6

Madge

The woman sat there crooning of one she loved.

The sea’s roar was backdrop to the song, those listening swaying with its rhythms, their hair forking in the tumbling winds; they’d heard the song several times before, supposedly understanding the deep sorrow it betokened, but never so plangent, never so heartfelt as now.

The woman caught her breath momentarily, wrapped her shawl tighter against the seaspray that was borne as far inland tonight as it ever had; and she took up some new verses heretofore unsung, except when on her own late at night, to lull herself into fitful sleep.

Those listening ceased swaying, tankards poised upon their lips, not drinking, but ready to drink when the song ended… but the end now was so unpredictable. Many held their breath; but amid such winds as blew along those coasts, it was possible for the lungs to respire without the consent of mind or body.

The song entered areas to which none would dare listen, given the choice. Many hoped that the growing thunder of the encroaching seas would deafen…

***

Later, in her cot, as the storm neared its peak, she attempted lullaby after lullaby, not only to take sleep upon herself from the pitch darkness, but also gently to entice her partner for the night into a rest which, he told her, would help him to work the trawler through the next week or so. They had loved long and hard since day-repair, so surely sleep would be easy.

He whispered: “Your song was hard to bear, this night, Madge.”

“I could hardly bear it myself, but I was determined to get through all the verses…”

“The others did not know where to put their faces… But I hoped, I really hoped, you would choose me tonight, and you must have read as much in my eyes, for here I be.”

“I needed someone strong this night of all nights, not only because the storm is fiercer than I at least can remember, but my mother once told me that if I sang the song straight through, without break, he of which it speaks will know he can finally rest – but will need to see me for the last time. And, if he comes tonight, I want him to know I’m happy, strongly serviced by the likes of you.”

“Madge, don’t you think he’ll be bitter seeing me share your cot?”

“Ghosts can never be bitter, man, they can only hope for the happiness of those they leave behind. That’s where all the tales and songs be wrong.”

“If you say so…”

The storm hurtled louder than the quaking of the Earth at the end of time.

She wrapped herself tighter into his arms, feeling that his breath was staunched, like hers, for the duration of the moment’s sanctity.

***

Day-break, with the storm quickly passing over, the rest of the village woke to hear her renewed crooning. This time it was with a morning’s melody and lightsome words.

Madge’s mother found her still locked in the twine of the man’s white unmoving limbs, as she carolled of a new ghost…

The tides were too far out to hear. But, when her song was done, she listened to the squelch of boots as men mumbled into their beards and dragged their boats through new-made troughs to the distant sea.

Published ‘Back Brain Recluse’ 1990 & BEST NEW HORROR 2 1991

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