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Copr. 2001 Jeff Clayton Wright
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“The Last To Go”
Jeff Clayton Wright
He presumes in the moonlit gloss of his grief that his daughter, waistwrapped in the sea, has returned. “Come home, come back home!” he calls to the cove. “Let’s go in, by the fire, where you can get warm.” That invitation is thrown in his face by winds unleashing themselves from lead seas, that eavesward swoop at his either side toward the provocations of candlelit panes.
His voice has gone hoarse. If she is a phantom, he dreads her not. He’s missed her too much. He simply can’t bear to see her this way, a wreckage on shoals, suspended as if between two worlds.
She’s wavered this way for several nights, wavered, hair raked by salty winds -- in a dress that clings like beseechings of kelp. And she’s yet to reply. She won’t speak to him. In the silvery night, with clouds overhead rushing rampant as surf, dashing puppets of shadow -- like waves -- against cliffs, it seems she scarcely notices him. It isn’t her whisperings, healing and holy, hauled in on the tide and then under the tow, but only the rhythmic sound of the spray.
In those somber days when sails tugged children, one by one (as could be afforded), away from you, you were more than metaphorically watching them lurch into an afterlife. This is why you gave a ‘wake’ for them on their final night, an ‘American Wake’; why the villagers gathered inside your home, to recollect, to sing, to embrace, to nimbly kick shadows, in dance, to the corners and -- lastly, as the dawn approached -- submitted to voices as ancient as sod and joined you in keening over your child. You’d never expect to reunite. At best, the occassional missive would come: so scarce the letters across the mute leagues, they must have been passed by flying fish and bounced from one bottlenose to the next. It must have been the spray from the sea that made the ink weep in the way of salt tears. America was so far away, so far to the west, it was said that you’d ‘have to crouch to let the sun go down’. And that was if you were blessed enough to make it across to the promised land.
He calls, “Come home! Come back from that void!”
Oh, she was the youngest and she was the last, the one who looked most like their mother, lovely. So young she was, she hadn’t even a sweetheart to make the arduous crossing over with her. Even that pain-in-the-ass, that rabble-rouser, that grinning O’Shaughnessy boy -- hiding out in a mountain camp with his cousins and gentry blood on one of their blades -- would have been preferable to...to Oona boarding that coffin-ship, the British Mercy, all alone. Preferable, though she was surely never in love with that lad. So when she hoisted that ponderous hand (turning anchors to kites by comparison); when she waved goodby to you -- to cholera, famine, and you and to everything else you could offer to her -- you felt worse than when confident Katie had gone, or Padraig and Dan -- both proudly, too proudly, pursuing their chins. You felt an ill-wind; an omen of portholes dunking in darkness; a creaking -- like bone -- into fathomless cold. You saw the last stars between panepressed fingers, their luciferlights cast down from the heavens like spears to prod a coiling sea. Brigid, beside you, swooning in time with the mistmelding sails, in time with the clanging of frostpimpled bells, sensed the horror even more strongly than you. She’d collapsed on the docks. Came the night when a cup, dryly gaping at Brigid, resolving itself to what tealeaves were telling, bore out the worst of her prophetic fears. Tea knew in advance of the tardy newsprint.
“Darlin’, come home! You’re lost out there. It’s cold. It’s black. You needn’t be damned!”
She pays him no mind. And while, for an instant, thick clouds mug the moon and all fades to black in the way of a future form of art, she silently disappears off of the shoals: a soundless splish in a maelstrom of foamy and upturned mouths. She’s gone from him. He and whisperings are left to themselves on the cove.
If each candle concludes its sad vigil at windows, and though every flame in the hearth falls to ash, even the moon -- looking later askance -- will be able to ascertain, with him, how the linens, silvery, calmed at last, had been tidally tossed from their empty bed.