James Casey drove off the top of Rally Pier. His two daughters were on the back seat. The tide here falls out through the islands and away west. It runs at a knot, sometimes a knot and a half at springs. Listen and you will hear it in the stones. This is the song of lonely places. The car moved a little sideways as it sank. And afterwards great gulps of air escaped but made no sound. I know these things, not because I saw them but because they must have happened. The sky is settling over Rally and the hills. It is the colour of limestone, a great cap on the country. Ten miles out the sky is blue.
I heard it on local radio, suicide at Rally Pier. I knew who it was.
You cannot see the pier from my house. I got up and put my jeans and jumper on and climbed the hill behind the house, through heather and stone, to where I could look down. Bees sang in the air. Watery sunshine filtered through thin clouds. When I turned after ten minutes of climbing, the whole bay lay before me, the islands in their pools of stillness, the headlands like crude fingers, boats pair-trawling a mile or more apart but connected forever by cables attached to the wings of a giant net. James was on the boats once. He it was who explained all that to me. I saw the police tape on the pier head, a tiny yellowness that was not there before. If he left a note, what did it say? Suddenly the song came into my head. Donal Óg. Even as the first words came I knew what it meant for me. You took the east from me and you took the west from me and great is my fear that you took God from me.
When the song was finished with me I walked back down home. I was accustomed to think of it like that – not that I stopped singing but that the song was finished with me. I made up the bed with fresh sheets and put the soiled ones in the washing machine. I washed out the floor of the bathroom. Why do we do these things when we are bereft? Then I had a shower and put on dark clothes. I got out the bicycle and pumped up the leaking tyre. My father had shown me how to mend punctures but I could not remember now. I still have the same puncture repair kit, a tin box, but now I keep hash in it.
Then I wheeled the bicycle down to the gate and onto the road and faced the hill to the house where the dead girls lay.
They closed the door against me when they saw me turn the bend. Cousins make these decisions, but I leaned my bicycle against the wall and knocked and then they had to let me in. Perhaps it was inevitable anyway. People around here do not shut their neighbours out. They showed me into the front room where the two girls lay in open coffins. Three older women sat by them. I did not recognise them. Aunts, most probably. They had their beads in their hands. I did not bless myself. I go to neither church nor chapel and they all know it. I stood for a long time looking down on the faces. When old people go, death eases their pain and their faces relax into a shapeless wax model of someone very like them. People say they look happy, but mostly they look plastic. But when a child dies it is the perpetuation of a certain model of perfect beauty. People would say the girls looked like angels. There was no trace of the sea on them, no sign of the panic and fear that bubbled through the ground-up sleeping tablets that their father had fed them for breakfast yesterday morning. According to local radio. His own prescription. He had not been sleeping for months.
When I stopped looking I shook hands with each of the aunts. Nobody said anything. I went out of the room and found the cousins waiting in the corridor. I asked for Helen and was told she was lying down. The doctor was calling regularly all day. She was on tablets for her nerves. She was very low. I was about to ask them to pass on my sympathy when a door opened upstairs. It was Helen herself. She called to know who was there. It’s your neighbour, one of the cousins said. She could not bring herself to name me.