It’s October; our favorite month. My husband and I should be digging out golden wonders, not a grave.
“It feels like you’re my only buddy left,” says Ronan.
I nod. He’s had a raw deal. The land here loses as many men to the sea as it does to drink.
“We’ll hide her in the briars she loved,” I say. “She can hunt rabbits to her heart’s content there.”
Burying a dog called Shrimp-Pot may not seem like an ordeal, but when humanity seems to have lost all reason and children are allowed to drown in oceans, personal trifles magnify; an honest glass held up to the world.
The pick and spade seem extra heavy as I shoulder them, one arm holding both in place. Coins clink in my pocket and sound too loud. We duck under electrified fences, pass skittish cows, and climb the bank to the vegetable field.
“Can you manage?” asks Ronan.
The pick and spade feel unbalanced. I like the shifting weight of them. I eye the hessian sack containing Shrimp-Pot’s corpse, notice Ronan’s bulging triceps as he struggles to keep her weight balanced.
“Yes. I can manage.”
Our boots making sucking noises as we continue. I hold my free hand over my pocket of coins to silence them so we can listen to what the earth wants to say.
In the burial field, the air smells of Atlantic seawater. Up here, we hear waves crash against shore, watch them batter the soaring Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Nicknamed the Teardrop of Ireland during famine times, it was the last glimpse of home for migrants on departing ships.
Closer still: Long Island’s Westerland Strand, where Ronan proposed with a treasure map and a trowel. I’d had to dig up the whole strand to find my ring. Shrimp-Pot was the first he’d told, face-to-face; the first to congratulate us.
It was on my watch that she got hit by the car.
Ronan crosses his torso with his rosary, then chops briars with the spade. He raises the pick, smashes it into the ground, gouges out the cloying earth. We both stroke Shrimp-Pot, lower her in and cover her with cloth, then soil. Ronan tucks an old Irish pound note in too, and I wonder why he’s kept it all this time—at least 18 years defunct.
“We all have to pay our dues at some point,” he says.
I eye the mound of fresh earth, wondering what the balance of our happiness will be. We dislodge stones from the ditch, cover the grave so foxes won’t dig her up. We light a red candle, imagine her noising in the briars. Ronan kneels, fumbles with a rock. He sighs deeply and tries to hide it.
I tug at Ronan’s shirt, face him towards the Atlantic. He shades his eyes and pulls me close, glancing from grave to lighthouse to island. As we breath like a tide, a finger of sun pokes between the island’s last inhabited house and its cowshed, streaking the ocean towards us. I reach into my pocket, pull out a fistful of coins and, one by one, secretly let them fall.
E.R. Murray writes for children, young adults, and adults. Her books include the award-winning Nine Lives Trilogy and Caramel Hearts. Recent anthology and journal publications include The Elysian: Creative Responses, Reading the Future, Autonomy, Popshots, and Banshee. She lives in West Cork, Ireland.
Header photo of Fastnet Rock Lighthouse by matthi, courtesy Shutterstock.