by Sammie Ham
In a little coastal town in Ireland, a young teenage girl awaits her grandmother's fate...
Everyone was quiet that frigid, lifeless night in Carlingford, Ireland. My seanmháthair had fallen ill, and we knew it was only a matter of time now. I had only gotten to know her a short time, yet my heart shattered into a million pieces as well gathered around her. The small stone home she lived in was warmed only be the flames from the fireplace.
My dad never really spoke much about her, beyond to say that his mother was highly superstitious and crazy. For years she ran around with tales of Dullahan, the headless spirit who had come to claim her husband, my seanathair, some years before. She swore that between the aged blinds that covered the windows, that she had seen the whole thing take place.
"Dad," I would press, "Seanmháthair swears she saw it. Her story has never changed in over fifteen years; maybe you should hear her out!"
"Grier," my father would say, usually raising his voice, "you don't know your seanmháthair like I do!"
"And it's your fault I don't!" This was my usual argument.
But for now, there was no arguing, no words. Just quiet reverence as we all sat around the small bed in the living room. Aunt Sybil stood, looking over her aged mother.
"It's time," she quietly observed. "Tierney," she called to my cousin, "put the gold crucifixes over the windows and doorways."
"Gold?" I looked at my dad, confused.
He heavy sighed, not saying anything at first. Finally, my oldest uncle grew impatient and began to bark at my dad. He marched over to him, puffing up in my dad's face.
"For Christ's sake, Hagan, if you don't want to tell the child, I will!"
"Malachy!" Sybil called out, turning to look at the two men who were only inches away from a brawl, not even a foot away from their dying mother. "Hagan! You two stop this foolishness! It is almost time! You can't even give our máthair a proper good-bye!"
"The gold," my father began, "is the one thing that will keep the Dullahan away. While he isn't exactly a malevolent spirit, we would much rather an angel come to guide our mother home."
"The sluagh," Tierney cried out, as she stood in the window. "We mustn't forget the sluagh!"
"Right," my father said, heavy sighing. He opened the cabinet by the fireplace. I had only been in this house a total of three times in my life, and not for very long, but I did know my family rarely went near this cabinet. From inside he pulled four beautiful decorated alabaster and gold candles. They were the bulky kind you would find in a church. He set them down before pulling out four beautiful pearl satin pieces of fabric.
"The sluagh," he began as he lit a match, lighting the first candle. He handed the candle to Uncle Malachy who placed it in the first window. My uncle then pinned up the one piece of the fabric over the window. "are horrible creatures who also fight to take the soul of a dying person. They would really take any soul with them, which is why you were never allowed out after dark here." He looked at me as he handed the next candle off. "While I didn't want to believe in the superstitions, I would respect your seanmháthair's wishes."
"What's with the candles and fabric," I asked, sitting in the chair closest to the bed.
"While the blinds are on the windows for safety sake, we worry that the passing of seanmháthair will make the sluagh fight even harder to get in. They thrive in the dark. So we place the candle and the light fabric to ward them off. And to light the way for the angels to come carry seanmháthair off to Heaven with them." I could see the heartbreak in his eyes.
All windows were covered, and everyone sat back down except for my aunt. She lit one final candle on the table next to seanmháthair. She must have seen how confused I was because she gave me a soft smile before explaining the candle. "You see," she began, "this candle is the most special candle in the world to your seanmháthair. On the day of her wedding, she first put the wick into just a bit of melted wax, no more than half an inch. The moment their vows were exchanged, her groom took petals from her bouquet, prayed over them and they put them on top of the wax. They then both poured a little more wax over the petals. And from then on, for every anniversary, every birth of one of their children or grandchildren, more petals and wax would be added."
I looked at the candle realizing this candle- it was her life. My aunt handed me a match, "Now her life has made it's end. We must light it. Let her memories and the angel take her to the other side so that she may wait for us." With shaking hands, I lit the candle.
"God Mom," my dad finally broke down, holding her hand tightly. "I wish I could take everything back. I am so sorry," he wept. He kissed her hand and laid his head down. My aunt rubbed his back lightly.
Malachy began to softly sing a song in their native tongue. While I didn't understand what was being said, I knew exactly what was happening. He was singing seanmháthair into the afterlife. We all waited, tears falling, prayers being whispered and my uncle still softly singing. Suddenly, seanmháthair's candle went out, a soft floral scented smoke rising from it.
"She's gone," my dad sobbed. "She's gone."
I went over to the window, unable to contain my tears any longer. From the small crack on the side of the fabric, I saw a small figure of a man, hunched over, skin hanging. He turned back to me with glowing yellow eyes, snarling as a set of wings flew open. He and probably nine other figures like him took off into the dark of night, screeching as they made their way through the shadows the town around us. I turned slowly looking back at the body of my seanmháthair. She wasn't crazy and superstitious after all.