The cloud is thickening and the birds are frantically trying to find some place to roost as the wind whips itself into an ever increasing frenzy. I hurry down the coastal path, the tall grass surrounding it seemingly wanting to trip me and send me careening head long down the steps. Agitation chokes me as I grip the icy cold rail knowing she takes this path daily and sometimes in the dark. Alone.
I should have come earlier. But mother was particularly difficult today. Three times I had found her trying to climb out of the windows to escape some imaginary monster or villain. Tomorrow I must find the key to that back room window and lock it or I may not have a mother to worry about any more. The nurse is with her now though. So I can turn my attention to Alice. I’ll check she is ok and try to convince her to leave for the millionth time, even if it’s only for tonight whilst this storm passes through.
My feet hit the sand as I jump from the last step onto Kildara beach. As always it is beautiful. The high tides have left lots of debris and I know Alice will be pleased since most of the little shack she lives in is constructed from the things the sea gifts her. Any time it needs shored up or fixed, she magically finds what she needs half buried in sand and seaweed and carries it back to her lonely abode. She does not know I sometimes put those things there. A rusted hammer I left outside to make it look sea worn or a piece of tarpaulin all crumpled and a little torn so she can at least keep out some of the rain. The sea and I work together to take care of our Alice. We are all she’s got.
I half expected he would turn up. And there he is trudging across the sand and rocks with his usual bag slung across his shoulders. But he is not the man I want to see. So I turn away and look out across the bay, watching, waiting for my Michael and his boat. He will come back to me I know. Probably not today since there’s a storm brewing. In the morning most likely. That’s when Michael will come. When the sun pierces the clouds with its weakened rays and the waves have swallowed their anger and have become mere shushings of a mother to her infant on the shore.
A bitter tear escapes me at that thought, scalding my face.
Like the one Michael and I lost.
Thank you mind, for reminding me. As if I could ever forget.
I can tell she has seen me even though I’m a good five minutes walk away. She’s in her usual place, sitting on the rock that the locals inexplicably call the Wren. It’s the size of a truck and how she gets up there I’ll never know. I expect she chooses that spot because it’s the best place to look out for him. Not that he’s ever coming. It’s been four years since storm Caitlin and most of his fishing boat has been either washed ashore or sits at the bottom of the Atlantic. Yet still she waits.
It’s been three years since she abandoned their house and let the bank repossess it, choosing instead to live on the beach. The town has given up trying to talk sense into her.
But not I.
She was meant to be mine and I’ll not abandon her.
Alice and Donnacha – The Meeting
‘You really need to stop coming here.’
Donnacha comes to a stop in front of her lofty perch and notes with dismay that she’s been crying.
‘There’s a storm coming in. A bad one. You should stay in the town tonight. Keep safe.’
‘I’m perfectly safe and comfortable here,’ she answers, turning her face to the wind.
Stumped, he curses himself for not having devised some winning argument on his way over. He shifts a piece of brown and white flint with his foot and then kicks it viciously down the beach.
She eyes him briefly then looks away.
‘Tough day?’ she says.
‘Well, tell your mother I was asking.’
He knows it’s a dismissal. But there is care in it nonetheless.
‘I’ll tell her.’
For a long time neither of them say a word. Grains of sand scatter in the wind. The waves churn and scour the rocks across the sand creating a secret language that only the gulls and crabs know.
‘Alice, would you come tell her yourself? She’d love to see you. I can make up the spare room so you can stay till the storm has passed.’
Suddenly she turns on him, anger flashing across her pinched features.
‘You know I can’t leave. I’m waiting for Michael to come.’
‘It’s been four years.’
‘You cannot keep doing this forever.’
‘I can so and I will. For as long as it takes.’
He shifts the bag to his other shoulder. It is growing heavy.
‘You’re a loyal woman Alice. A good wife. But surely you can see you need to be somewhere safe tonight.’
She purses her lips, staring straight ahead as if physically refusing to let anymore words out.
He has seen that look before and he knows when he is beat.
He sets the bag down and looks up at her, his dark curls fluttering around his anxious face.
‘I’ll leave this here then ok. It’s just a few wee bits my mother and I wanted you to have. A bit of wheaten. Some of that nice cheese I bought last time. Some batteries for your lantern. You mustn’t sit in the dark at night.’
His heart aches at her silence and the fact that she’s as immovable as the rock she sits on. He turns and starts to make his way home.
‘Donnacha!’ she calls out.
He rushes back.
Tears are streaming down her face. She coughs and chokes all at once.
Desperate to do something, anything, he scrambles and clambers up the rock, tearing his jeans and hands.
