Tony Demarest

 

Lunacy

A house of stone grew up and out of the gray crags guarding the western point of the village: a small affair of some twenty-three similar dwellings, each corralled by low walls of oddly shaped fieldstone. When dawn broke, a soft light spread over the interlaced green, gray, and white of the fields: a uniform dusky yellow, the color of an aged quilt; when the light reached the easternmost house, which belonged to the Flahertys- an odd couple whose only similarity to each other was the slight hunch rising above their left shoulders- it barely replaced the spent candle flame that had lasted through the damp, chilly night.

Gradually, like the covering of children at bedtime, the yellow light floated over the other houses: quiet, deliberate, insistent; seven gulls swam through the light wafting on the warmer air now rising from the sparse green of the fields, spiraled down until they sank beneath the rising crags that marked the western point.

Mary Hanley, the mother of two and mistress of the westernmost house, rose slowly from her bed, pushed the blanket toward her sleeping husband and slipped her feet into her shoes. She walked quickly, believing she felt the cold rising through the packed earth conspiring to reach her bones. Mary thought of stopping into the children's room- smaller than hers and facing east so the sun would help her raise the two up for school- but remembered the real reason she had gotten up so early.

In the kitchen, past the rude oven and ruder table, stood the cabinet in which nestled her collection of willow baskets- forty-two in all- one for each year of her life. Each basket contained the identical items: one mussel shell, a vial of water blessed by Father Corrigan six years ago before he had drowned while fishing for miracles out of Briaria many kilometers down the coast, and a two inch curled tress of hair.

Seven years ago, Mary's eldest child, Bridget, had died. Not an unusual occurrence for this village, nor for any of the countless other villages which stood on the western coast; little difference among them, like the sameness of the slanted head stones that marked the gravesites spilling out of innumerable churchyards.

Bridget had walked alone along the wall that crowned the crag; some romantic notion that if she refused to speak for seven days, stepped on every other stone, and kept her flannel nightgown buttoned tightly to her chin, she might see the basket weavers pulling willow strips from their woolen coats, twisting their ends, slipping the flattened laths beneath the crosspieces, and tossing the finished basket into the night to collect a small splotch of moonlight.

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But what Bridget yearned to see was the face of a young weaver emblazoned by the moon, and hope that he would notice her and tell her the stories she so desired to hear.

That night in December, the moon was full, but its light was scattered by a sea of blackened cloud sweeping down from the city: thick, sooty, the kind that robs the hopes of young women who walk atop a wall. A false step, as Bridget leaned over to know the source of luminescence in the rock. Too dark to know the tiny fires were nothing but wavelets shattering on the crag and breaking into thousands of points that flared and went out- their memory the only sign that remained in the eye almost a full second after the hissing of water on rock.

And so she died. And Mary Hanley did not have to search for her daughter's body for it had never reached the sea. Bridget, in her flannel nightgown, lay upside down, arms splayed, like the martyr for moonlight she was. Mary had climbed down, and with her husband's fishing knife, had cut off fifty pieces of Bridget's raven hair.

This morning, Mary gently took each basket from its ordered place and removed the raven tress. She held it delicately, like a bird with damaged wing, brought it to her nose and inhaled; the sharp resin of sea-blanched willow fused with the latent lavender of Bridget's hair rose and filled her with her love for these baskets.

There was no memory of her daughter's soft face, her burning blue eyes, or her small white hands. As Mary moved her gaze to the window frame, she noticed the mottled white face of last night's full moon growing paler in the increasing light. She caressed the smooth ridges of the willow basket cradled in her hands and smiled.

 

Remnants
You have left behind a fading wind and
rain- a storm outliving its youth;
stretched across the span of a September day,
 
cool and rusting, the sun peers through
branches and favors a single stone
in a pond with the illusion of gold.
 
How the later hours are not quite dark:
their edges retaining the light
of a strong summer’s day,
 
correcting by a sweep of crows
the worth of that watered stone.
Your skirt rustles in the drying leaves,
 
shivering, as if the autumn chill
has settled too early on the leaning grass,
and stiffened your pleats in tune
 
with the withering of green and time.
I would prefer once, that the seasons do
not mark a change of mood, but
 
rather a turning of mind- away from
the winter castles of ice,
or the clear trumpets of early Spring,
 
and to the run of vines along the house
lines, or the random peeking of plants
into a garden left for seed. That would
 
be better than weeping over gods
dead or dying, than harvesting the
remnants of seasonal thoughts
 
only to place you in a story that
failed to be. Your nature is not song:
the symphony heard in winter and fall
 
with the dropping of leaves and snow,
when I wish I could write the words
that would live beyond the cut,
 
the sheaving, and the reap
of longing and scythes.