To Grow by Subtraction (Maddie’s Salvage)

Grey rabbit lying on the side made out of loop stitches

From Issue 29.2

Marilyn F. Moriarty

The only excess on Inishmore was in the people — in their talking, in their music — and last night what music there was with noisy old ballads, raucous pipes, a roar of voices more like the sea than the sea itself.  Never a quiet place was Inishmore but filled with the racket of airplane engines, storms knocking waves against the rocks, currachs raked across the sand.  They never went wanting for noise on the island, and it had kept Maddie awake all night.  Only the winds off the cliffs on the far side drowned the racket, and Maddie had actually considered taking a walk out there.  By the time she finally fell off to sleep, the roar of ballads still dunning her ears, she should have been up to walk the beach for seaweed.  

Maddie had not been invited to the wedding.  She did not mind that.  What she minded was that her house had not been big enough to accommodate more of the wedding party.  Paddy Robinson always maintained hers was the tidiest Bed and Breakfast in Kilronan on Inishmore, indeed, the most hospitable in all the Aran Islands, but did she have room for all the wedding party and the French tourists.  No, she didn’t.  The tourists had been booked for a week, and that fat man, Chatham, come over on the plane shuttle with Paddy, had paid three days in advance.  

Now from the kitchen where she was frying sausages, Maddie watched the French tourists, a young couple, impatiently wait for their breakfasts.  They rearranged their table settings.  The boy grabbed the edge of his plate, moved it to the right, and slid it closer.  The girl’s ponytail bobbed as she stood to wheel the space heater closer to their table.  Mentally computing the money she’d lost from too small a house, Maddie suppressed her cramped irritation with the two of them.  

As she carried the hot breakfasts out to the young couple, she heard her name called across the dining room: “Maddie. Have you got any coffee for me, Maddie Brady?” It was Paddy Robinson, the pilot who operated the plane shuttle from Galway.

Paddy walked into the dining room favoring his right leg, looking vaguely around as if he had forgotten his glasses.

“You’ll have to wait your turn,” Maddie said, setting the plates before the couple.  

Ever since he had started piloting the plane shuttle at the age of twenty-five, she then a girl of fifteen, Paddy Robinson had been a cheeky man.  “I see you’re already late for your eight o’clock flight,” she scolded.

“God love us,” he said, pulling out a chair at his usual table by the picture window over the bay.  Maddie brought him a cup of black coffee.

“So the wedding party was quite a carry-on?” she asked.

Paddy patted the seat next to him.  “Till four it lasted. Rest your heart here, Maddie,” he said.  

“How was the wedding?” she asked, taking a seat without resting her back against the chair.  

“Till four,” he sighed. “It’s a joy when the young ones come back for their wedding.  But there’ll be no eight o’clock flight today.  The eight o’clock flight is now the twelve o’clock flight.”

“There you go, changing the schedules again.  Tell them,” said Maddie about the French tourists. “They expect to go out on it.”  

“They can take the boat back,” Paddy said, sipping his coffee. “Besides,” he added, “there’s already six to be taken back to Galway, and I have no more room in the plane for them.  Especially if that fat man is going back today.  You know how the boys have to weigh them all in at Oramore Airport.  Make them stand on the scale with their luggage.  This one fellow came in, and standing on the scale, he counted as much as two passengers with pullmans.  Jumpy start we had — no balance for that ballast.”

“I know that one.  No bricks in his pockets.  Three days in advance he paid.”

“What a suit! A Londoner.”

“Bad as the French.”

“I have never seen so much cloth on a man without a parachute.”  

“Did he speak his business here?”

“Didn’t say.  He had a briefcase.  Mortician.  Lawyer.  Insurance adjustor.  They all look alike.”

“Well, we all settled with Carlisle’s ages ago.”

Paddy took a deep drink of his coffee.  “Maybe not, Maddie,” he said.

