Maggie was alone in the world; she was sixty-five, seventy or perhaps even eighty—who knew? She always looked the same. Her hair, the color of straw and straight as an arrow, was clipped below her ears. The frumpy house dress she wore was stained from the many times she wiped her hands on it and her stockings were rolled to the tops of her black, laced shoes. Today, as always, she carried all her needs in a colorful, woven bag with wooden handles. Maggie’s slight body was as wiry as her hair, and her face, highlighted by the doll-like circles of rouge on her cheeks, was as lined as a sheet of loose-leaf paper.
Maggie had a regular routine and, for some reason, had abandoned it for a day trip to St. John’s. Everyday, she would walk to the post office in Heaven Cove and to Cleary’s General Store. She chattered away in her harsh, grating voice to herself—or anyone else who would listen—about her childhood in Ireland, her teen years in St. John’s and her adult life in Heaven Cove. Maggie talked not only to the living, but also to the dead; she was full of stories of the ghosts of the Cove and was frequently seen on the marshes having a conversation with some invisible being. The people of the community were very accepting of ‘Maggie of the Marshes’ for the belief in ghosts, fairies and angels was often equal to the belief in Jesus as the Son of God. They would go to the church on the hill to have their lives blessed and their sins forgiven but they would go to Maggie in the marshes to have their problems solved and their futures told. A simple task of picking bakeapples for Annie O’Keefe in the hopes of becoming a recipient of her delicious jam or pie took on a whole new level when one encountered Maggie O’Brien on the marshes. The hopes of the pie or jam were often abandoned as one listened, spellbound, to Maggie’s talk of her encounters with spirits.
As he watched Maggie head down the path, Tom remembered the time he had come across her talking to some spirit on the marshes. He had wanted to pause and listen, but, as he had been with a young woman from the Cape at the time, he thought it wise that they just move on their way. Tom enjoyed knowing everybody else’s business but tried his best to be discreet about his own philandering. Got Jenny and me seven kids to think of, he frequently reminded himself as justification for his secrecy. Seven kids, was his current thought as he got back into the taxi. Jesus H. Christ! No wonder I drinks!
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