Grace upon a time

He is sitting there, all alone, huddled in the chilly May dew upon a rock dressed in seaweed. His scruffy, woollen coat wrapped tightly around his frailing 84 year old body. The waves, roughly batter around his black, scuffed ankle boots as he licks on an icecream cone. A lonesome seagull is perched on the rock beside him trying to peck at the cornet. ‘Away with you,’ he flummoxed with his tar stained, crinkly hand. ‘Shoo.’ It has always baffled me as to where he can get an icecream cone for his breakfast. The town is a distance away and his feeble waddle would take him a good two hours to walk. I am convinced he lives in the icecream truck hiding behind the Burrishoole, Grace O’Malley castle, over towering beside us. I often hear the jingle of the icecream van but I can never see it.

‘Good morning, ma’am, like a lick?’ I shudder and shake my head, partly in disgust and partly in cold. He is a harmless old soul, but lonely, his balding hair in a Christmas bobble hat. He keeps to himself and no one bothers with him. They think he is doolally and he smells of moth balls and Sweet Afton.

‘Here miss, take a seat beside me. You changed your hair, it’s a fiery red. I must tell you a tale,’ as he whooshed away the seagull, ‘Go away out of that,’ he muttered, gently throwing the stubbly end of cone into the distance.

‘You see that wonderful castle,’ pointing to the castle beside us, it’s turrets almost shivering in the cold. I look up at the castle. I love this castle. It stands old and dark watching over Clew Bay, where as a younger girl with my bubbly friends played hide and seek and told ghostly, pirate tales around camp fires, memories of a life time ago, still bringing a smile to my face.

‘Do ya see ma’am?’ he stuttered, ‘That raven, that dirty black creature? It stands tall and on guard for hundreds of years. You see ma’am, I know this, I was in this castle many years ago. First I served up her meals. I sharpened her weapons. She liked me ya see. I was a funny guy back then, not bitter and tired like now. She brought me on voyages, across high seas and on raids. I was her right hand man when she spoke in London with good old Queen Betty. You know  Betty was partial to a bit of Irish seaweed, swore when she put it in her bath it made her skin feel twenty years younger. She told Grace she should use it. So ya see ma’am, Grace confided in me. Told me things she didn’t trust to no one. And like a locked diary I kept it all in here,’ he said, tapping his head with his yellowed finger. I shuddered again, wondering were the locals right, he was a bit doolally after all and maybe the jingle of the icecream van had muddled with my own head.

‘After she gained this castle by throwing out her husband, she could do that back then ya know, throw him out of his castle and claim it for herself, she married me. Shhh! It’s not for all to hear. Ya see this ring?’ pulling a scrap of bronze on a ribbon from inside his tea stained collar. ‘This was the ring she gave me. Some local created it for her. Look how the face is still as clear as day. See, look her hair, just the colour of yours?’ It was amazing, just like the image of Grace from the story books. Perhaps it was fake? Perhaps the sea air was playing havoc with me and I was delusional.

‘She was an amazing woman, ya know. She never feared, loved the seas, the challenge of overpowering another vessel. Ya see, she believed her strength was in her hair. It had a great many uses ya know? She once fixed up her sails, weaving it together, with neat stitching making it as strong as any twine she could’ve got in Spain. Simply amazing. Ya see that window up yonder? Below the raven? That was her look out, but also where she threw traitors to their deaths. Ya know ma’am, she was a great pirate with loyalty to her fellows, but they were greedy despite her sharing the goods. They stole from her. They talked with the enemy. They tried to divulge her weaknesses. But her weaknesses lay not in the sea, nor with her riches, but with men. She liked men, she used them and threw them away like mussel shells. But oh, could she sing, she had a voice like a robin. She sang for calm seas and sang when she was restless and unable to sleep with excitement for our next sail. And she could dance. The bonfire parties when we returned from a voyage, full of alcohol and meat on the spit. We’d dance and get merry until dawn, long after the other seamen had retired to their beds. Fun happy times ma’am.’

And as the raindrops dusted our shoulders and caught the gentle rays of the sun, a rainbow gathered across Clew Bay. ‘Look ma’am,’ he pointed across the grey water, ‘Can ya see that boat at the end of the rainbow? Can ya see?’ I nodded curiously.

That boat ma’am, was my demise. My love ended forever on that boat. The wind howled, thunder battered, the enemy ship had ahold of ours. The enemy strong, their pirate a young man, too strong for me, for I ended overboard, unable to swim. They hadn’t banked on Grace though. She survived, returning to her castle. So ya see, a pirates life was not for me.’ As the rainbow vanished so did the boat. He took my hand in his, gazing out at the sea, now bluing, which had taken his life, centuries ago. ‘Ya see ma’am, it’s good to daydream.’

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