“R-O-I-S-I-N,” I said again. “It’s Irish,” I said apologetically, though I wasn’t sure what I was sorry about. Click clack, click clack.
“How are you related to the patient?” she asked again as her eyes glazed over. Her finger stroked the roller wheel on her mouse purposefully as I answered, “I am her sister-in-law.”
“Oh! How nice of you to visit your husband’s sister! What is the brother’s name again, Owen, was it?” Click clack, click clack. “She carried me out to the meadow, once. She left me, hidden in the tall grass in hopes I’d die, but Da found me before too long. They watched her more closely after that.” Sometimes I thought about how peaceful the meadow could be.
“Yes, but it is spelled the Irish way, E-O-I-N.” My fingers tapped at my thigh, pulled at a loose thread, and I looked for anything else to do with my hands. I picked up a pen left on the counter and fiddled with the cap. I needed something to hold onto. I wished I had a hand to hold. What if this perky woman asked why I was here without any blood relatives? I couldn’t lie to those round red apple cheeks. Could she see that no one had been to visit Róisín? Were there records stating why Róisín was locked away here, and could this woman expect any visitors for someone who could commit those acts? “She attempted to drown me in the nearby stream as Ma napped inside; we all know my sister had it out for me very early on. I’m lucky Ma was always a light sleeper.” He rubbed his chest contemplatively whenever he told this story, glowering with his thin lips pulled into a sneer. Sometimes I thought about how comforting the cool water could be.
No one knew I meant to visit Róisín. I suspect Eion’s Ma knew why I asked her so many questions as I helped her ready the family home for guests before the wake. We were alone, which rarely happened. We both spoke in whispers, regardless. Her wide, darting eyes confirmed what I suspected. The great tragedies of the family had finally culminated in the strange accident that took her husband’s life. I think she was finally ready as I was to admit to the disturbing feeling which had settled under our skin over so many years. Something isn’t right. Something is astray. She did not tell any of the old stories that afternoon. “She had such an imagination! She was so jealous of her new little brother. Her disdain manifested in all sorts of stories; his eyes turned black when he looked at her, his long fingers were talons at night, he bit her when we weren’t looking…” She always said this last part with tears in her eyes, “Can you imagine a child so jealous she would bite herself to bleeding just to point a finger at her infant sibling?” I started wearing layers of clothing to hide the teeth marks in my skin, which I had no recollection of receiving.
The visiting lounge was lovely. The attendant even asked if I would like some tea, which I accepted gratefully. I needed something to do while I waited anxiously for them to escort Róisín to me, someone she may have never even heard of. I idly worried she would refuse to see me as the hot liquid soothed my icy hands. It was raining outside today, and the damp had settled into my bones. I felt soggy. I couldn’t blame the weather for all that, though. Tears rose afresh, and stung my tired eyes. I was soggy most days. I bit down on my tongue and wrestled for control of myself. I took a sip of tea. It was weak, but it was appreciated. I could not shake the image of my husband’s inky eyes, his elongated fingers, his very precise teeth. I could not un-know his cruelly aloof distaste for everyone around him, me more than anyone. “He was a colicky baby, is all. Oh, he’d howl and scream. He cut his teeth so early, and it was difficult to keep him fed. He was always ravenous, much to his sister’s disgust. She always held him in such contempt for all the care he required. My wizened little old man…”
I twisted my ill-fitting wedding ring and thought about the first night I met Eoin, his rose gold hair catching the twinkling overhead lights as he reverently played every instrument handed to him; the harp, a guitar, a flute, the hand held drum, a violin, a trumpet, the harmonica, and a cello. He mesmerized us with his enchanting skill, his eyes sparkling with delight as he looked at me with a soft smile. I never heard music so captivating. I wanted to lose myself in it always, my body swaying like a reed. His music was otherworldly, and I was too quick to leave reality behind in order to escape into it.
No one could have prepared me for how fragile she would look, Róisín, “the little rose,” as her Ma sometimes referred to her when there were no other ears but mine to hear. She reminded me more of a bird. She sat across from me, and paid no attention to her own tea. Her wrists were tiny as wing bones, her legs as dainty as a sparrow’s. The angles of her face were sharp, like a beak. The dark bruise-colored circles around her eyes made them seem too wide for her tiny face. I felt like she could see more clearly than anyone because of them. Her attention was keen, and I suspected she was less like a sparrow and more like a heron. Her prematurely grey hair was even reminiscent of the blue feathers in the muted light from a gloomy sky. I couldn’t shake the feeling she was seeing into the depths of the old tales I only started to recently imagine to be true as she looked at me steadily.
“My Da’s not for this world any longer, I presume,” Róisín said matter-of-factly, picking up her tea and gulping it down in three swallows. I blinked at her in surprise. She couldn’t have known that, her Ma was too scared to betray her son’s decree. Róisín’s mouth twisted into a rueful grimace, “Da visited three months ago, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before that Thing came for him.” She leaned forward suddenly and closed her lithe fingers around my shoulder, “It looks as though he has been coming for you for a while now, too. How much weight have you lost?”
My chest felt too tight. I felt trapped and my heart fluttered in a panic. This woman looked like she crawled from the depths of an impossible nightmare. She was impossibly mad, I must be mad, what am I doing here, what questions did I expect her to answer?!
Róisín narrowed her gaze and I felt it penetrate into me. “Shh, shh, shh,” she cooed, stroking my hair and my back. Her fingertips traced my collar bone and she wrapped her wan arms around me. She kissed the top of my head. “You’re not mad, and neither am I. You are finally seeing exactly what I always have seen, from the moment my baby brother was no longer with us, and instead, there was the Thing that took his place.” She cradled my face in her competent hands and kissed me briefly on the mouth. “You know the old stories, so you know what to do. I suspect he is too strong for drowning now, but salt and fire should be enough.”
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