Maddie looked out the window across the bay.  The sky was clear but she could not see Galway, and it was only thirty miles away.

“I said I’ve settled with Carlisle’s long ago.”

“Have it your way, Maddie.  I see you’ve got the shed finished in the back,” said Paddy.

“I hope the wind takes as long to take it down as it took the boy to get it up.  You would have thought he was building Trinity Church with the care he gave each nail.”

“Hear from him yet?”

“No.  Soon.  Any day.  You haven’t been dropping his letters off at Inisheer, have you?

“Not unless he’s been mailing them to Inisheer.”

“Takes after his father, he does.  Both  illiterates.  Well, the dentist has gone from there now.  At least we have enough priests on this island.”   Maddie started to stand up to clear the table where the French couple was leaving.

“Father Brendan will hear any confession at the pub, that one. Should we count two priests then, Father Brendan disqualified?”

“No,” Maddie said sternly, “We’ll count three, one for each island.  We must have some faith in addition. Pardon,” she said, watching the couple fold up their napkins.

They had left behind some coins on the table, and Maddie picked them up.  Just like foreigners to try to leave a tip.  They had no clue as to the way business was conducted on Inishmore, and now she would have to chase them down when she had other things she needed to do.   

“Begging your pardon,” Maddie said, tapping the boy on his shoulder.  She took the coins out of her pocket.  “Breakfast comes with your room.  No tipping allowed.”   She dropped the coins into the boy’s palm.   

“That is for you,” the boy said.

“One does not tip the proprietor,” Maddie said coolly.  “The pilot says that the eight o’clock flight is now the twelve o’clock flight.”

“I don’t understand it,” the boy said.

“The plane has been delayed. It will go out later.”

“But planes, they must go out on time,” the girl said.

“The wedding party stayed late,” she said, then she added, “The minibus will come when the plane is ready to go.  You could always take the boat, but by the time the boat reaches Galway, you could have been there already on the plane.”

Maddie realized she only confused them.

She returned to the breakfast room to start on Paddy’s hot breakfast.  As she passed him, she placed her hand on Paddy’s shoulder.  “I’ll be a minute with your breakfast.”

“Maddie,” he grabbed her arm before she could leave.

“Still full of wedding spirits?” she said and slapped his hand.

“The fat man was just out here.  He walked around to your garden.”

“Maybe he likes walking.”

“He was inside the gate.  Now, listen.  The business with Carlisle’s.  I think there may be more.  The fat man, he’s with Carlisle’s.  A Londoner, Maddie.”   

“We’ve already seen the man from Carlisle’s.  Eighteen months ago it was.”

“Yes, but this one is from Carlisle’s too.  And never a more sour mouth to be seen on any creature living.  I’m just saying, Maddie.”

“The adjustor has been here already.  We paid for the salvage wood already.  Will had not got the shed up then.  In fact, he was working on the roof when the adjustor came.  I’m straight with Carlisle’s.  There’s no way they could have recovered the salvage.  Cart it back by plane?  Don’t be ridiculous.”

“They would have to hire a boat to carry all that wood away,” he granted her.

“A boat?  After their own come aground?  Ha. One blow, they fear storms till doomsday.  Still on the beach, that Norwegian boat is.”

“What’s left of it.  Not much from the bird’s point of view, that’s true.”   

“Still out there and rusted it is.”

“Quicker on the beat, and you could have got more wood, Maddie. You should have put up another room when you had the chance.”

“Me with no man to port it?  Thank you, no.  It nearly killed my boy to carry what little he got.”

“You’d have made more money than with French tourists.”

“The French are fine if they pay as much as any.”

“Have it your way, Maddie.”

