|This is a painting that in part inspired this scribbling. I include it for whatever it may be worth to your reading.|
He had been away at sea for eight years. Eight long years, and now he was coming home.
Sean had been her friend since before she could remember. Their fathers owned adjoining land, not far from the coast and half a day's ride from Belfast. It was beautiful country - long green grasses, blue sea, blue sky, the smell of new growth, the touch of the winds, the sentinel ruins on the cliff watching over it all... When they were small, she and Sean would run through the grasses and meet at the low wall dividing their two properties. Some days they would stay there, balancing on the wall or playing games in the grasses. Some days they would run up to the old watch tower and hide among the crumbling stone, pretending to be king and queen of their own castle, or fair folk in their lair. Some days, when the sun was particularly warm and the breeze especially fine, the would hike the mile and a quarter to the sea, where they would splash in the water and pretend to hunt for kelpies - sea deamons in the shape of horses, whom only the bravest could ride. They would draw pictures or build cities in the sand, staying as long as possible until the sun began to set and they knew that their mothers would be frantic with worrying where their young bairns had gone.
When they where small, they thought that their adventures were a grand secret, their friendship unbeknownst to anyone else. She realized in hinsight that their parents were well aware of their activities, and even encouraged them - for their was nothing to make a body grow up strong like running in the fresh air, and nothing to make a soul grow up good like being with a dear friend.
As they grew older, their adventures continued - though with less frequency, as Sean had to begin working on the farm and she herself had to start "learnin' to be a right proper lady," as her mother said it. So Sean worked in the fields, sowing and reaping, while she set to her "book learnin'" and her graces and baking and needlepoint. But in the evenings, when the baking and needlepoint were done, and it was too dark to see well in the fields, they two would meet by the wall again, and this time their meetings really were secret. At first, they would set off on adventures again, usually to the old ruins because they were closest. After a time, they would more often just walk in the moonlight, talking and enjoying each others' good company. Sometimes he would play his pipe and she would dance. Sometimes they would both dance without any music at all. It was upon that little wall that he kissed her for the first time.
By moonlight, they promised their love. They wanted to marry as soon as Sean could raise a little money for their support. It was still all a grand secret.
The next week, he signed on to a ship as a sailor. He would see the world, and earn good wages, and in a year or two return to his beautiful bride to be. He departed Belfast with her kiss lingering on his lips and her words of parting ringing in his ears.
Eight years. He had been sailing for eight years.
The first two years had been easy to bear. Soon her Sean would be home, she would be his forever. Surely she could wait a little longer for that. The third year had been harder. By the fifth, she was almost frantic. Now, six years beyond his promised return, she had begun to despair. Had he found someone abroad? Some beautiful, exotic maiden in a far off, adventurous place? Had he found a new world, with better prospects, where he had decided to stay? Had he been shipwrecked, or drowned, or worse? And her greaterst fear of all - had he promised to someone else the beautiful feelings he had once promised to her?
She knew she was thinking too hard. Her mother said that women needed men because women often delt in possibilities, while men delt with the present, right as it was. Her mother was right, but it didn't help. She didn't have a man to tell her what the present, right as it was, actually looked like. She tried to remember Sean as he was, as she had loved him, and felt as though that person were miles and miles and years and years away. She didn't know if the person out their sailing the world was the same person she had let into her heart on the little stone wall. For all she knew, that person was as far away as their childhood romps to the ocean.
When she received word from the shipyards that his ship was coming home, she became terrified.
He was supposed to come into port tonight. She stayed at home, fretting. A storm was boiling in the heavens and on the sea, thrashing about the waves and the countryside, and she worried for the fate of his vessel. The wind howeld and wuthered around her family's little cottage, driving sleep from her thoughts. She sat at the window with a candle, staring out at the storm. The moors and ruins and grasses and hills were invisible in the driving rain. She wrapped a shawl around herself and waited, staring, unsure what she hoped to see. A lantern... a light in the other farmhouse... a call in the dark... anything.
In the few moments when she dozed, she was tossed into dreams of tearing sails, splintering beams, spinning helms, and flying ropes... He was so close, so near, but the storm! The storm! What would become of the ship? If it wrecked, would their be any kelpie to rescue him from the water? He was brave enough to harness one... it would not pull him under the waves to drown him, as they creatures did to the faint of heart. He would tame the sea... he must... he must... But the wind howled on... and still no sign... no sign...
When morning broke, a little bit of sun managed to force a path through the clouds, which were now weakened from the night's downpour and begining to disperse. She lay at the window, her candle burnt down to a stub, awake but motionless. Her mother found her there and held her for a time, allowing her to cry away all the hopelessness and pain that had settled over the course of the night. The little ray of sun have little comfort.
The mother sat up slowly as a sound reached her ears. Footsteps on the path outside. The daughter didn't move. She didn't hear the sound, still weeping where she lay. Then the cottage door swung open - just a little ways, and familiar voice called to her, tearing her out of her grief. She leaped to her feet and whirled toward the voice - just one word, and she knew. Just her own name - and all other words could be left behind.