A young woman learns the truth about her family and suffers a terrible loss...
She had no memories of a time in her life where she had not spent the morning hours by the sea, her toes buried in the damp sand, the salt spray from the waves covering her face. It was just proper for her to make her way down the hill from her great grandmother’s home to the wooden walk that sloped over the dunes and lead down to the water’s edge—as proper as tea in the afternoon and a bite of sweets before bed. Even as a young child, no one stopped her from going to the beach, so long as someone accompanied her and remained vigilant about the ocean’s rules.
“Never turn your back to the waves without a proper goodbye,” her mother would say, staring out at the churning sea. “The sea takes that as a great sign of disrespect, and it will crash over you, taking you down into its depths without another thought. She is old, older than all of history, and she demands that we honour that request.
“Should you ever find that you have dishonoured her, you must make an offering before she takes matters into her own hands—the best offerings are pieces of art, any art, filled with your thoughts and emotions and come from your hands. Paintings, jewellery, drawings, pottery—anything from your hands is worth more than one thousand words to the sea. Take the offering to the calmest spot on the beach and gently ease it into the water. She will take it.” Her mother created many offerings for the ocean whether or not she wronged her.
“The sea holds firm to our souls, Bronagh, and she will call to us when she needs us home,” her mother placed a black murex shell in her small hands and closed her fingers around it. As a child, she had spent many nights listening to the songs that echoed within the shells chambers.
“No matter where you are, return to the sea as quickly as possible if you hear her call, if you feel her tugging on your soul. You will know it. It is gut-wrenching, it is this terrifying need to step into the waters, to feel the sand beneath your feet. Come home when you feel the call, Bronagh.”
She left her family’s island, one summer during her junior year of high school, and went to visit an old friend in the mountains. She had never been away from the island for very long, partially because her mother had not been able to keep herself away due to an illness that she had from birth—however, Bronagh decided that she would travel the world, spend as much time away from the island as possible to not become like her mother. During that summer, Bronagh experienced the most terrible things in her head—dreams of tsunamis and hurricanes and animals washing ashore. The shell sat, beside her table, untouched the entire time she was away – though she could hear the songs from deep within the shell, she refused to acknowledge them.
There were no landlines where she was, and cell phone service was spotty at best; when she finally arrived home, the news reached her before she set foot on the pier. Beibhinn, her great-grandmother, her Maimeó, her best friend in all the world, had passed away. When she opened the door to the home where she had been the youngest of four generations of women, her mother greeted her with stormy eyes.
“Why did you not answer the call?” her mother asked. Bronagh had no answer, and so the silence stretched between them. To her, Aoife seemed to firmly believed that, had Bronagh come home, the matriarch of their small clan would have lived many more years. Even as she sat on the beach, her toes buried in the sand as they had been years before, the silence had not been broken.
“Our lives, our existence, is contingent upon our relationship with the sea.” Bronagh had always thought her mother meant that they relied heavily on the fishermen that lived on the island and supplied the few families, including her own, with food. She had never considered that, perhaps, there was more to that simple sentiment than she thought.
Bronagh was no longer welcome on the island, though the other families that resided there would not have denied her access to her ancestral home. Her mother, however, refused to see her—and so, because she had chosen to leave the silence and the anger and the resentment behind, Bronagh found herself living in a small seaside town surrounded by waves on one side and forested mountains on the other.
As atonement for refusing to answer the call to return home, she spent much of her free time creating art that she would send out to sea on makeshift rafts lit by lanterns in the dead of night. It was cathartic to watch as the light from the lanterns bobbed and dipped perilously on the waves only to be swallowed up and taken down into the depths of the sea, taking the art she had poured her soul into with it.
Author Note ▼