You wake before five a.m. You measure this because the sun rises so early here, and it’s still dark. Your eyes open onto the harbour, along the netted dock under a solitary lamppost. Tide is low. You see the boats floating against each other, a silent knocking. An outline of the Twelve Bens emerges on the horizon, faint as ghosts, peaks softened in shades of blue. The windows are open but no sound. No sound at all. Where is your sister? You turn over. She’s on her back, her belly stretched with the work of eight months. Thank God. The baby is okay. Pat Conneely had been wary to rent a three-story cottage to a woman so pregnant, but you’d convinced him your stay would be over well before she was due.
Gently you lay a hand on her bare stomach, hoping to feel something. Your fingers sink through the skin like warm butter.
You wake before five a.m. You sit up and pull your socks on. The air is light and cool coming through the windows, unlike the thick humid blanket of yesterday afternoon. Remarkable weather for a month in Ireland, even during June. It’s only rained once. You turn on the bedside lamp to find your shoes. Inside each is a layer of sand you now impulsively grind with your toes. Sand is your least favorite souvenir from the bay, but you’re too impatient to shake the shoes out.
The cottage is three stories high, and you’re all alone. Why did you choose the bedroom on the third floor? You’ve always liked being up high. The first thing you did in Roundstone was climb Erris Beag, just to see where you were. You don’t feel like you’ve been somewhere until you have an aerial view.
Down the narrow stairs, out the door, not a sound. The street is silent. It’s the only street – so charming, to arrive in Roundstone and say, “This is the town. This is all of it.” Everyone knows everyone, even you now, after only a week.
A big inhale of that briny seaside. Snnnnnn. You breathe it in. There are stacks of lobster pots against the stone wall of the dock, a fisherman’s knife bloody from gutting a catch abandoned on a grimy Tayto wrapper. Gnats gather around the solitary lamppost. You stumble on the hairy blue netting as you walk, arms crossed. A tendril of excitement bursts in your chest so suddenly that you must slide a hand under your ribs and hold your heart. Your sister is waiting at the end of the pier.
It’s still dark when you wake. The tide is so high that your first thought is you must be floating, because all you can see from the angle of your windows is water. You’d have to be on the floor to see the dock. Where is your sister? She has her back to you, taking more than her share of the bed. You can see all the ridges of her spine. When you touch one, you have to gasp, because your finger has drawn a small drop of blood.
Your sister sits up. She is angry.
You wake on the floor, on your stomach, head turned to the window. There is a man on the dock. He sits on a stool, gutting a fish. The high tide laps at his boots. You wonder which boat is his. Have you seen him before? So many faces are the same here. The same lines, same smiles, even the same missing teeth. This man could be an O’Toole, or a McDonagh, or a King. He could be Pat Conneely, the man who rented you the cottage.
You hear your sister stirring on the bed but you can’t turn. Every piece of you is tacked to the floor. Water is leaking from your mouth and you cannot move enough to cough. She asks you the time. Before five a.m. It must be before five a.m. Why are you on the floor? When you close your eyes, you still see the man on the dock put down his knife and lower himself into the water.
Please open your eyes.
You open your eyes. Snnnnn. A full nose of night air seasoned by kelp and fish and rust. You are at the end of the dock, facing the town. You see the Shamrock and King’s Bar and the Oifig an Post and the hotel where a dozen German families are staying. The inclined street is silent, the cottages both muted by the dark and glowing in moonlight. Even the lamppost is out. A seagull is perched there, looking across the water at Inis Ní. You walk along the dock, planting your feet carefully to avoid snaring the net.
Across the little harbour you see the light from your bedroom window on the third floor. The low windows allow only the silhouette of your sister’s legs to be seen. She dances across the room, cutting from one window to the other.
You wake before five a.m. The tide is so low that the boats don’t even drift in the water, but lay heavy. You have never seen the sharp rocks at the bottom of the harbour before, but now the tide’s ebb pulls back the watery blanket from their mammoth crags, revealing the fate of anyone tempted by the apparent calm of high tide to jump. Yesterday you hiked Erris Beag again, and a ram stamped his foot at you. You didn’t take a single photograph of the lambs nestled among the rocks of the small mountain. This entire month you have not taken a single photograph. You miss your sister.
You miss your sister when you wake, sometime before five a.m., given how dark it is and how the boats are bobbing in the high tide, the briny smell breezing through the window, a natural perfume you’ve come to expect and enjoy. You rise mechanically, joints popping, a hand under your heavy stomach. Shoes are hard to put on; you don’t bother now. The grocer is just a minute up the street.
The street is silent, the hotel’s Irish tricolour limp in the dead air. Marron’s won’t have the chocolate-covered pecans you’re craving, but double chocolate digestives will do. A truck is backed into the curb, doors open, stacks of bagged bread waiting. You can barely edge around it and have to strain onto your tip toes to avoid pinning yourself. The bell rings as you open the door, heaving one foot after the other, aware that your stomach has been expanding since you left the cottage. The store is dark. A man sets a bag of bread on a shelf.
“I’m the bread man,” he says. “Store is closed.”
You leave without the digestives. When the baby kicks, his foot slides through your skin like warm butter, and you touch his small heel before its retreat. You’re light-headed. If your sister were here, she would cook something.
Oh God, please wake up, oh please wake up, please please.
There is the smell of damp wool when you wake, the faintest suggestion of light beyond the peaks of the Twelve Bens telling you it must be early. It must be before five a.m. The windows are open, and rain has fallen on the wool sweater you bought in Donegal. Spots of blood dot the collar. You don’t remember bleeding. Does rain ruin wool? You go to close the window, but there is something in the waiting street that winks at you, so you tuck your arms in to float outside and drift over the pink and blue and purple houses. You drift. You drift. You are drifting.
Your sister wakes before five a.m. She stretches an arm across the bed empty of you, squinting at the light on the water before falling asleep. You are a thought fast cooling in her mind.
by Jackie Krogmeier
Jackie Krogmeier is a fourth-year Purdue University student, where she was born and raised in small-town Indiana. Her work has appeared on the online journals Typishly and Crossways. She is currently applying to MFA programs across the country. At any given moment, she is likely drinking tea and finding a cozy spot to write.