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Ships in the Night

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We walked to the sea, just my father and me.

There was a spray coming in from the water, making a great whooshing sound as it crashed into the sand.

And the dogs played around on the sand.

Bran and Jehu were tumbling in the sand and nipping at each other. They kept slipping when they tried to run. It made me laugh.

Winter cold cut the air, hangin' still everywhere.

It really was cold. The little droplets dancing onto my cheeks felt like they could freeze when they touched my skin. It tickled and made me giggle. Jehu started barking, calling me toward him, and I hiked up my skirts to scamper toward him, but Da stopped me.

Dressed in gray, did he say, "Hold my hand.”

I stopped walking and turned around. He was smiling, but it was sad-smiling. I was used to seeing the sad-smile. He did it a lot. Not as much as he used to, but still a lot.

I smiled up at him, a happy-smile. He was reaching for me, and I took his hand. Da’s hands were big, and always warm. I didn’t realize how cold my small hands were until he covered one of them in one of his.

Mo ghraidh, ye’re like ice.” The sad-smile changed a bit, his eyebrows crinkling together like little caterpillars. “Gi’ me yer other hand.” He stopped walking and crouched down next to me, and I did as he said. He put down my shoes; he was holding them so I could feel the sand on my toes. He squished both of my little hands between his enormous ones, squeezing and rubbing, blowing on them with his warm breath.

“Canna have ye losin’ any of yer wee fingers, a chiusle.” He smiled a very tiny happy-smile, and his eyes sparkled. “Yer Auntie would box my ears.”

I giggled. I had no doubt that Auntie Jenny would do just that. She didn’t really need an excuse.

Jehu kept barking, and something caught my eye on the horizon.

“What’s that?” I freed one of my hands and pointed into the sea. “A light, Da.”

“I dinna ken, lass.” He sat back, off his knees now, and pulled me into his lap. “Let’s have a look, then.”

I settled between his legs and nuzzled my back into his chest. He put my socks back on my sandy feet, and then he held my hands again.

We sat and watched a distant light.

“Do mermaids glow?” I asked with wonder, watching the sparkling light dance on the water.

“I think they might, aye.” I could hear the happy-smile in his voice.

“So it’s a mermaid,” I said.

“Could be.”

“Or an angel?”

He held me a little tighter when I said that, and his warm lips kissed the top of my head.

“Could be, mo chridhe.”

My eyes widened with wonder, my mouth gaping a little. “Is it Ma?” He didn’t move or talk. “Ma is an angel, aye Da?”

“She is.”

Da’s voice sounded scratchy, like it hurt.

Not for the first time, I got sad thinking about my Angel-Mother. Sometimes, when Da cried, I was too scared to ask him what was wrong, and Auntie Jenny would say:

“He’s just missing yer Ma.”

I didn’t understand for a while. But now I was seven, so I did, and I wondered if it was possible to miss somebody I never met.

“Can ye make the angel come closer, Da?”

“I dinna think so, a nighean. Angels do as they please. We mortals canna influence them, ye ken.”

“Oh.” I didn’t mean for my voice to sound sad.

“What is it, lass?”

“Can Ma no' visit, then? Since we canna…influence?” The new, big word tumbled off my tongue.

Och, dinna fash. Yer Ma doesna need our influence fer her to visit.”


“Aye. She wants to be wi’ us.”


I heard him clear his throat. “Aye." His voice sounded like it hurt again.

The light went away, and it made me sad. Da didn't talk for a long time.

"D'ye ken why yer name is what it is, a leannan?"

Da's voice rumbled in his chest against my back, and it almost tickled. I scrunched my nose up in thought.

"Nae, Da. I dinna."

"D'ye wish to know?"

"Is it a story, Da?" I shook with excitement.

"Aye, a bit." He turned me around a bit, so I could see his face. Another sad-smile. "When ye were born, I couldna be there."

"Why no'?"

His chin stuck out like it did when he fought with Auntie Jenny. "I did a foolish thing, a nighean. I went and got myself separated from yer Ma."

"What did ye do?"

"I broke a law. The King of France was verra cross wi' me."

"The King?" I gasped, my jaw dropping.

"Aye, lass. I angered the King." He smiled, neither happy or sad, and he chuckled a little, tickling my back again. "He kept me away from ye after ye were born. I sat in a room of stone, and I dreamed of ye, my wee babe wi' a name I didna ken. I dreamed that yer Mam was holding ye close, that I could kiss both of yer beautiful heads."

