Our days fell into a slow rhythm. Genny and I would wake early. The curtains over the window futilely kept out the early morning light and it was almost refreshing to feel my lids rise with the sun, as if the world and I were awakening together. Genny did not wake as easily and it often took three or four attempts on my part before she would dramatically huff herself out of the bed.
My first day, I watched as Genny showed me how to hunt for eggs in the chicken coop with her mixture of grumpy and groggy. It was not a large coup and we were not large girls but it was crowded nonetheless. A half-smile was my only reward for capturing my first egg. She then stomped her way over to the coal shed and showed me where the bucket was kept.
“It is absolute savagery that anyone should work before they’ve had their breakfast but I refuse to have black hands and straw sticking out of my hair, if it can be helped,” she informed me. She retraced her steps, much in the same manner, and finished collecting the eggs whilst I filled the coal bucket. We switched every other day. The coal filler got to wash first before breakfast; soot trumping straw I suppose. After our morning chores we were sometimes set free, often with a packed lunch and told to be back in time for dinner. Other days were spent with Nainy. We worked about house or walked the hills. Helping with what we could or listening and learning things she pointed out as we went. Sometimes there were errands but for the most part we were encouraged to a few good hours of keeping ourselves entertained.
“It’s not good for young girls to be penned up. Go explore, be respectful, and teach yourselves something.” Nainy had said that second day, shooing us out of the house.
Without Genny my days would have been full of mindless wandering, as I knew hers had been in summers before. We often went to the seashore and collected shells whilst the tide was out or searched among the rocky shore to the south for interesting bits that had washed in. But always, always, we visited the shrines. We would often leave something we’d found. I was unsure what it was for but the sense of belonging by partaking in the ritual was very satisfying.
And, of course, we had our own shrine as well now. The fairy tree was our shrine. We didn’t leave things out on the open branch but instead hid them farther back. Sometimes they were still there later, sometimes they weren’t. But we didn’t receive anymore gifts and it became easier and easier to think that maybe I’d imagined the whole thing. It was only the cockle shell, wearing smooth in my pocket that made me want to believe in what had happened.
One morning as we tied up our lunch and got ready to set out, Nainy stopped us at the door. She’d been acting odd as we had assembled our lunches. “Stay away from the sea today. I just heard whistling right before the wind snatched my hat. It shouldn’t come too close to shore. Let Mr. Lewis know before you do anything else and make your way there first. Off with you now. Be quick about it.” She paused and gazed out at the ocean and then crossed herself. “Too late to do anything else.” Grimly she turned back to us, still staring at her. “On you go now.”
We set out at a quick walking pace, with almost no conversation until we were a fair distance from
the cottage. “What was that all about?” I asked
“Well, whistling is bad luck on a ship and your hat blowing to sea is bad luck too.” Genny seemed distracted as we made our way towards town.
“But Nainy’s not on a ship.”
“Yes, but she tells the men in town if she has any… bad omens, if you will, and then they decide whether or not to go to sea.”
I turned that over in my mind as we made our way towards the shop. “What else does she look
“It’s honestly all very silly but she’s usually right,” Genny sighed and swung her arms back and forth and then began counting off the ones she could remember. “Let’s see… once, she found a banana on shore. That’s one of the worst. Once she saw a sailor turning back to wave goodbye to his wife. But, my favourite would have to be when she saw a black cat running away from a boat.”
“I thought black cats were bad luck. If they ran away wouldn’t it be better?”
“Sailors,” Genny shrugged casually. She thought a moment and then corrected herself. “Sailors and
“What did you mean, when you said she’s usually right?”
“Well, there usually is a storm or something that would be disastrous should the sailors actually go out.”
I stopped short, “Is that what she was talking about when she said, ‘Too late to do anything else this morning? Shouldn’t we be running?”
Genny didn’t seem worried, “Yes, but she already rang Mr. Lewis. He puts out the weather reports. We’re just a backup.”
“She used the telephone this morning but Mr. Lewis didn’t answer. Besides what will they do if there’s danger? Aren’t the sailors already out at sea anyway?”
