The walk home was numbingly cold, but Máiréad didn’t notice. She was lost in her thoughts and only realized they had walked all the way home when she saw the gate in front of her. She looked up at Liam, realizing he had walked with her, and felt a tear slide down her icy cheek. She shivered. Liam opened the gate and motioned her through, gently pushing her forward towards the door. When she unlatched the door she stopped, aware that for the first time in her life the Seanmháthair wasn’t inside or close by. She was really gone. Máiréad knew she was, of course, but the fact was one thing, the reality of not walking into her house and seeing her there or smelling the scent of dinner cooking or tea brewing or laundry ready to go on the line, was another. Máiréad had never thought about how many things they had done together. And now Máiréad would have to do them all alone. As the thought occurred to her, she was even more determined to leave this now hollow life and find her family and figure out what had happened to them. As she hung her coat on its peg behind the door, she realized Liam was standing behind her but wasn’t moving. She turned, “Are you going to get out of your coat and warm up by the fire?” She paused, “Or do you have to go?” The slightest, almost imperceptible quaver in her voice made it clear she’d prefer him to stay, but her body told him she was prepared for him to go. The rigid way she was standing there told him that she didn’t want to ask him to stay, but didn’t want to be alone, so he took off his jacket and cap and handed them to her. Her shoulders slumped, and she hung them up, unaware that her body was communicating her emotions and that it was obvious that she was relieved she wasn’t going to have to be alone right now. Liam felt good that he could do something to help other than milking the cow.
He followed her as she walked into the kitchen and stood there as she put the kettle on the stove and took biscuits out of the tin and put some on a plate for them. She handed him the plate, and he saw her face, a study in pain and loss and longing and he wished he could think of something to say to make it better. Instead, he took the plate to the table and sat down. She brought two cups over, and then two saucers, and then stood there with the two spoons in her hand, staring into the distance until the kettle boiled and started whistling. She snapped out of her reverie and put the spoons down before taking the kettle off and pouring it into a teapot to let it steep. Watching the tea leaves swirl around in the hot water and then smelling the leaves release their scent made her miss the Seanmháthair all over again. She sniffled and Liam, understanding as ever, let her be. He had lost his parents before he knew them, but he had spent his fair share of time mourning their loss, and he knew sometimes you just had to go through the sorrow to feel better.
They sat there, watching the late afternoon sun setting across the fields, the long midwinter shadows stretching towards the house, drinking tea and just waiting for the right time to start a conversation they both knew they needed to have.
As the sun began to sink, Liam cleared his throat and tried to start, but he couldn’t figure out what to say. Máiréad swallowed hard and started with, “You know I have to go…”
“I know”, Liam confirmed.
She needed to be sure he understood her reasons though, so she continued. “I need to know what happened to my parents and meet my family. I never knew anything about them and to find out now that my mother would have ruled the Selkie Tribe and I would have ruled after her isn’t something I can just walk away from. I don’t know if anything will come of my attempt to find our home and introduce myself, and I have no idea how they’ll react to my reappearance, but I have to try to find out. I have to know,”
Liam nodded, searching for the right thing to say. Finally, ever practical, he said, “What will you do with the house and the animals while you’re gone?”
“I was thinking of selling the cow and chickens and maybe renting out the house.” Máiréad replied.
“Rent it?” Liam questioned. “Don’t you want to be able to come back to it exactly like it is now?”
“Of course I do, but I can’t afford to pay a caretaker to come and keep it clean and ready for me to come back since I don’t even know how long it will be so I thought renting it would be a good solution.”
“I could live here.” Liam suggested.
“Yes, would that be so bad?”
“Not at all,” Máiréad said. “What would your Aunt and Uncle think of you moving out so young though?”
Liam shrugged, he wasn’t actually sure. But he knew his parents had met when they were his age and had married and started a family while they were still young, so he didn’t see why he couldn’t move out on his own. “I’ll ask them when I go home and see what they say.”
