She lived with us for three days after she drowned.
The old fishermen tied their boats along the quay and joined the gathering crowd on the Cobb. They stood with their backs to the weather, against the spindrift carried inland on arctic winds. One removed his cap, said, the sea has that wee bairn now. I didn’t dare speak, say, no, she’s here, beside me.
I was nine. It was the year Winter wouldn’t let go, opening her mouth at the sea’s sharp edge, to belch black sticking clouds over the sun. Cold rain lashed down like a punishment on our country, washing away everything that mattered.
She came into my dreams one squally Saturday night, and by morning, had struggled down to my world, ready to stay. I was glad of a new friend who was ready to stay.
Granddad knew she was there. He caught odd glimpses when she darkened near candlelight. He knew too well the moldy brown smell people had, when they came out of the sea, fusty, he called it. She gave off that smell every so often. I suspected Granddad worried about her, but he was never afraid.
She was nine too. Still, we were both a little shy of each other. She had freckles in her green eyes, and her top teeth were crooked. I spoke to her in my glad voice; I never wanted her to see I was sad for her. Granddad said, pity is a terrible cruelty altogether. I didn’t pity her, even if she didn’t know she was dead but not yet gone.
When she followed me to school, I very nearly said, if I were drowned and dead but not yet gone, I wouldn’t go to school.
She cried just the once. It was when Teacher caned me for talking to no one at playtime. Teacher said only bad children had ‘maginary friends. She caned me again when I pointed out the long-shadows, huddled round her desk. My friend had tiny flecks in her tears, which I decided were fishes. I told her she must be part mermaid. That made her smile.
She asked if she could stay, but Granddad said she needed to stay going. He burnt sage and walked through the house, gathering her up. We followed him, laughing as we played hopscotch in his shadows. I held her cold hand, but I could never warm her up.
They were collecting by the North Point woods, waiting for her. Granddad asked how many. I told him there were more than I’d ever known before. He said, you don’t say, a lost child arouses compassion even amongst the dead.
She went, not looking back, not once.
Later, when I asked if any creatures swam in my tears, Granddad looked closely at my eyes, smiled, and said, no, not even one.
From A Tug of Blue, a collection of poems published by Dedalus Press 2016.