LUCKENBOOTH BY JENNI FAGAN EXCERPT
My father’s corpse stares out across the North Atlantic swells. Grey eyes. Eyelashes adorned with beads of rain. Tiny orbs to reflect our entire world. Primrose and squill dance at his feet. His body is rammed into a crevice. The shore is scattered with storm debris. Cargo boxes. Little green bottles with faded labels. Swollen pods of seaweed slip underfoot. It takes me an hour to get from our clifftop to the water’s edge. I have a blue glass bottle. It is tincture of iodine. Skull and crossbones on the front. I wash it out. Tell it my secrets. Stopper them. Lay it on the water. When I look back our beach has a long straight line – right down
the middle – like the spine of a book.
It is where I dragged my coffin.
I use his oars.
Push the vessel he built for me – into waves. It is not the journey he foresaw me taking in it. My father built one for each of us from old church pews. Knocked them together outside the kitchen window, so my mother would see. She saw the world through those four square panes. Each season. Each sorrow. That night he made her sleep in hers. Then my brother took to his. I varnished mine ten times without any premonition. How buoyant such a thing can be! A light spray fans peaks of waves. I will not look back at him in his crevice. It had to be done like this! Hoick my skirt up. Wade into the sea. Pale bare thighs bloom red in the cold water. I kiss my mother’s cross. Set it onto the floor so there’s one holy thing between me and oblivion. The sea won’t take me. I am the devil’s daughter. Nobody wants responsibility for my immortal soul. My address cannot be – The Devil’s Daughter, North Sea. I’ll never knock at heaven’s door. Hell knows I could do far worse than take over. I dip the oars in. Pull away from the island. I watch the dark blue line of the horizon. A seal pops up. Black eyes. Long whiskers. He’d have me sire a seal child if I’d do him the favour of drowning. On the first night I lay down in my coffin when the winds drop. Easiest sleep of my life. When I wake the ocean swells roll bigger and bigger. I sing. Smoke. Thin spires rise up. I breakfast on oatcakes and cheese. Run chapped fingers through the water. The seal brushes them with his whiskers. I eat a raw fish I brought with me. Lob the bones out. It barely touches my hunger. A hairline crack appears in my coffin. Cross myself three times. Wish I had brought more to eat. I see no ships all day. The sun falls with regularity. Her opposition – the moon – rises. It is round and yellow – a single eye to watch my journey.
On the third morning a fog unfurls.
A ship calls out long and low.
The spirits of the sea are matched in sorrow by the living. I rest my elbows on the sides. Scan the horizon. All I can see is a grey abyss that feels like it has come directly out of me. The day passes in misery. At night the skies clear and wind picks up faster and faster until sailing feels like flying. Arms out – travelling through a hundred, million, billion – stars.
I have no compass.
When I draw near land I shout – where are we?
Copyright © 2022 by Jenni Fagan