Swallowing with a lump in my throat, I tried to banish the sickening thought. I didn’t want to die, truly. But ever since I saw Grandad jump to his watery death, the view from our small window never failed to give me terrible visions.
Ever since Grandad jumped, I’d turned my back on the sea and all the wicked things it hid below its jewel-bright surface.
I whirled away from the window, grateful for a distraction.
“Want some?” Grayse smiled around a mouthful of the crusty bread Mam had set out for supper, revealing the dark gap of a missing front tooth.
“No, thanks, little fish.” I ruffled my sister’s light blonde hair.
“Don’t do that,” Grayse scolded, smoothing her hair down. She leaned back in her chair, which creaked a warning. Da had fashioned our table from wood left to rot in the harbor, and every time Grayse swung her scrawny legs, I worried she might cause the whole thing to collapse with one poorly placed kick.
Head still spinning from my vision at the window, I drew out a chair next to her and sank into it with a sigh.
“What kept you, Bry? Did you see Catreena at the market?” Liss asked from across the table. She held a boning knife in one hand, and the grim remains of a fish clung to the chopping block in front of her.
Though she was a year younger than me, she looked older. Or at least more respectable. She kept her dark gold hair in two neat plaits that fell past her waist and, despite the amount of time she spent toiling with Mam in the kitchen, her apron was always spotless.
“Bridey, I’m speaking to you.” Liss frowned.
“Sorry,” I said, sitting up straighter and focusing on her pale hazel eyes.
“Well, did you meet Catreena, or were you off in the woods again on one of your adventures?”
“No.” I arched a brow, ignoring Liss’s taunt. “Haven’t you heard the news?” Most days, gossip traveled between houses faster than I could run.
Mam joined us at the table, a tiny crease forming between her brows. “What news?”
“A girl—a stranger—washed up with the tide. Drowned. And not too long ago, by the look of her.”
Mam’s eyes narrowed. “It sounds as though you saw the body.”
“Only for a minute. The Gills were there, too.” I dropped my gaze, pretending to study a scorch mark in the floor.
“Oh, Bridey.” Mam laid a hand on my back. “Are you worried you’ll have nightmares?”
“She has enough of them already,” Liss muttered.
I glared, opening my mouth to respond, but Mam spoke first.
“Enough, girls! Bridey, you’ve told me plenty. I’m sure Marta will tell me the rest later.” She shifted her attention to my sisters. “Grayse Sharlott Corkill, you’re not to repeat a word of this to your friends, understand?” The rest of her warning hung in the air: because everyone in town thinks we’re strange enough as it is.
Grayse nodded and helped herself to more bread.
“Good girl. Liss, be a love and help me serve….” Mam and Liss walked to the stove, their voices fading to murmurs.
“What killed the girl?” Grayse whispered, leaning in. “Was it … the same thing that took Grandad?”
My heart swelled with gratitude for my sister’s willingness to believe my account of what had happened on that terrible day, even when no one else in the family would. Even when the past eight years had dulled the memory enough to make me sometimes wonder if I hadn’t, in my nine-year-old mind, somehow twisted the truth of what had really happened.
“I don’t know, Grayse. Wish I did.” I lowered my voice to the barest whisper. “All I saw that night—or thought I saw—was something white, like a ghost made of ocean mist. And all I saw today was a washed-up stranger, solid as you or me.”
“All right.” Grayse put down her bread and met my eyes. “But I’m gonna say extra prayers tonight. Just to be safe.”
“Thanks. You know, you’re quite clever for your seven years.”
Grayse giggled. “You’re clever, too.”
“If she were really clever, she’d be eating this delicious cod she used to love,” Liss countered, shoving in between us to set down our bowls. I rolled my eyes and said nothing. Liss only plagued me with such remarks when she really wanted to get under my skin.
The scrape of our spoons was the only sound as we ate, our eyes fixed on the meal. I swallowed the occasional lump of fish without complaint, focused on thoughts of England, Ireland, France—even America. Someday, I would leave this rock and make my home miles from the sea. Cities or towns, fields or mountains, anything but here would do. I could learn a new language, try new foods, and hear the constant buzz of voices instead of the lonely rush of waves.
“Mam?” Grayse said, breaking the silence.
“Yes, little fish?”
“When’s Da coming home? He’s been gone for two whole days.” Grayse pushed her empty bowl aside and gave Mam her best pout.