Genny’s eyes widened, “She didn’t actually speak to him?” I shook my head. Almost immediately Genny turned and ran like the wind itself. I sprinted after her. “They…use…the…radio…Mr.Lewis…he…puts out… the…word. But not everyone has a telephone. Mr. Lewis is the only one in the village.”
I’d never moved so quickly in my life but the gravity of our situation was like a pair of wings. We fairly flew into Mr. Lewis’ shop, tumbling in through the door.
“Dear me, what in the world are you doing bursting about…”
Genny interrupted, “Mr. Lewis! Nainy’s hat! There was whistling and…” she began gasping for breath. “It flew off to sea. You didn’t answer when she rang so you didn’t know.”
Mr. Lewis’ face went from concerned to confused in a matter of moments.
“There’s danger for the sailors!” I interrupted. “They must come back!”
His eyes grew to the size of saucers as he realised the gravity of the situation. Almost stumbling himself, he quickly ran into the back room. “Quickly, boy! There may yet be some down by the dock. Take the girls. Gyflym!”
Bryn emerged from the back, clasping his cap to head and grabbing my arm as we rushed from the shop. The slamming of the door only spurned us faster, like a clap of thunder announcing an imminent tragedy. Bryn’s hand was my only indication of where we were going, a slight tug to the right as we sharply turned down streets and alleys. Genny trailed along, always just behind us whenever I should glance behind. As we neared the waterfront, Bryn stopped quickly and began assigning tasks.
“You take the inner jetty, Genny. Don’t forget to check the houses! I’ll take the far one. Viv, you
don’t know where much is, just head down this lane and let everyone know. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to catch someone.” We all bolted off on our assignments. I was impressed and surprised that Genny hadn’t argued with him, considering that seemed to be all they did whenever they met. I stepped through the break in the stone wall and knocked hurriedly on the first blue grey door. I found myself bouncing up and down on my feet as I waited. It seemed like an eternity before it was opened by a woman drying her hands on her apron.
“Helo. i helpu chi?”
I froze upon hearing the Welsh. “The boats, they must come back! There’s a storm coming in!”
It took the woman a moment. “Storm?” Her eyes widened and she grabbed her shawl. She almost leapt over the stone wall and rushed to the house across the street, shooing me onward. In a matter of minutes, everyone on the road had been notified. Everyone knew what to do in this situation, they all had a job, everyone but me. There were no houses left and nothing left for me
The wind swept the down the lane and whipped around my knees. I was left feeling forgotten, almost redundant. Soon there was no one left on the road and I stood alone. The rush from the danger was gone, along with opportunity to help and I strangely felt the need to cry. Feeling foolish and selfish I turned my back to the houses. It would be just my luck for Genny to find me now or worse, Bryn. As I blinked away the tears, I noticed a small path that led farther down to the shore. There wouldn’t be anyone there. I scrubbed my face of any tears, took a few controlled breaths and then turned to find Genny. It was then that I heard a sound, a small ringing. I stopped and looked back at the path. The tinkling sounded again. There wasn’t anything left for me to do, no one left to warn. I should catch up with the others but I didn’t particularly want to see anyone. Hesitantly, I headed down the faded dirt trail.
The soil faded into a wooden path that looked as though it had been made of driftwood and any
number of things that might have been fished from the sea. A small hut, for it couldn’t have been called anything else, seamlessly rose from the pile of refuge and sat contentedly against a small hill. It seemed to be resting and enjoying the view. Though the view was only of darkly greying clouds at the moment. I tentatively continued forward, unsure where it all ended and unsure if I wanted to return to the comparatively orderly domain of the dirt path. As I rounded the corner of the hut, the tinkling revealed itself as three strings of sea-glass that were tied up in bits of old nets and ran down one side of the doorway of the hut. The worn glass clinked against itself, as the breeze gently tickled it. The breeze became bored and swirled around the lonely hut before rushing back into my face and out to sea. I stepped forward and ran my fingertips over the soft blue and greens that still were fluttering from their recent dance in the wind.
“And who might you be?” a rough voice asked.