I came to the shore each day at twilight, so I could see her. Her ethereal figure would appear, first just a shadow, then an outline, until her mourners gown and widow’s veil could be seen, a seeming solid being. I understood she wasn’t of this world, yet she was so a part of mine.
She didn’t see me perched along the rise of the hill. However, she wasn’t looking for me. She was looking for John Keane. Sailor. Husband. Lost. Weaved within the strong ocean winds you could hear her wail, “Jackie, oh Jackie.” Her figure would be hunched over, the sea swirling around her black skirt, as her shoulders trembled with grief. It felt invasive, but I couldn’t look away.
John “Jackie” Keane was my great-great uncle. My grandmother had told his story; how this seafaring man was lost and how his wife, Sorcha, had haunted the coast ever since. My cousins said she also haunted my grandmother’s home, which is where the Keane Clan had lived for many generations.
Only once approached the beach to see Widow Sorcha closely, to see the details of her haunted eyes, her lamenting mouth, and tormented face. In her eyes I saw a personal hell which made anguish an inadequate word. Her tears were the color of rotting kelp, her teeth — gritted in pain — mirrored the salt gray of November storms, and her arms reached out, skeletal with more than twenty years of searching for her sailor husband and accompanied with screeching sorrow.
I ran as fast as breaths of oxygen would carry me. Yet the chill for which the sight and sound of her did not leave me for weeks.
Now I brought binoculars with me, which saved my eyes from the blowing sand. I could see lips moving, as if she was obsessively chanting a mantra that would allow the sea to yield her beloved. A counter curse to her years of suffering. I would watch the muted external dialogue and determined that she would never stop wandering the water’s edge, pacing and shaking her petite fist at the sea.
Grandma Keane said that Jackie’s death was really a murder, that creatures from the depths of the ocean had waged revenge on John Keane because his ship would survive even when others were turned to matchsticks by the sea’s wrath. Grandpa Keane had another story. A younger man, in love with Sorcha, had tied Jackie up and left him and his fishing vessel to be tossed about by an incoming storm. But Sorcha rejected him and he murdered her as well, stabbing her while breathing a curse upon her to wander alone for all eternity.
I did not care about the story. No, all I wanted was to see her peaceful and reunited with my uncle. For now, though, all I could do is visit, observe and wonder. Was she calling just my uncle, or was she calling me?