IT BEGINS, AND ENDS, WITH the sea.
The North Atlantic surrounds this island, stretching to horizon, a living, limitless giant, a passage, a prison. It is generous, this sea, which birthed my island through glaciers, seeded it with life, and nurtured that life with its own bounty. It is treacherous, this sea, which mutilates my island, annihilates vessels, and reclaims the seeds it sowed. Nature’s contradiction: the sea. Matriarch and murderer.
On this clear day, the sea is a jeweled reflection of sky. Rippled aquamarine. Unparalleled beauty.
A breeze whispers past, ushering me in. I am Kathleen Kerrigan: mother to Kevin, Clara and Jimmy; grandmother to Kate. Kathleen Kerrigan, who is long dead, yet still here. Am I the proverbial Newfoundlander who chose homeland over heaven? A trill of laughter—mine—floats on the zephyr. Heaven does not open its gates to women of my ilk.
The mystery of me reveals itself in time, every time. For now, I cast my eyes skyward, to the blinding white underbelly of a lone gull and soar with the gull as it keens and dips and alights atop the green gunwale of a yellow dory, its bow carving an easy trough through tomb of water. The oarsman, leaning in, stretching back, is my son, Kevin, just fourteen. With a wave of his oar, he banishes the avian scavenger, but me? I am ghost here, no more.
Kevin moves in cadence with creak of tholepin, whip of oar, slap of water against hull, all familiar rhythms to men whose lives depend upon their captor and benefactor, the sea. Any keen observer would say that this oarsman is boy, not man. True, but childhood is illusion if stomachs are growling. When men like my Alphonse braved the Great War, boys like our Kevin braved the sea.
The stench from the boat unmasks its cargo: hooks and twine and night crawlers and fish guts. In contrast, a hint of sweetness wafts from under the stern seat where a lunch pail crammed with bread and molasses sits—Kevin’s favourite—tucked as far as possible from the slimy oilskins that are rolled up, and squirming, in the bow. Yes, squirming. Tiny fingers emerge around the edge of the slippery garments and push them aside. A giggle alerts Kevin and he turns to see a little girl start to weave her way toward him. He gasps when her foot skitters through fish slime and she grasps at the gunwale.
I brace myself for the splash.
There it is. No, not a fish breaching.
Kevin jumps and scrambles from centre to bow, oars clattering in his wake, dory weaving like a buoy in a gale. He screams and strains and clutches at ribbons of brown hair that slither through water’s sheen. Face down in the sea, skirt ballooning, is Clara, his six-year-old sister.
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