Máiréad twisted a long lock of hair, thinking as she walked around the tiny living room. She was making a list of things she needed to know before she went anywhere. With a start, she realized she assumed she would be leaving. She looked up at Liam and saw in his eyes that he knew it too. Maybe he really was a Seer, she thought. The problem was that even if he was a Seer, he couldn’t come where she was going, so there was no way he could accompany her on the trip she now realized she was planning. 

Máiréad told him what she had been thinking and her realization. Liam’s head dropped a little, but he sat up right away and after telling her he understood why she had to go and was sorry for being selfish in wanting her to stay. She explained that the old woman was the only family she’d known until the previous day, and he was her only confidant so it wasn’t that Máiréad wanted to leave the home she had grown up in, or the only village she knew, or the part of the Sea where she had always swum, or the only friend she had, but she had to know what her other life would have been like. 

She felt bad for thinking about a new life while the old woman was looking at the end of hers but Máiréad didn’t know how to stop thinking about what it would be like to be in a big colony, knowing she was one of them, not a visitor for the day. She knew the old woman had been holding on to the letter since she was just past 13, so she had probably taken the time to think about what the letter might say over the past year and a half. Máiréad realized the first thing she had to do was share all of this with the old woman. She had fallen asleep last night while Máiréad was opening the letter and box and had still been asleep when she went out at dawn this morning to get Liam. 

Máiréad poked her head into the old woman’s bedroom and found her awake. She quickly popped back to the kitchen to make her a sweet milky tea like the Seanmháthair had made for her when she was ill. When Máiréad came back with the tea, the old woman smiled and asked Máiréad to prop her up against the pillows. After she was comfortable, Máiréad handed her the tea and sat in the chair next to the bed. Máiréad watched the old woman drink her tea and sigh as if it was the best cup of tea she’d ever had. Máiréad smiled, reminded the Seanmháthair that she always did that. In her head, Máiréad thought about how she would miss hearing that sigh. There were so many things about the old woman that she loved and appreciated and would dearly miss. 

After the old woman finished her tea, Máiréad told her she wanted to read her the letter since she had fallen asleep last night. Máiréad wanted the old woman to know everything she did. She read the letter slowly and when she was done she looked at the old woman, wondering what she was thinking. The old woman smiled again and said she had a couple more pieces to fill in that might help Máiréad decide what to do. She had to laugh because both the old woman and Liam knew she would want to go find the guardian or her family, not sit at home and wait. 

The old woman told her that Maeve usually came once a season and she had not been there yet, so it was likely she would be in the area in the next month or two. She also told her to check in her good boots in the cupboard in the corner of her room. When Máiréad picked them up, she heard a soft clinking in the toe. She looked at the old woman who told her to go ahead and put her hand in. When Máiréad did, she was astonished to find a silk bag, the same color gold as the ribbon had been, almost full of pearls. She instantly realized what the bag was. It was from Maeve, so they would never have to do without if there was something they needed. The Seanmháthair told her they were hers now and she should hide them with her sealskin so nobody would find them. She said it was past time Máiréad had them, anyway. Máiréad didn’t like how dismissive the old woman was about her having the parchment, the package, the letter, and now the pearls. On the one hand, Máiréad was ready to be off on an adventure to find her family, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to leave the old woman and the comfortable life they had here. If what the letter said was still correct, nobody in her family would be particularly happy to see her. Maybe this was all a bad idea, she thought.

The Seanmháthair reached out a hand and Máiréad did the same. 

“Don’t be afraid, my lovely, this is something you were born to do. You’ll ride the waves as you were meant to and discover the world outside this village and you’ll have a grand adventure. And if you want to come back here afterward, the house is in your name, so when I die it all belongs to you to do with as you please.”

Máiréad felt the tears behind her eyelids and she looked up to keep them from spilling out and down her cheeks. She didn’t want to think of her life without the old woman. Who would make her tea when she was sick or listen as she read out loud on cold winter nights, or laugh with her at the funny hedgehogs wadding around in the grass by the stone wall, or pick flowers down by the stream to put in the empty canning jars, or fill the canning jars with jellies and preserves and pickled vegetables? Those were rites of passage from one season to the next, and she realized now she had taken those things for granted. 

Now Máiréad couldn’t keep the tears back. They welled up from deep inside her where she was afraid and lonely and scared and poured out. Máiréad cried and cried, letting out great wracking sobs that finally subsided as she knelt on the floor and hugged the Seanmháthair around the waist. She felt the old woman’s gnarled hands smooth her hair as she made a soft rhythmic shushing sound like you would use to soothe a baby. Máiréad realized that she might never hear her do that again, so she held the old woman tighter, trying to make herself remember her scent and how she felt, and the way her bed jacket was so soft and warm. Máiréad stayed in the old woman’s lap until she left her go slack from falling asleep again. Máiréad got up and moved the pillows so the old woman would sleep comfortably and pull the blankets up before heading out to the main room again. 

Liam was sitting in the chair with a book in his lap. He had heard her coming but didn’t expect to see her with puffy red eyes and immediately thought the worst. Máiréad saw his wide eyes and realized what he was thinking and shook her head. Liam was relieved. He knew the old woman was not going to be around for long, but he had hoped Máiréad would get a few more days with her at least. Máiréad slumped into the other chair and pulled her legs up underneath her, looking like a very small, very fragile child. Liam’s heart ached for her. He hated seeing anyone in pain, but in Máiréad it was so obvious to him how much she was hurting that he almost couldn’t bear it. He wondered if there was something to his Auntie’s stories about there being Seers in the family. Maybe he was feeling what she felt because he could see things through her eyes. He liked the idea of having a gift like that. It made him feel a little less boring, and a little more like Máiréad if he was being honest. 

Over the next two days, Liam came to visit often and Máiréad appreciated it because she didn’t leave the old woman’s side as she got sicker and sicker. The only other people to come were the doctor and Liam’s Auntie, who finally convinced her to let the people from the village know so she could get some help and some sleep. The very next day there were three women at the door before breakfast with fresh bread and jam and eggs and a leg of lamb and a basket of potatoes. Behind them were their husbands, and they were already unloading kindling from their truck into piles behind the wall and stacking logs by the front door so the fires would stay lit and the house would be warm. The next day more people came, and this time they stayed for tea and visited for a while before heading home again. Máiréad couldn’t tell if they were staying to be polite or because they wanted to help, but she took any help that was offered. Liam came before and after school to milk the cow and he often had an early dinner with her so she could relax for a bit knowing that if she nodded off, there was someone there to hear the old woman call out if she needed anything. 

By the end of the week, the old woman was barely waking up anymore and Máiréad was afraid to close her eyes lest she miss the Seanmháthair’s last breath. She wasn’t sure why it was so important to her to stay with her as long as she could, but it made her feel better so she did it. Finally, one morning the old woman’s breath was so shallow that her chest barely moved anymore and the doctor told Máiréad that her Seanmháthair wasn’t going to be with them much longer. Máiréad laid down next to her and whispered stories she remembered of things they had done and places they had gone and events they had been a part of. Everything Máiréad could remember flowed out of her. She hoped the Seanmháthair could hear her and would know how much those memories meant to her. 

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