We're two ships that pass in the night.

"Did ye get out, Da?" I asked eagerly.

"Aye. I did. Grandda Murtagh rescued me."

I smiled proudly. "O' course he did."

He chuckled again.

We both smile and we say, "It's alright."

"He brought me to ye, my beautiful babe, and he told me of how ye came into the world, how ye were christened." He rocked me like I was still the little babe he spoke of, and I didn't mind at all. "My dream was about to come true."

He touched my cheek with his big, warm hand.

"But then Grandda Murtagh told me that yer Mam joined the angels." His voice sounded like it hurt again.

We're still here, it's just that we're out of sight, like those ships that pass in the night.

I felt sad again.

"He told me that yer poor Ma was verra sick, that she couldna give ye a name herself. Mother Hildegaard, a verra good woman, she had ye christened. She gave ye yer name."


"Aye. Faith. Mother Hildegaard knew that we'd need lots o' faith if ye were to live." He brushed one of my curls away. "You were verra sickly too, mo ghraidh."

"But Ma saved me. Aye?"

"That's right, a leannan. She gave ye all her strength. Because she had faith in ye." He gently poked my nose, making me smile. "D'ye see now, lass? D'ye see why yer name is so verra special?"

"Aye, Da." I nodded. "Ma had faith that she could save me, and she did. And you had faith that ye'd get to kiss my head, and ye did."

Da did a sad-laugh, and his eyes looked watery, like the salty spray landed right in them. "Aye, that's it, Faith. Ye've got it." Da's big hand cupped the back of my head, and he put his warm forehead on mine. "Ye're a clever lass, mo chridhe."

I freed my hands from his one-handed grip, and I stroked his scratchy chin and cheeks. It tickled, which I always liked.

"Look, Faith." Da moved so our foreheads weren't touching anymore, nudging his chin to the sea.

There's a boat on the line where the sea meets the sky.

"How far away is that, Da?" I reached out with both hands like I could touch it. "It looks like I could touch it, but it looks like I'll never reach. Ye ken?"

"Aye, I ken." Another rumbly chuckle.

There's another that rides far behind.

"I couldna say how far away they are, lass. The only way to know would be to try and swim to them."

I kept my hands out, reaching and stretching, wiggling my cold little fingers, biting my bottom lip.

"It's like Ma," I said.

"How's that?"

"Sometimes, I think I can reach out and touch her. When ye tell a story about her. And then ye say I have her eyes and her nose, so I think I must ken what she looks like." I let my hands fall back into my lap, feeling sad again. "But that's silly, is it no'? Like it's silly miss her. Even though I never met her."

And it seems you and I are like strangers a wide ways apart as we drift on through time.

"No, a leannan." He held me tight again, rocking me like I was a boat and he was the sea. "That isna silly. No' at all." He kissed my head again. "Ye need no' have met her to ken that she was special. She's my heart, just you are, my Faith. Is, not was. Because it still is so, even though she's left this world."

I thought about that for a bit. "Are you still her heart, too?"

"Aye, I am. I ken it. I feel her love everywhere, every day."

I looked up into the sky, wondering: If I tried hard enough, could I feel it too?

He said, "It's harder now we're far away."

He took a big breath before he kept talking.

"Harder, because I miss being able to kiss her head, as I can yers, or hold her hand, as I do wi' you, or hear her laugh and her voice, like I can hear yers."

We're two ships that pass in the night.

"But dinna fash because it's harder. Because the love is still there. So it's alright." He touched my chin, and I stopped looking at the sky so I could look at Da's eyes instead. "D'ye...d'ye understand, mo chridhe?"

And we smile when we say it's alright.

I smiled, because I knew that Da liked when I smiled, and I knew he was sad. "Aye, Da. I understand."

"Good lass." He kissed my forehead.

We're still here, it's just that we're out of sight.

There was suddenly a big gust of wind, so big it made the dogs bark again. It made me gasp and shiver and hold on tight to Da's coat. He pressed my head into his chest, and I could hear his heart. There hadn't been any wind the whole time we'd been here, and even though it was cold, my heart felt warm.

"I feel her love everywhere, every day."

Another gust came and made my copper hair stick up and tickle Da's face.

Hello, Ma. I love you too.

Like those ships that pass in the night.