Two Stories Told to Me in Sligo

 

 

Tall Sorcha, Black Michael, and the Flying Gael

Tall Sorcha would go down to the quays to watch The Flying Gael load its manifest for the voyage west. Sorcha was known in the town for more than being tall, though she was that. She wore a collar of white lace her grandmother had given her. It was not quite white, but the color of autumn grass, or maybe sea foam. She stuffed store-bought lace into her sleeves, which was meant to match the lace at her collar and make an impressive ensemble, but it didn’t quite the way she meant it to. The girl with lace at her throat the color of sea foam would be seen walking to the quays where the ships were loading, especially the Flying Gael, which, however leaky and rust red, was the one that bore the young men across the sea where they might have another life. Sorcha went that one day to wave goodbye to her lover. Many girls did, from Sligo town and all the baronies around, but most of the girls went only once, and then turned their sad heads away and never came again. But Sorcha stood there day after day, at the fullness of the tide, whenever that would be, waving to her lover who was gone. The boy was black Michael, for the midnight thatch of hair that the wind blew in long strands around his head. “My lover is the boy with black, black hair,” she said, and the people, the girls anyway, would know in an instant whom she meant.

Michael failed to obey the constabulary fast enough once, and decided it was time to make a life across the sea. She wept, but the sea could be crossed by one as well as another, so tall Sorcha went to wave him off, him standing at the rail with his face frozen in fear and hope, her weeping on quay as he sank down in the green West. Twenty other girls were with her on that day. But she alone came again, and again.

Though people told her that black Michael had gone and was building a life in America (it was just as likely he was dead and laid in a grave among strangers, but nobody said that) she came to wave at the boys hanging on the rail, and they waved back, some in mockery and some in pity, for everyone knew her, her tallness and the funny/sad lace at the throat and wrists of her old dark dress.  “I’m waving to black Michael,” she said, “He is the one there. With the beauty on him. I must wave hard and long, so it will keep until we meet again.” Dogs followed her down the street, and their boys with them, and the dogs lived out their lives and were gone, and the boys grew up and were men, and some of them boarded the Flying Gael and went west themselves, watching Tall Sorcha wave from the stone quay, where it didn’t seem so funny anymore. She shouted to them “Tell black Michael to come to the rail, so I can see him as long as I can see him.” Sometimes a boy with black hair would stand there for her, and she waved and cried, and seemed happy for a moment.

Now, The Flying Gael was a horrible boat, rusty and dirty, and built so the rolling ocean made everyone on it sick until it came to land, and Pollexfen the harbor master sold her at last for scrap at Belfast, and it never came again to the little harbor at Sligo. But there were other boats using the Gael’s empty slip, and Sorcha came and waved to them, long after she had stopped being so very tall. Men who knew the story waved back, and so did men who did not. No one was sure whether she knew it was not any more The Flying Gael, and never again would be. The young men stopped fleeing away in such numbers, or took the train to Belfast and left from there. People forgot why Tall Sorcha went down to the quays at all. The lace was like a wisp of grass she had got from lying down in a field and forgot to brush away.

Sometimes– this was mostly in the autumn–there was great fog, and then Sorcha could walk down to the quays without anybody mocking or pitying her. The fog was deep, as though the sea wanted to come up into the air but couldn’t bring all of itself at once. Sorcha almost lost her way, the path she had been walking without thinking all those years. She stopped, listened. She heard the waves and, far off, the clank of the Metalman pointing the way to deep water. It was the wrong place, but still it was by the water, and black Michael would be able to see her if he could see anything through the fog. Maybe there would be a sharp wind just in time. She stood and waited, and if there was a ship at all at the back of the fog it could not be told.  When she was about to turn and head home, a wind came up, as she hoped. Fog tore, and there The Flying Gael sat tied up at the quay, shining as she couldn’t remember it shining before. “Oh!” she said, and began to wave. People told her the ship was cut up for scrap decades before, but she thought and now she knew they were wrong. There she rode, heavy and solid in the water. She was a thing of beauty. She looked for black Michael at the rail, but he wasn’t there. That was not unusual. She waved anyway, smiling the way she had resolved to smile, but then she felt a touch on her shoulder. Someone was going to tell her there was nothing there. “Oh, I don’t care,” she prepared to say, but she turned and looked, and it was Michael with his wild hair tossing about his head. Tall Sorcha was as tall now as she remembered, looking right into his sea-gray eyes. He said, “It took longer than I expected.” She shrugged. “I wasn’t counting any of the time.” He led her to the swaying stairs. She climbed, black Michael behind with his breath on her neck, steadying her with his hand on the small of her back. It was days before anyone said, “Say, I haven’t seen old Sorcha in a while.” The wives got together and went to her tiny house on the Lungy. They knocked and knocked. She wasn’t there.

 
The Dog with White Eyes
When you tell it you have to make sure the dog moves the way dogs move and not like a man. The whole thing’s stupid if the dog moves like it was a man. 
There’s a dog with white eyes. I saw him over the hill there, or maybe the one past that.
Is he blind?
He’s not. He looked at me, the way you know somebody is looking at you. His eyes were white, the pupils of them.
You’re meaning pale blue.
Pale blue it was, maybe, but near enough to white that it didn’t matter. Like a fairy dog in a story.
You and your stories.
What do you mean me and my stories?
Do you think it was a fairy dog?
The eyes were the only fairy thing about him. A big red dog with a wide red head and those white eyes. He wagged his tail a bit.
Did he?
The way you do, you know, when you’re meeting someone new, and you’re a dog.
If I go over the hill, or maybe the one past that, do you think I’ll see the dog with white eyes?
Maybe. I’d be terrified if you did not. But maybe it was just for me, the way those things are sometimes.
Maybe it means a boat is going to sink under you or you’ll be bitten by a mad dog.
Maybe it means I’m going to be digging in the field and find a diamond the size of the dog’s white eye.
One or the other. You never know.
You never know.
There is silence for a while. A kind of sparrow sings from a pile of stone.
God above! Is that a red dog coming over the hill, following the road there?
It is, I think.
There’s more than one dog in the world.
I think it’s him, though.
The one with the white eyes?
It looks it for sure. Same wide head. The wagginess of the tail.
By God it’s making for us.
It is that.
We need to run. We need to go the other way. I think you can see a dog with white eyes once a day and go one as you were, but after that–
How would you know anything about it? I was the one who saw it, anyhow.
But it’s not at peace.
What do you mean?
Maybe it’s coming now instead of curled on a hearth rug somewhere because you were the wrong one and the message it has from the Other World was for me.
Why wouldn’t it be for me then? I’m the one the dog found.
Look at you! What business would the Other World be having with you? I’m tall and lean as a stick. I’m the one with strange dreams I have to tell you about and you have to listen.
Yes.
He didn’t do his job, the dog with the white eyes. He can look at you and wag his tail, but if he sees me he’ll go on fire, or speak with the voice of a human being, and that would be the end of me.
This is an awkward end to the story unless the audience believe that the white eyed dog is approaching from some ways off. But not that far off. People don’t want to sit there the whole time waiting for it to come. At some point, the two turn and begin to run. Unless you can think of a way to make the dog go on fire.

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