They say the banshee came the night my grandmother died, the night my mother was born. Through their screams and wails it was said another sound could be heard, a keening howl that tore about the hedgerows, raced upon the fields. The desperate cries of life and death dancing above the thatch as both bled into the floor beneath it.
I never really believed in all that shite. My Grandmother dying as she gave birth on the barren earth of a dingy cottage was horror enough without the need of a spectral element. I think Mam was always disappointed in me in that way, as if not believing in another piseog I was turning my back on her somehow. Just another disappointment to add to the pile.
“Could you make your bed this morning please, just once?”
“And don’t go using the dryer so much. You know it eats up the electricity.”
“I’m sorry, Ma.”
“And you better not fail that maths test this morning. If I have to be called in to talk to Mrs Kennedy one more time…”
“I’ve been studying Mammy, don’t worry.”
If the banshee really did exist surely it was in the form of Mrs Kennedy, she heralded the death of all things. That pursed upper lip, those awful tanned stockings, the way she spoke Irish like she was squeezing it past a carrot squashed up the hole of her arse. Her classes were like one long drawn out scream in which we were all forced to remain silent, not knowing which one of us would drop next from shear boredom. And I was late, again.
“Ms Kavanagh, Dia dhuit.” The words slid out of her mouth like putrid yoghurt. “Delighted you could join us.”
I sat quickly in my seat, determined to ace this thing, to prove to Mam I was more than just a future burger flipper at Supermacs, pregnant at seventeen to the likes of Enda Costello. I looked up at him from my exam paper, broad shoulders hunched over his own, the bottom edges of his pants mucky with this morning’s dirt. Up early on his Dad’s farm most like, his large hands at work long before I managed to drag mine out of bed. His pen was dwarfed by them, and I could suddenly see myself in its place, albeit far less rigid…
“Ms Kavanagh! Eyes on your paper please!”
The banshee again, screaming at me from my future. I looked at my blank paper, then at the clock. I didn’t need the gift of foresight to know I was in deep shit.
When I arrived home Mam looked shook, as if she knew already of my imminent F.
“You alright, Ma?”
Her hands paused in the sink, “Yes. Yes, it’s nothing.”
My eyes narrowed, full sure she could somehow see into my mind, into all of its scraggly compartments, see clearly my morning equations that had nothing to do with numbers. I wavered like an unsure cat, not knowing if it was truly safe.
“Why don’t you go walk the dog or something?”
My brow creased in suspicion. “Sure, Ma.”
I grabbed the dog, hand sliding over the small box in my pocket as I headed out to the quiet of the back field. My parents hadn’t built far from the old cottage, its stony gable end the only thing visible now through the tangle of brambles. I turned from the kitchen window, lighting up a cigarette away from the ‘Great Eye of Mammy’ that was otherwise always watching, Molly rustling about the long grass as I drank in the quiet of the afternoon, certain at any moment Mrs Kennedy would appear with my fast food uniform at the ready, the stitched white shirt proclaiming my doom.
Molly started barking suddenly and I nearly tripped as, quickly turning, I saw her growling wasn’t at the house but the ruins, a dark movement catching my eye from between the bushes.
“Those little Halloran shits again.”
I don’t know what I was doing heading towards the cottage, as if my cigarette was some kind of lightsaber against local vandals, but I stopped abruptly, the dog trembling at my feet, a hooded figure looming out from the stone.
A shriek broke the air and, not waiting to find out if it hadn’t come from my own mouth, I ran through the paddock, my fingers fumbling on the kitchen door, before slipping inside and slamming it safely behind me.
Mam spoke suddenly from the middle of the kitchen, as I leaned heavily against the door, my chest heaving. “You saw her too, didn’t you?”
“I, no, um… maybe?”
Mam stood ashen, her gaze suddenly fearful and I barely made out her whisper, “But she only comes to warn of another’s passing. But that means…”
Our eyes locked. Perhaps now was a good time to tell her about the test.
CLAIRE LOADER was born in New Zealand & spent several years in China before moving to County Galway. A photographer & writer, she was a recent winner in the Women Speak poetry competition and blogs at http://www.allthefallingstones.com
Image via Pixabay