Tar i leith
by Ali McGrane
She never went back, not really, only once for a holiday when the children were young. But there’s this.
She stands in her kitchen, one hand on the door frame, one foot over the step, nursing the pain in her hip, gazing out at her English garden, a stretch of grass bounded by shrubs and trees, so it’s hard to tell where the outside begins. The sea ghosts her back, and those piled stones, boulders, impossible to walk on, leading up from the pale sands, and the seeding tussocks and springy turf, and the sheep and the sweet edges of her father’s voice, Máire, tar i leith, come. There’s a wiry strength in her, and she must have been six or seven because by the end of her seventh year he was gone, taken, but the stones and the salt and the harsh winds ground themselves into the pores of her skin and sank into the hollows of her bones, and never left.
She is back under the clock in the schoolroom, watching the second hand judder past curlicued numbers. The class recites what is written on the board. Chalk dust makes fairies in the air. She can feel them in her throat, dancing with the new words she strains to form. The unlocking of a secret code, a game. They chant, arm-in-arm on the long walk home, Sun-day, Mon-day, laughing at themselves, unable to imagine the way a language could be lost in the push and pull of the tides, the wearing away by degrees of a mother tongue till it becomes no more than grit in her eye, a thumbprint in the cadence of her speech.
Ali McGrane is a short story and flash fiction fan, currently completing a creative writing MA. She lives between the sea and the moor. Her work has appeared in Fictive Dream, The Lost Balloon, Ellipsis Zine, Ink Sweat & Tears, Moonchild Magazine, Cabinet of Heed and Train. Find her @Ali_McGrane_UK.
Author’s Note: Tar i leith is pronounced ‘tar lyuh’.