art by Stephen James Kiniry
Where Sea and Sky Kiss
by Dan Campbell
Illness skulked about the village, hiding in the alley fish-rot and grasping at coats in the fog. The sea misted up and smothered the houses, as if already holding the island in its embrace was not enough.
People coughed and hacked and died in their sleep. My father found one elder staring out to the dawn from his bed, one hand reaching toward the window. They buried him and all the rest under the perimeter of church bells, ringing out the chill.
I screamed into the world amidst this grief. Many took my birth as an omen: some good, others bad. It all depended on who had lost, and how much, as to whether they shunned or smiled on me and my family.
My parents had each been married to others, each lived quiet lives on the edges of the island. Mother had been a fisherman's wife, shy and determined, always ready with a cup of tea or a loaf of bread, but little to say, when guests came calling. Father had been husband to the mayor's disinherited daughter, out on the strand between the lochs, where he herded her sheep and milked their one cow.
Afterwards, it seemed inevitable that they two would wed each other, what with neither of them being from the island. The mayor's daughter had brought Father home, already betrothed, after a trip to the mainland. (Thus, the disinheritance.) The fisherman said he found Mother half-drowned on the skerries, clinging to ship's spars. (She certainly sounded foreign, to the few who heard her talk.) But at the time, it was quite the scandal for my parents to be living together--now on the strand, now by the shore--after their spouses were consumed in the winter.
She was pregnant when her first husband died--had been since spring. And after the mayor's daughter passed, Father was one of the few villagers who checked on her health, fetched the midwife, harrassed the doctor, held her hands through each contraction--as if I was his own. Nine days I was, being born. Nine days of contractions drawing nearer and nearer, and then gone. It wasn't only the midwife who noticed they came strongest during high tide. But no one dared comment on it.