Wind From the Edge of the Cloud
by R D Larson
part 1 of 2
The wind, cold as a knife, roared in over the sea; it chilled the red-haired woman.
The rocks below held her dead infant, shrouded in the woman’s dress. She knew as the sea surged that her child, her first child, would be taken away. She committed his body to the sea as she did so recently with his father.
Siobhan had believed that the child would live. She knew she was strong and young. Even through the terrible night when she awaited the return of the ship that never came, she consoled her future with the thought of the baby. Their baby.
She crooned a single-note melody as the wind whipped the wool blanket that surrounded her body. She looked to the horizon, her emerald eyes as glazed as scum on the tide pools. Again she sang her toneless song.
The clouds on the horizon congealed in convoluted boils with purple underbellies of rage. The rocky shore gleamed black as the spray needled it. Pinpricks of wet struck the woman’s carved features highlighting the bones beneath the pale skin.
The woman wavered, tossed by more than the wind. The thickening blood dripped down her legs. As the clouds edged higher, roiling in fury, moved closer, the woman clutched in her hand a small piece of cloth: a tiny shirt, hand-made.
As the only men in the hamlet that owned their own ship, Rory naturally went to work for her father and her brother. The other ships were owned by the landowner of the surrounding farms.
“I want to be my own man, work for your Da’ and Dennis,” Rory told her just before they married. “I want the sea. I yearn for freedom from schedules and rules. Fishing, not farming, is my life. One day my sons and I will have our own fishing ship.”
So young, Rory and Siobhan looked ahead to a joyful life on their spring wedding day. The joy was crushed the following fall with the failure of the potato crop, and then the early storm.
When only a broken hull washed up on the beach, Siobhan did not cry. She did not cry for her father nor her brother. The sea is a savage mistress and knows no compassion. Siobhan accepted Rory’s death, too. She knew she, too, would die someday.
She took in the sailors’ washing while she served as the widow of Rory.
Their single room cabin, built so long ago, kept her warm and dry. Each night Siobhan would sit in the rocking chair that her father had made for her mother more than thirty years ago. Her collection of soft cloth began to be sewn into tiny shirts and robes. Some of the cloth came from her mother’s dresses of long ago; some came from the worn clothes of neighbors and friends. Each tiny shirt was perfectly stitched by the red hands. From time to time she would rub sheep oil into her hands to try to keep them soft enough so the fine baby shirts would not snag.
The sewing had been worthless. The baby had been born dead this morning. She stared outward, seeing her infant on the edge of a cloud as the afterbirth flushed from her body.
Siobhan sunk down against the wet black rock, her eyes still open and staring out at the purple cloud. Her raw fingers plucked at the rock, feeling for permanence. Her knees scraped the granite. The cold rain sliced her thin body and cleaned her son’s birth blood away in tiny rivulets that slipped into the sea.
The endless day and the rain continued. Lightening marked a spot in the sea and thunder spoke its name.
Lost in her grief, Siobhan prayed again and again, “Take me, Lord, to be with You. I can bear no more. Take me, I beg You.”
She knew it was wrong to pray for death. She didn’t care anymore. No more tears could form in the green haunted eyes. Silently, with only soft sound, the sea took the body of her baby to its bosom.
“Poor wee boy, join your father. I will soon be with you both.” Exhausted, Siobhan lay on her side watching the water race out. Unknowing she slept like the already-dead on her rock.
Hours later, faintly she heard a voice in her sleep.
“Siobhan? Siobhan?” A frail voice called above the whine of the receding wind. A woman with a stick walked along the shore. She too was wet, with fading red hair and green eyes. Suddenly she saw the slight mound on the rock.
“Siobhan! Siobhan! You can’t leave me, daughter, you must not leave me!” The older woman hobbled over the rocks toward the ledge.
Siobhan lifted her head but she couldn’t see her mother. The wind crusted her eyes shut. She scraped at the matter with a broken nail, and wiped her eyes. The mother came near and crouched inches from her distraught daughter.
“Lord, God on High, Siobhan, you must rouse yourself. This is not the end of your life. Come, come home to the fire, the hearth. We will grieve together. Our loss is for us together. Come, child.”
Siobhan, suddenly sobbing, rose to her knees. The blanket had slipped, exposing her cold skin. Her mother pulled at her shoulder.