Maddie always did have her way, even when she was mistaken. She had missed all the first obvious signs of progress. Some made better business with the regular air flights.  Others put lights in the pubs and in their houses.  The gas pipes in her kitchen were not to pretty to look up to, but who would be looking up at the ceiling with breakfast still hot on the plate?  Then, after the cargo boat had crashed on the beach, its hull full of white pine and spruce, she had sent her son late.  The best of it had been picked over, and Will had come away with the sorriest planks, not enough there to add on to her house.  She didn’t want to admit to Paddy that she had been too slow to think, too slow to move, too stubborn, like those wild donkeys that kept coming to the Inishmore runway searching for grass.  

But then progress had come, and Maddie had watched the men come from Galway to lay tarmac on the airstrip.  She thought the strip a waste of good money, and besides, the pavement drove the donkeys off.  She had not been the best opportunist, and more had prospered by progress than she.  But they all made their own fortunes best as they could; and they made their own trouble as well.  Carlisle’s insurance company had pinned them all for the salvage, that Liam Snead coming over eighteen months after the wreck and threatening to send them all to jail for stealing Norwegian wood.  Maddie had settled with him fast, paying for her share in fair cash.     

Paddy nodded outside through the window.  The fat man emerged from around the corner of the house in a pinstriped suit with a red tie and a silver lapel pin.  He had a fine head of black hair as if God had been generous with many gifts.  And God had been as generous with fat as He had been with hair.  The man’s pants stretched wide through the waist and then dropped straight down to his shoes as if his legs were sticks.  Two rolls of flesh squeezed up around his neck, buried his neck and what might have been counted a chin at birth.  He had no strong nose for such an imposing man, just a bulbous knob fixed straight to his face, no bridge to speak of.  He was tall as well, nearly six feet, when he stood over Maddie and asked for a word with her.

“You’ve not had your hot breakfast, Paddy,” she said.

Paddy stretched, said he would be off.

“Well, then Mr. Chatham, come with me if it’s a word you’re wanting,” Maddie took off her apron and led him into her office.

  “Yes, sir,” she sat at her writing table, crossed her arms over her chest, and picked at the lace sleeve under the pink sweater.

“Mrs. Brady, I’ve come from Carlisle’s.”

“We know the name Carlisle,” she said. “We’ve reckoned with them already.”

“That’s what I understand.”  

He squinched up his mouth, grimaced, nearly losing his face in the folds.

“Might I have a spot of tea?” he asked.

“Pardon me.”

She let him pour his own hot water over the tea bag.

“There’s seems to have been a slight misunderstanding,” Chatham said.  He pulled the coattails out from the seat, resting his stomach in his lap.  A gold pocket watch hung off his vest staring like an eye at Maddie.  

“I have all the receipts,” Maddie said.  She opened a drawer over the desk and pulled out a sheaf of papers.

“No. No.  That’s not it.”

“I have paid for the wood,” she said.  “Are you now going to tell me I have to pay more?”

Chatham continued, drinking his tea. “As I have said, there’s seems to have been a slight misunderstanding.  That fellow who was here before, you know, Liam Snead. . . .”

“A thin man he was, that one, but with a very kind heart. . .”

“Mr. Snead is now in jail.”

“Begging your pardon?”

“He is in jail.”

“Well, Snead’s no son of mine, so I have no interest in that.  As I said, I have kept all the receipts.  My trade was with Carlisle’s and not with Snead.”

“Snead was not with Carlisle’s.”

“Begging your pardon? He showed me his card, he did.  Carlisle’s is written on my receipt.  An address, too, I’m sure of it.  And it give the name of Carlisle’s attached to the address.”

“Snead is in jail BECAUSE he was not with Carlisle’s.”

“Well, he said he was. And my money has gone to them.”

“No, it didn’t. And I am here to inform you that if you do not reimburse Carlisle’s for the wood that was stolen off the Norwegian cargo boat, you will be liable to legal action.”

“I paid for it already, I said.”

“You did not pay Carlisle’s”

“My money is with Liam Snead, who said he was of Carlisle’s. If he is not what he said to be, well then, you can walk your way to Galway and get my money from him, for it’s to him that I paid it.  I have no more money to give you.”

