wide as the world from end to end rises within me. I remember then an ancient proverb I’d been told—what fills the eye fills the heart. Then footsteps come from behind and I turn to Da. I scream at him.”
Maeve stopped talking, her hands flailed through the air. “Da, Da . . . Da!” She sat up with a jerk.
I grabbed her arm. “Maeve, it’s Kara. . . .”
She stopped, looked at me. “I know you’re Kara. I’m not daft, dear one. Let me tell my story. Then my da grabs my elbow, pulls me into the house, tells me that the problem across the lane is none of our concern. I holler that what is across the street is not a problem, but a family, a boy I love. He tells me, ‘Maeve, don’t let your mother hear you scream. You are already the wildflower in our family.’ Da pulls me toward him. I push him away, ask if Richard is dead, when Mam’s rose fragrance washes over me; I lift my head to hear her tell me, ‘It is as I’ve told you, Maeve. That family is trouble. Always was. Now look what they have brought to the lane—fear and death.’
“Mam’s hands hold rosary beads, and she rolls them between her fingers: one by one. Her lips move in the familiar cadence of the Hail Marys that surely my mouth memorized even when I didn’t know what I was saying. ‘God rest their souls,’ my mam says. I grab her. ‘What do you mean, their souls?’ I lunge forward. My shawl falls to the wood floor; the fringe lands in the fireplace. My voice lifts higher and higher until I am screeching at Mam. ‘What do you mean
“My mam closes her eyes and tells me: Richard’s parents have passed on. My legs crumble beneath me. I fall to the wooden floor. Pain spikes through my knees as I ask what happened.
“My da places his hand on top of my head, and anyone who saw us might have thought he was a priest who had come to bless the child. He tells me, ‘They were caught up in the trouble at the pub in Galway. Someone recognized their eldest son who was with them.” I calculate backward from Richard, the youngest, to the fifth and oldest child, who was in his twenties and widely known to have been involved in the Easter Rising.
“I stumble to stand. ‘Where’s Richard?’ I ask, and move toward the door. Mam grabs my wrist, hisses, ‘Don’t you dare go out there and let the neighbors think you are . . . part of this, that you are involved with the family. The Garda Siochana—the Irish police—will come question us, involve us. Stay in the house.’
“ ‘What will they do with Richard?’ I cry when Mam steps forward, places her palm on the side of my face. ‘Maeve, you know we have Industrial Schools.’
“I push at Mam’s hand, run for the front door, shove it open and spring across the street faster than I believed I knew how to run. The cart sits flat and cold, angry and black underneath my hand as I run into it, stop myself with an open palm. The cart rocks against my weight.
“A garda emerges from the other side of the hearse, his club raised high, his face angry and red, splotched and faded around his nose. When he looks at me, he lowers his club, then leans down to me. ‘Child, go back to your home. This you do not need to see.’ I straighten my shoulders. ‘Where is their youngest son? I need to see him.’
“The garda nods toward another long cart, wet and glistening like the humpback of a whale just rising from the sea, one that had blended into the waves until someone pointed it out. ‘All the sons are taken care of—don’t you worry about that. He will be safe. Much safer than he was with his ma and da.’ But I don’t believe this man. I run toward Richard’s house. The garda grabs my arm and pulls me back toward him. ‘No, child.’
“I pry myself loose from this man as Da comes from behind. ‘Maeve . . . no.’ Da wraps his arms around me as the chaos increases. Neighbors come out as the sun ascends. Women scream, run toward the home of their friend. Men come up behind them, hollering at their women and children to go back into their homes.
“I push free of Da—for the first time ever—and wind my way, low and crouched, through the crowds to Richard’s house. One small thirteen-year-old girl is inconsequential as they try to push back the others.
“I shove Richard’s door open with a forward momentum that carries me across the room to land by the fireplace hearth. I stumble and fall in a heap in front of the dead ashes. The ashes sadden me with the knowledge that no one was there, or would ever be there, to light the fire, to keep it going so these boys would wake to a warm house as we did.
“I struggle to stand, choke on my tears at the sight of the barren hearth. Richard stands erect, his back to the wall, a fifteen-year-old boy staunch as a man.”
Maeve paused in the middle of her story. Her eyes glazed over, perhaps from medication, or perhaps once again she’d returned to the land of the lost love. But she turned to me, and it was only pain and sorrow, not confusion, that lay in a fine mist over her eyes.
“He is the most beautiful child. He is more beautiful than any man I have seen before or since, even in the ninety-six years I have been on this earth.” She tilted her head against the pillow. “And you will help me find him. You will.”
“You will help me find him.”
“How can I possibly help you find him?” Maybe Maeve thought it was 1922 again, or maybe she believed I was someone else. “I don’t even know his last name, Maeve.”
“You can’t help me until I get to the end of the story . . . until I tell you everything.”
I grasped her hand. “What then? What happened to him?”
She pressed her lips together, then spoke. “All anyone ever wants to do is get to the end of the story, find out what happened, what happened, as if that answers any questions at all. It is not about how it ends; it is about the journey. The full story. You have to know the full story to care about or know the ending.”
I nodded. “Okay, then what happened next?”
Maeve smiled, then looked over my shoulder as if she could see him. “He has dark curls.” Maeve lifted her fingers as if she felt his hair. “Soft like a baby lamb in the back fields. He has freckles over his cheeks and a row across his nose. His skin darkens in the few months of summer when he goes out on his hooker to fish, but it is translucent the remainder of the year. You would not know it darkened as it does, but when he found me again—when the sails returned him over the sea, when the edges drew nearer . . . he was darker. . . .” Maeve’s voice stuttered now, like the end of a scratched CD.