Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde with a Ph.D. on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in multiple venues including Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Curlew, The Ink Pantry, A New Ulster, Down in the Dirt, the PLJ, and Mad Swirl.
A moonlit evening keeps Maggie in the cloister. The moon she used to love on sleepless nights has become a foe with baleful eyes. Each day she pares it with the blade of her mind for a moonless eve brings Nicholas to her side. He never explains how he manages to enter a heavily guarded and well-bolted altar, where he lights a candle to his patron saint, says a very short prayer and coos to Maggie to trace his footprints. She goes over the tiniest detail of their last meeting and feels some coolness creep into her infernal seat. He loves to place petals beneath her feet then watch her quiver, languid eyes, drowsy lips. An hour would elapse before he blows a kiss in each of her half-deaf ears
Three Sisters fear that Maggie could be up to mischief, so they resolve to keep a constant watch on her every move. Paralyzed with fear of getting caught, Maggie freezes her nocturnal walks and waits for their vigilance to abate and halt, but days and months bring no abeyance of what they believe to be a life-saving vigil, so no petals or aerial kisses are to stir ripples in Maggie’s features, who now keeps to her bed, too weak to even kneel in prayers.
A full moon illuminates Maggie’s room on the fifth of June. Her eyes are fixed on the rail of an iron bed. Her toes twiddle round some velvet heads. A smile creases her pallid and motionless lips since Nicholas could tell that this is her last kiss. She wonders how they, who have been praying for a painless death, cannot see him who feels her breath on his cheek as he blows a kiss in each half-deaf ear. ‘Goodbye Nicholas’ are the very last words Maggie is to breathe.
Summoned by a phone call to Provence, Clare arrives too late to bid her mother goodbye. She learns from the Prioress that Maggie had grown delusional in her last days and could not remember her daughters. Clare is given her mother’s Celtic cross, Maggie’s only possession. The Prioress offers the frail young woman a room but Clare opts to immediately leave, feeling strangulated by grief.
Within a few days of her arrival in Glasgow, her sister’s aged husband dies. Clare attributes his heart attack to Adele’s professionalism in the most fatal types of provocative undressing. Adele is now a young widow with a vast inheritance. Clare attends the funeral service to offer her expected condolences. Adele plants a sticky kiss on her sister’s cheek, then in a whisper diluted with permissible amounts of liquor, imparts to the nervous ear her grand plans for the future.
“Clare, I am now a lucky woman with a vast fortune. I am going to run my own night-club but stop strip-teasing before customers,” she states with ill-timed exultance.
Clare thrills to the latter part of her decision, but how can she reason her sister out of the first? She thinks it is a sacrilege to discuss nightclubs in the house of God so she refrains from a debate that Adele is bound to win.
“Hush, we are in a church and it is your husband’s funeral. He has not been buried yet. If you have no respect for the dead, at least show respect for the house of God,” she pleads with Adele.
“What’s wrong with the highly educated? You do not look happy for my sake. Are you jealous of me? Nothing has worked for you, neither endless studies nor queer jobs. You are very much like our monastic mother, withdrawn and waiting for the kingdom to come. Let me be. Let me celebrate my future plans. We are the oddest twins on planet earth,” responds Adele with annoyance.
Clare looks at her sister with utter disgust. “Leave our mother out of this. Please, Adele,” she pleads.
“She abandoned us when we could not fend for ourselves, did she not? Fleeing to her revered ancestors – you have your mother’s blood. Look at you! You’re wearing mum’s black dress for my husband’s funeral. You cannot afford a single dress for any occasion. You are here to embarrass me,” she continues, her lips tremulous with contempt.
“Please let’s not argue here. People are looking at us,” Clare says, feeling the ground losing its solidity.
“They’re not looking at us. They’re looking at your shabby dress. Do you know how much I paid for my mourning clothes?” she exclaims in a haughty tone.
“I am not interested in your expenditure. I shall proceed to the graveyard alone,” she calmly states.
“Not in this. My driver will fetch you one of the dresses I purchased for this occasion. They’re in the Limousine. It will take you minutes to slip into one. You can choose the one you like and wear it for your graduation ceremony,” she says, conferring on her twin the honor of wearing one of her expensive dresses.
“I am not wearing any of your dresses. I think I have overstayed my welcome. My condolences and good luck with your business,” Clare responds, leaving without kissing the cheeks that have been burning with indignation and embarrassment at a sister’s lusterless presence.
The children stood on shingle shouting out her name. She tried to look indignant but in vain. Deep down, she exulted at that local fame. She proudly sat dividing her attention between the waving, noisy throng and her father who rowed the boat that bore her name. The water constantly changed color as they left the bay, leaving little dwarves that hummed and hailed. Her father was neither a swimmer nor a sailor yet he knew no fear. He loved to show his children the beauty of the sea. He had the boat built in their own big garden as a treat. They had seen every piece of wood that went into its making.
Delia’s habitual chatter receded as they retreated further from land, a seven-year old mariner who did not forget to bless the invisible inhabitants of a dark world, fish and snakes alike. Observant of every ripple or wave that made her little frame sway, she decided that one day she would own a house by the sea so that she could supervise its every mood and hue from a jutting windowsill.
Summer tested the prowess of the wooden Delia against wind and wave but in Winter it went to sleep in a sheltered part of the harbor where it disapprovingly viewed hail and rain. The children visited it on sunny days but always thought it looked sad, away from lapping waves. They patiently waited for June to animate two slumbering oars that felt lame, but one night Delia clandestinely waded into the icy water of the bay. It was rowed by a stranger who constantly whispered to his mate. Its very bones ached under the weight of a box downloaded from a ship. On the way back, a flashlight and a siren froze the blood in its veins. Two thieves and Delia were under arrest. Mr. Marinau received a call in the morning from the police and he did not know how to break the news to his children. He could not keep the boat after a terrible misdeed that cast a shadow over his daughter’s name. Delia was sold, entailing many outbursts of grief.
Years later, they moved to a large apartment whose windows overlooked that portion of the harbor where the boat used to be moored. Delia always reminisced over her convicted wooden friend. Why did smugglers choose Delia to carry out their dirty work? A question remained without an answer, always making her eyes water, to add to the salt twang of the sea that wafted from the shore throughout the day.