“You can reimburse us for the wood.  You can be liable for legal action.  Or you can give us the wood back.”

“Then you can have it.  I’ll be charging you for storage, because it has taken up half of my back yard.  It was quite a favor I did for you, making only a small shed when the rest of your wood has gone in to people’s houses.”

“You can’t charge us storage.”

“Why not?”

“Because you moved the wood.  It should have stayed in the cargo hold.”

“Two years you expect to wood to stay on that boat?  And when are they going to move the boat?  The mayor of Inishmore will be charging you dock fees for dumping your boat here.”

“I think not,” said Chatham.  “His house. . . .well, there’s no English pine in those walls.”

“First you tell me there Snead was a thief.  And then you want me to think you are not one yourself?  You should not speak so ill of others if you wish to be thought well of yourself.”

Chatham reached into the inside pocket of his coat, pulled out a large envelope folded in half.  He unfolded it, gave the inside documents to Maddie.  She held them up to her eyes carefully.  She inhaled.

“You can tear down my shed yourself,” she said. “You can supply your own hammer, for there is no way I will help you with this.  And you can carry it by yourself to whatever boat you have waiting.  But I can tell you this for sure, no man alive on Inishmore will help you carry a splinter on your own.”

“I believe that you are wrong.  More than one house here has been built with Norwegian wood.”

“It’s all paid for.”

“They paid the wrong person. Can’t you take a point, woman?”

“No,” she said. “I cannot take a point.”  She stood up and reached for her apron.

“Well, you should be grateful we don’t wish to prosecute.”

“We don’t know your gratitude.”

“I saw your shed.  Do you need to remove anything?”  At her silence, he continued.  “I’ll be back later. I have been instructed to bring all unpaid wood back.  As I said, there’s Norwegian wood in more than one house in Kilronan.  As far as we’re concerned,” he continued, “it’s stolen.  I have the law behind me,” he said.

“You have your fat ass behind you,” Maddie muttered.

“. . .and if I have to take down every house a nail at a time to recover that wood, I will. Carlisle’s has a reputation to uphold.”

“I’ll not pay double for the trouble you have made,” she said fiercely.

“One nail at a time,” he said.  

Maddie walked down the street toward the pier, where the Queen of Aran launched heavily against the pilings.  She longed to empty her mind and let the wind blow through; she wasn’t sure what she should do, and she had no help to guide her.  She would not let the fat man take down the shed her son had built, nor would she pay twice when that shed, like anything wood, would rot.

Maddie stepped from the road onto the sand. The tide was low, and old things hung up high on the beach.  Much seaweed had been blown in the night before, lying now in long wilted piles circled by flies.  What a blow there must have been in Galway to send so much up, and she with nothing to cart it but her apron tied over her clothes.  She picked a path between the piles, her footprints collecting small puddles of water.  Making her apron a pouch, she filled it with seaweed, the yellow leaves soaking through her apron into dress, into the sweater which covered her dress, the pouch heavy in her arms as she turned up the lane to cart it all home.

Kerry Tracy, the saddest drunk on Inishmore, stood outside his house, looking up at the front of it.  Except for bedroom slippers, he was still dressed for the wedding.   

“Good morning,” Kerry Tracy said to Maddie when he saw her come up the road with her arms full of apron.  

“Not so good to me,” she said. “You’ve heard?”

“Yes.  Don’t you think this front bit quite goes with the rest. It’s all the same coat of paint.”

“It does all look the same.”

“So how this fat man could tell by looking what’s come from Norway?”

“No one could tell by looking, Kerry Tracy.”

“So how can anything be proved?” Kerry asked with a cocked-up certainty.  “We’ve got him. He’ll get no money from us.”

“Snead’s in jail,” Maddie told him.

“I heard that too.”

“Can you send a man to jail without evidence?  He must have kept records.”

“Do you believe a thief would keep honest records?”