“Come, Siobhan, my dear girl, come home.” Mary pulled her daughter to her feet, using her stick for balance. As Siobhan stood, her stomach contracted and she groaned. Her mother tucked the blanket tighter around the white shoulder.
“We are strong women,” her mother admonished her. “Come on.”
Slowly, like two very old birds, they stumbled and staggered back to Wynwitten and their single room cottage that was built so long ago by Siobhan’s father.
For days, Siobhan lay under the quilt, on a pallet, numbed by her emptiness.
Her mother, as always, took in wash for the single men that lived in tiny stone cottages rented to them by their Sir Robert Dunworth, an Englishman. The men either worked on Dunworth’s farms or on board his ships, catching fish as the season dictated. Dunworth then sent the fresh fish on to Liverpool for fishmongers to sell.
Some years before, Dunworth’s wealth came from his potato crops that covered all tillable land. He owned the land except for the triangle which was first owned by Siobhan’s grandfather, nestled a bit up from the main road and set near the first hills. His transportation of potatoes and fish had made him wealthy. The men in the area worked in the fields or as fishermen. Only Siobhan’s father had his own boat.
They had done well enough, having a small garden to the side of the house. Cabbage, kale and potatoes grew there; the vegetables were under Siobhan’s care. Now her mother had to do both the washing and the gardening for Siobhan, in grief and dead-eyed, slept away each day and night on her pallet.
The kale grew large with tough dry leaves and the cabbage grew and withered because no one picked it. And the potatoes grew in watery mud from the days of rain.
One evening, having started a fire and hung a pot of kale and potatoes cooking over it, Mary went to her daughter.
“Siobhan, I need your help. We have had a terrible loss; our men are dead. Your babe died before he could live. Yet, I still live and so do you. Daughter, you must stir yourself. You must eat for you are thinner than ever. I need you to help me with the washing and in the garden again for I am not as young as I was.” The mother clasped her daughter’s hand, and with tears slipping down her face and neck, she said, “Live for me and I’ll live for you. You still must have a life for you are so young. Many years are left for you.”
“I don’t...” Siobhan’s eyes looked into her mother’s. The fear and anger that she saw surprised her. Taking her mother’s hand in both of hers, she said, “I love you, and yes together we will live.”
Siobhan remembered how her mother, Mary, had fought against those who would have taken her property when she was only a girl and not married yet. She fought against the take-over until she married Fionna’s father and he took up her cause, finally clearing the title to the property that truly belonged to Mary.
Siobhan thought of the small garden. How it had been planted year after year so carefully, nurturing the seedlings until they grew, her mother had often had enough produce to sell at market. But the last few years had been so hard.
“I will keep the garden again, Mama; I promise you,” Siobhan told her.
They exchanged a hard hug before dishing up the soup. For the first time in weeks, Siobhan forced herself to eat.
With sunshine the next day and the next day after Siobhan weeded the garden. The potato plants struggled to produce beneath the drying dirt. When tiny flower buds appeared, Mary said, “Thank God, we’ll have potatoes, for as the blooms grow, so do the potatoes in the earth.”
“Mother, I have gotten stronger and the warm sunlight has helped me as well as the garden.”
But the third day, a cold rain fell and again Siobhan could not seem to move even to help her mother with the washing.
“Siobhan, you must help, my back is hurting and there is so much to do...”
“Why bother to—”
Her mother’s quick hand slapped her cheek.
“We two will survive, daughter, and you will help me.”
Though they didn’t talk again that day, Siobhan helped with the wringing and hanging of the shirts, trousers and the linens. Sitting by the fire that night, they still did not look at each other or talk.
In the morning as the wind dried out the land, Siobhan looked to her potato plants. To her shock and fear, only crumpled, pale leaves lay on the mud. She ran indoors to tell her mother.
“Rain! Rain knocked down the plants.”
“What?” And they both rushed out to look. Mary dropped to the ground digging with her fingers around the first plant. As she lifted out the spotted mis-formed potato she started keening as though it were again word of the shipwreck of her husband and son.
“What is it? Ma, what’s wrong with them?”
“They’ve got the rot. They’re dying, dying like everything else.”
Her mother broke into loud sobs broken by calls and cries. Siobhan helped her mother into the small cottage and made her tea.
But Mary kept shaking and crying. Finally, she told Siobhan the rest of the awful news.
Copyright © 2008 by R D Larson