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Seán Óg

Where her father was from, her name was the word for rain. The tips of her fingers pressed into the crisp, colourless keys, and from the gruff, petulant piano came the ceol. She wanted you to identify the song and you could not. Her grandmother had taught it to her, but after all these years, its name had escaped her memory — although its notes remained. She had told you of the Christmas holidays spent with her grandparents in Gort a Choirce, when she and her cousins were weeains, taking turns to play The Star of The County Down, each cousin attempting to play it faster than the cousin that came before them. Winters were harsh in that part of the country; the Errigal wind was powerful and sharp, and they would have frozen to death in that small cottage, she told you once, had it not been for the turf in the fire and the warmth of her nana’s heart. The piano groaned as the song came to an abrupt halt. Her lips twisted up into the side of her face as they often did when she found a thought to be confronting, and as she often did, she tucked her hair behind her right ear and let the left side swing. Her hair was as black as a winter night’s sky but for the sparse, silver streaks. It stopped just below her jaw. She rubbed her nose and placed her fingers back on the keys. You placed your hand around the back of her neck and softly tightened your grip as she began to play Tabhair Dom Do Lamh. She had learned it for you and your hand on her skin told her that you were grateful for that. Her skin was warm, as it always was.

By the time you left the charity shop, midday had not long passed, and the breeze had gone. The air was thin. The heat was thick and smothering. You felt her small hand slide into yours. "You know," she said, "Sometimes after I see you, I listen to a new song. Like, a song I haven't heard before." You looked down at the straps of her dress hanging from her damp shoulders, blowing freely in the wind like loose scaffolding. She continued, "So that any time I hear it in the future, I remember. You know, what we did that day and what we talked about." She felt your familiar gentle squeeze as ye approached Donegal Square.

You knew her order. You had learned it off by heart, despite barely understanding what it was — like when you were a child reciting your times-tables and your prayers. She had only needed to tell you it the one time. "It's funny," she had once said, "because you're so particularly terrible at remembering most other things." The two of you sat outside the corporate coffee shop that you both hated, but were loyal to regardless, as, around you, the world progressed and people lived, without either of you heeding any notice. You moved your seat to block the sun from her eyes. "Will we go for a drink later?" She knew you would ask this. You knew she would say yes.

"Well, soon enough I won't be able to have a decent stout anymore. I may as well take advantage of it while I'm here." She said it with a smile, but her eyes were pained, as yours were.

"Soon enough," you said, slow and solemn.

That evening ye sat outside Madden’s over two creamy pints, after having drank more than plenty before. The day's heat still lingered, but it had softened and grown passive, and the welcome breeze had returned. Your skin was warm to the touch, from it getting burnt in the sun. The session going on inside spilled from the open window like smoke. The bar was silent but for a few clinks and clanks and the sole voice of a young woman singing Here's a Health to The Company, partly as Gaeilge, and partly as Béarla;

"Here's a health to the wee lass that I loved so well,

For her style and for her beauty, there's none can excel,

There's a smile on her countenance as she sits upon my knee,

There is no man in this wide world as happy as me."

She licked her rollie and sealed it shut, then watched you as you patted yourself down in search of a lighter. Her mouth opened, and she said your name, and it sounded lovely in her mouth. It sounded as if it belonged in there as much as her tongue and her teeth. When you looked up at her then, you caught an intensity in her eyes. She looked as though she were about to cry, or she might have been crying, as she said softly, almost in a whisper, "I want to tell you, I love you."

You could feel your skin from the inside. The hair on your arms lifted slowly and your chest felt empty like your lungs had fallen into your gut, which itself was full of knots. "I want to tell you that I love you too." There was a lump in your throat.

On the train home the following afternoon, she set her eyes over the sun-soaked Mournes as the skies began to open and the rain cooled the earth. This natural, heavenly hindrance sparked complaints from the other passengers around her. She didn’t mind it so much herself; she had, after all, been born on the first day of the wet season in her country, and the country of her father, so the rain made her think of him, and that faraway place. Her attention was drawn again to Sliabh Binneáin, and she thought about how it, soon enough, would be white. The trees would be gaunt and bare. The boiling, sweaty summer months would contrast a piercing winter. The sun would be low, the air crisp, and the wind full of fury. The golden, heathered fields that stretched beyond would soon be brown and grey, and only a shadow of life would linger. She would be in London, and you wouldn’t be, and that would be that. She would have with her the books that you gave her, and you would have her clothes, and she would have a battered scrap of paper with her coffee order on it. You scribbled it down when you met for the first time, so that you wouldn't forget it.

Seán Óg is a History and English Literature student at Trinity College Dublin. His work is grounded in a sense of realism, often taking inspiration from his own life and the lives of those around him, and can be found at @seananseanchaí.

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