“He’s in jail, isn’t he.”

“Only by the word of a fat man.”

“A fat man who had documents.”

“Snead had them too.  I’ll believe the man who gives me the best bargain for surely he’s the one most honest.”   

“Kerry Tracy, it’s a fine white house you have there, and if any ask me, I’ll say it’s always been white.”

“It’s fine garden I can see you’ll be making.”

“Good haul today. Storms in Galway, I suppose.”

“The storms have always been good to us.”

“They have. It’s always been a beautiful house.”

“We’ll be getting a television one of these days.”

“You’ve always been vain, Kerry Tracy.”

“It’s the power makes a man vain.  Power and light.  But we all drink from the same cistern.  Get on your way, Maddie Brady, before your load rots in your arms and flowers bloom out of your lap.”

Maddie walked the rest of the way of the up the hill to the gap in her fence.  She found Chatham with his coat over his arm, a hammer held ferociously in the other, on his way out of her front door.  

“Haven’t you others to talk to today?”

“One house at a time.  One nail at a time. Carlisle’s means business.  First, Mrs. Brady, your shed.”

“You can take my shed.  But you’ll have a harder time tearing down proper houses, Mr. Chatham, with that puny hammer.”

“That’s how it is with you,” he said.  

She followed him into her garden, where he took a screwdriver out of his pocket.  Removing his coat and laying it gently on top of the stone wall, he plugged the end of the screwdriver into the hinges fixed to the door of her shed.  His wrist twisted, and then he pulled the screws out one at a time with his fingertips.

Maddie walked past him and laid the seaweed gently a strip at a time between the rows.  She had a good load for a fine mulch. Her garden was only a pocket garden, ten feet by eight, enclosed by a wall made of the limestone that covered everything.  Will had made her that wall.  He was gone now, but the wall still stood. She bent over to unload her apron.   

When the hinges were off the door, Chatham carried the door across his stomach and leaned it against the wall.  In front of the door, he set the brass hinges.  “This is your pile,” he said.  “Island folk — you always think you will come out all right.  Somehow you think you will win.”

Maddie studied the arrangement of her garden.

“You might have varnished the wood,” Chatham said, his face red.

“Begging your pardon?”

“I said you might have varnished this wood. It’s half gone to rot.”

“If you wanted your wood varnished, you should have sunk your boat with varnish.”

“The boat did not sink.”

“Nor are you paying dock charges.”

“This place is all rock,” Chatham sighed, “No wonder nothing grows.”

“It’s all rock,” said Maddie.  “It began as a rock and it will end with rock, and even when there’s nothing left, there will be rock. Long after the Irish will have gone, you’ll still be here with your hammer, Mr. Chatham.”

Maddie went out through the gate and back into the front door. She ran into Paddy Robinson coming down the stairs in his blue pilot’s uniform.

“Receipt, Maddie.”

He followed her into her office.  On a slip of paper, she wrote him a receipt for his stay.  “I’m sorry about your shed,” Paddy said while she wrote.

“It’s no matter,” she said. “I’ve had the least to lose of any.”

Paddy waved the receipt in his hand.  “There’s money for you,” he said.

“If those in Galway believed a storm kept you down only thirty miles away.”

“It was a wedding, Maddie.  Who would miss a wedding to keep the schedules right?”

“Well, they were no kin of mine.  Bring me some mail, next time, Paddy Robinson.  Don’t be leaving my boy’s letters on Inisheer.”

“Talk to your postman about post.”

The French couple who had been waiting in the sitting room stood up and followed Paddy out of her house.  Maddie waited in the door as they both climbed into the minibus, waved as it pulled out.  The French couple waved back at her.