Máiréad was happy at the thought of Liam living here instead of some stranger, but she didn’t want to charge him rent. They were friends, after all. “What if,” she suggested “you lived here and took care of the animals so I don’t have to sell them and if you pay for the feed for the animals, I’ll consider that and your work around the place as your rent. What do you think of that?”
Liam blushed, “If you’re afraid I can’t afford it…”, he began as Máiréad rushed to assure him she was the one getting the better end of the bargain. She reminded him that if his Aunt and Uncle didn’t think it was a good idea, they’d be back to square one, but Liam shrugged it off as a minor point. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure what they would say, but he knew he had to keep her home ready and waiting for her, and he’d do whatever it took to convince his Auntie and Uncle. He knew he’d be leaving school at the end of the year and looking for work anyway, so this was just a way to make that transition easier. They would understand, he was sure of it.
And just like that he could see them agreeing to his request and he really knew they would say yes. He had never before felt like he knew what was going to happen before it happened, but the whole exchange was crystal clear to him. Máiréad looked at him, craned her neck to see his face better, and asked if he was alright. He certainly didn’t look it, she thought to herself. He had been staring off into the garden and he nodded, but then snapped his head around to look at Máiréad. He wasn’t sure how to tell her he thought he had just seen the future. But he thought that if she could tell him she was a selkie, then she deserved the same kind of honesty from him.
He stumbled over the words but told her what he had just seen. Máiréad looked at him unbelievingly, but realized from the look on his face that he was completely serious about what he was saying. Máiréad wasn’t sure what to say. In some ways it made sense because she remembered thinking he knew who she was when he had seen her in her seal form swimming in the ocean. Maybe he had been ‘seeing’ things longer than he realized, she thought.
“Tell me about it,” She motioned to him and added, “Tell me everything.”
“I’m not even sure what to tell you. It’s less like I’m actually seeing something than that, I just know something all of a sudden. Does that sound like I’m losing my mind?” he questioned.
“No”, she assured him “It sounds like the Cailleach was right and you’re a Seer like your father was.”
“I’m not sure I’m happy about it” Liam muttered, feeling a little bit put out.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how am I supposed to live with being able to see the future of some things and not others? Or will I just start ‘seeing’ everything now? What happens to my real life if I keep seeing things that haven’t happened yet?” He sounded a little panicky.
Máiréad thought about it for a minute and said, “I see what you mean. Maybe we should call on the Cailleach and see what she has to say?”
Liam nodded, “I think I have to.”
She noticed he said I instead of we but decided to ignore it. She would not leave him along to face whatever the Cailleach told him. “Ok, let’s get things cleaned up and go into the village. I need some salt and flour and other things anyway, so I might as well pick them up on the way. If we hurry, the shops will still be open”
As they picked their way through the icy fields towards the path to town, Máiréad was focused on watching her feet so she wouldn’t trip over any clumps of last year’s hayed grass, but Liam looked up at the sky. He wondered if Máiréad would be able to see the stars from her new home. The thought of it made him sad, so instead he started asking her about her shopping list, deciding a conversation about the mundane details of daily living was exactly what he needed in order to get his mind off of the deep topics they had discussed today. They walked and talked about inconsequential things for the whole trip into the village. It felt very normal, and both of them appreciated at least the facade of normalcy. Both were struggling to figure out their next steps, and neither of them wanted the other to feel like they had to shoulder the weight of their problems.
After picking up Máiréad’s shopping list of necessities, they took the sack and headed towards the end of the road running out of the village towards the city. When they arrived at the Cailleach’s house, she opened the door, having heard them coming up the walk, and smiled. She stood to the side and welcomed them into her front room. Shutting the door on the winter chill, she took their coats and other gear and ushered them to the bench in front of the fire. She offered them something to drink or eat, but they both refused. They had a reason for coming and they wanted answers.