‘Come here,’ he says sitting down and pulling her to him.
She allows it. In fact she leans her head on his shoulder.
‘What is it?’ he asks gently.
‘I didn’t want us to part in anger.’
‘That’s ok,’ he says. ‘We won’t.’
Her shoulders start to shake as she weeps.
‘Michael and I did. The night before he left to go fishing, we had argued. I accused him of not wanting the baby we lost. Because he did not grieve the way I did. Life just seemed to go on for him like nothing had happened. It infuriated me. Hurt me.’
‘I didn’t know Alice. About the wee one. I’m so sorry.’
‘Well, I let him go out that morning without a word or a kiss or anything. He left one storm to go into another. To put food on our table and clothes on our backs. And now all I can do is wait. To say the words I should have said.’
He takes her hand in his, noticing the worsening conditions and seeing the dilapidated shelter she calls home shifting in the gale.
‘Would you please come with me? If only for one night. I cannot leave you like this. It breaks my heart. Please.’
‘No. I can’t. But thank you for the things,’ she says, nodding at the bag.
Close to tears, he looks down at their hands still interlocked. Then completely unexpectedly, she leans forward and plants a gentle kiss on his forehead.
Without another word or glance she jumps off the rock onto a sandy spot that no doubt cushions the impact, gathers up the bag and makes her way to the only haven she has left. Her shack.
The storm rages for hours but at some point just as it grows light and the wind has died, I fall asleep and wake around 9:30 just as mother’s night nurse is leaving.
‘Thanks for everything,’ I say wearily.
She just waves.
As I close the door I notice the newspaper hanging halfway out of the letter box. I grab it and set it down on the counter. Immediately the front headline catches my eye.
LOCAL FISHERMAN PRESUMED DEAD, IS FOUND IN CANADA AND CHARGED WITH FRAUD
Still reading, I turn on the kettle and add a spoonful of coffee to an empty mug.
37 year old Michael Malloy from Kildara County Donegal, presumed dead after the sinking of his fishing vessel the Poiseidon in 2008, was discovered earlier this month living in Alberta Canada under an assumed identity. According to investigators, Malloy had managed to extort Avida life insurance group out of 560,000 euro by faking his own death and coercing his wife’s twin sister to pose as his bereaved spouse in order to claim the payout. It is believed that the relationship between Malloy and his wife’s sister Rebecca Rafferty ended, prompting her to report his crimes and cut a deal for clemency…
‘Fuck!’ I shout, gritting my teeth.
‘Don….?’ comes mother’s shaky voice from the downstairs bedroom.
‘It’s ok Mam. I’m going to get Mrs Wojciech from next door to come sit with you for a bit. I’ve to go out.’
She appears at her bedroom door gripping the frame with age spotted hands.
‘That’s ok son. But while you’re out, take a wee look in on Alice would you. It was a bad old night last night.’
‘I will,’ I tell her herding her back to bed.
I’ve no idea what the fuck I’m going to tell Alice or how she is going to react. I can’t believe the bastard has done this to her. I feel so angry it’s like I’ve lava inside me not blood. All this time he’s been in Canada, cheating on her with her sister, while she’s been torturing herself, blaming herself, hurting and alone. I’m a peaceable man, but I actually think I could kill him.
I have to remain calm though for Alice. She will need me.
I remember how upset she was yesterday and I run as fast as I can down the steps. I don’t care if I fall. I have to get to her.
By the time I’m at the bottom, I’m frantic. I bellow her name like a shot expelled from my very lungs. I can’t allow her to suffer in ignorance for another minute.
I run. Harder than I ever have. I slip on a mound of seaweed and fall. I struggle to my feet, breathless and bleeding from something sharp I landed on. I don’t care. I continue my mad dash through every obstacle. I’ve never seen the beach like this before. It’s chaos. There’s a door. Concrete posts washed up. Buckets. Nets. Boots. Bottles. A couple of trees.
How bad was it down here last night?
I round the outcrop where Alice’s shack stands and there I have my answer.
It’s gone. Obliterated.
The sand dune that had once sheltered it even, is completely carved away as if by a scalpel.
My heart lurches in disbelief. There’s no sign of her.
‘Alice!’ I cry. But all I can hear is the elements and the rawness of nature.
For the rest of the day I search for her tirelessly. The next day too. And the next. Without my noticing, weeks pass by and then months. Then years. In fact for all my days for the rest of my life I search and wait, search and wait. Every dune, every out crop, every mound of seaweed, every rockpool and especially her rock – the Wren. Every single day.
My mind can not accept the fact that she is gone, that we were cheated.
All I can hope, is that if I wait long enough maybe a storm might bring her back to me.