From the inside her house Maddie could hear the splintering sound of wood coming down, the creaks and grunts of the fat Mr. Chatham.  She could imagine him panting, his red face filled with sweat.  She could imagine him cursing every man-jack among them.  But time was on her side.  It was always on the side of the Irish: they had no children, they had no ground and no topsoil, but day after day they made something grow. The children left, but they came back to marry.  The old died and their bones grew into ground.  Slowly by inches they claimed the land back; something came of nothing.  Maddie had never been one for progress.  She had no hankering for electric lights, telephones, or televisions.  But she knew that they had nothing but time, even if evolution were retrograde.  As long as they were nothing but rock, everything could rot about them, and they would not.

“Mr. Chatham,” she called through the door. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

He paused. He studied her. He said, “No.”

“You have a long day ahead of your, Mr. Chatham. Especially since you’ve had no hot breakfast.”

He said that he knew it would be a long day. He said they knew the islanders would give him nothing but trouble.  That was why they sent him.

Maddie stepped over a board.  In her pile, next to her hinges he had laid his pocket watch.

“You’ve left your watch in MY pile, Mr. Chatham.”

“I just put it there to keep it out of Carlisle’s pile.”

“Did you only bring one suit with you?”

“That’s hardly a polite question for a woman of your demeanor,” he said.

“Why don’t you tell me about my demeanor over a cup of tea?”

“I think I won’t.”

“Where do you think you’ll be staying, Mr. Chatham, when I ask you to leave my house?”

“I thought you could use the business.”

“I’ll have no business with this noise in my yard.  Begging your pardon, Mr. Chatham, but there’s a group with reservations since February coming in at three.  So I’ll be asking you to leave.”

“I paid you three days in advance, Mrs. Brady.”

She ran her fingers through the pocket of her apron. “Begging your pardon, Mr. Chatham, but did you keep a receipt?”

“You didn’t give me one.”

“Of course not.  Because, as I told you, you could stay only one night being as there is a wedding on Inishmore and there’s the wedding party coming over at three o’clock.”

“The wedding was last night.”

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Chatham, but the wedding is three days off.”

“I heard the music myself.”

“We’re always making merry on Inishmore.”

“Come now, Mrs. Brady.”

She picked up his pocket watch and studied its face.  “You have only one hour to check out. I’ve got much work ahead of me.  There are beds to change and baskets to empty.  Do you think I have the leisure to chat with you the day long?  Those that are tourists can dally, but we others have honest work before us.  I’d advise you to clean up soon and make a good presentation.  You’ll need to be looking for a room, and if you think every house on Inishmore is made from Norwegian wood, you’ll find only hard luck for a bed and breakfast.”

Chatham put his watch in his vest pocket. He removed his tie and put on his coat.  He carried the hammer with his knuckles squeezed white around the handle.

“I’ll be back, Mrs. Brady.”

“They all say that. The men leave and the boys leave, and they all say they will be back. The post is ever empty, Mr. Chatham.”

“By God, woman,” he slammed the hammer against the post of the shed.

“If you paid me, Mr. Chatham, I might believe in God.”

Looking for some peace, Maddie walked up the rocky road to the other side of the island. The road was a steep incline made entirely of rock, and she got small stone bruises on her instep as she climbed.  Only the old men still wore the soleless leather shoes anymore.  Maybe she was getting too old to trek up the other side of the island. At the crest of the hill, her chest pounding, she rested, pushing up the sleeves of her sweater while she caught her breath.  What work it was just to find a little peace anywhere.  

Maddie walked on.  As she approached the cliffs, great chasms opened up to her right where the sea had cracked a riff right into the ground beneath her.  A cow’s skeleton lay raked in the bottom of the riff, the bones entirely bleached.  Further off to the north would be Dun Angus, the ancient fort; not every one could last here.

Standing at the edge of the cliffs Maddie looked westward. There, far off, across the face of the sea where waves roared and their froth split the rock, spray she could feel even on her face, sixty feet above the breakers, out there would be America.  If she turned around, and looked eastward, she could see over the rock walls of Inishmore.  The houses were carefully built and the walls were laid out as near to straight as the land would allow.

Across the Bay, she might see the city of Galway, famous for its Connemara green marble.  The men in her family followed their eyes.  Her boy, she knew, went eastward in Galway.  Her man, who knew where he had gone?  Perhaps out there, westward.  Some were driven and some were pulled away; still, they could not be blamed for looking.  

Maddie had gone by boat, once, to Galway; she had returned, once, by plane.  Paddy was the pilot even then, a younger Paddy, with black hair and walking straight, mocking her fear with stories of crashes.  Runways too short or too slick.  Engines that stalled.  Electrical systems down.  Landings made tentatively or badly.  The failure of instruments.  Ever presiding was nature in the sea and the storms and the birds whose feathers fouled his pressure gauge.  Paddy had mocked her all the way across the bay, over Inishsheer, Inishman, landing her finally at Inishmore, she more frightened by him, then, than by the fact of flight.

It had been evening when she had come home for good, early — only six o’clock — when the light touched the rounded islands smooth like pebbles from the bottom of a stream.  As she watched through the chopping blur of the propeller on the left wing, the sun bathed them in golden hazy light, the islands themselves seeming to rise directly out of the sun in the way that waking comes upon sleep.  Seeing them from afar, she knew they were truly the ends of the earth.  How many returned to the ends of the earth?  Perhaps only fools sought such desolation.  But from the bird’s eye view, from God’s point of view, they were the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and her eyes filled with tears to see them.

And Paddy, then, flying in under a hundred feet yapping as he always did about his wife in Galway, saying Maddie should not be scared of landings.  Nor should she mind the donkeys, he had told her, making the first low pass to buzz them off the grass.  If they crashed, they would land in the grass or in the sea, but since he wanted to get home to his wife, they wouldn’t crash at all.  His wife wouldn’t have it, and God would have to pay her if any ill came to him.  His wife being a holy terror, she had kept God respectful, and Paddy’s life had been charmed ever since he married.  But that wife of his was dead now, killed when the engine stalled in an air show; now pins held the bones of both his legs in place.

To the west, there was what others called promise. To the east, there was Galway and progress.

The height of the cliffs took her breath away, so Maddie climbed down on her hands and knees to look down at the sea.  The wind was up, smelling of a storm coming in.  Flat on her belly, she peered over the edge at the drop below her, her fingers clamping small tufts of grass. A huge section of rock had been cut out from the cliff to her immediate right leaving the coastline jagged.  She imagined the sickly cracking of rock, the sheering as it dropped with a noise like an engine into the sea.  The island was made by subtraction, and far below, huge rocks dashed by the surf marked where the land had fallen. It should have been a warning to her: nothing stood up to the sea.

But some things grew by subtraction.  There was no land on Inishmore, no topsoil.  Because there was no soil, there were no trees.  There were not enough children, and those grown left.  But even without trees, they built houses.  Even without children, they held weddings.  The only excess was in the people.

Of time, there was enough.   

Marilyn F. Moriarty

Marilyn F. Moriarty teaches English literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.  Since her short story came out in Phoebe, she has continued to publish fiction and nonfiction. Her short stories have been anthologized in SurrealSouth’11  and  Dots on a Map: A Collection of Small Town Stories  Her nonfiction has been published in About Place (online), The Antioch Review, The Antioch Review Blog (online), Creative Nonfiction, The Kenyon Review, Relief: A Quarterly Journal of Christian Expression (Editor’s Prize), and in the Canadian journal, Room.  Her creative nonfiction book, Moses Unchained, was reissued as a paperback in 2012. Her essay on fencing received honorable mention in the 2012 Winning Writers Sports Prose Contest and is published on their website.  Her essay “Swerves” won the Gold Medal for the essay in the 2014 Faulkner Pirates Alley Writing Contest.

Art Credits

Rachel Linn, “We Played Dead” Phoebe Issue 49.2

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