By Nod Ghosh
Her father was known for making beautiful shoes, but Branna Corcoran is never elegantly shod.
She swirls a fish in the sink, washes slime off its scales. Opalescent water splashes against steel. Branna wriggles a toe through a hole in her stocking because her feet are sore. Her swollen ankles ripple over the walls of surgical boots like wet mortar over cinder blocks.
Branna is weary from the effort of carrying too many thoughts in her head, so many thoughts about the lives of others.
It’s cold even though it’s well into spring. Not that you’d know it, she thinks, from the way the Finnegan girls next-door carry on in mini-skirts and spaghetti straps.
Branna tugs at her cardigan with fishy hands as it slips off her shoulders. Rain beats the window, like horsewhips battering the glass. The fish-water drips from her fingers and paints the skin of her neck. It’s cold. So cold. Cold enough to set the marrow in her bones.
The oven hums and hisses. Branna shakes water from her river-cold hands and cradles a tepid mug of tea in her palms. She thinks about plucking the wire-wool hairs from her chin but decides to wait until Sunday morning before church.
They were talking after last week’s service. Not to Branna of course. She’s not one to gossip.
Old Seamus accused Ciaran McKillough of stealing Patrick MacGuire’s Ford Fiesta.
Someone asked Branna if she’d seen anything.
“You live opposite Patrick do you not,” they’d said.
Of course Branna said nothing. Nothing about the shadowy shapes crouching down next to the car in question, a dark hood pulled over Ciaran’s unmistakable features. The smoke from his cigarette drifting from the broken window as the car slid away.
“I did not see a thing,” she said. “I will have been in my bed,” she said.
“But it was only half past seven when Patrick discovered it missing,” Braden O’Toole said.
“All the same,” said Branna.
*Always keep to yourself and mind your-own-business.*
That’s what her Da used to say.
She never told the Garda what she’d seen frugal Fergus do with the Skelley boy either. Even when he tried to—well never mind, it doesn’t do to dwell on such things. But Branna can’t help knowing what she knows.
And what became of Fiona Finnegan’s baby? One minute she’s round with child, and the next, they’re all carrying on like nothing’s happened. Fiona’s belly deflated like someone put a pin in it.
Her breasts bound tight as grapes in cellophane. No sign of a wee one. But then they were always up to all sorts of shenanigans, those Finnegans.
The fish broils, the cabbage steams and squeals.
It makes a sound like Sandra O’Grady’s dog made when a car hit it after Graham Quinlan untied its leash. The memory of the scene outside the Centra on Gresham Street eats away like a stomach ache.
When Sandra came out of the shop, she asked Branna what had happened. “Who was it,” she said, through her tears, cradling the animal’s head.
Branna had stared at the blood on the woman’s skirt, her oyster-grey nail-varnish, and told her she’d seen nothing.
“But you were sitting right next to him on the bench, were you not?” Sandra asked, looking at Branna like she had a disease.
Branna got up and walked away without a word. She noticed Sandra had been wearing Italian leather heels in garnet red, not unlike the ones her Da used to make.
Branna finishes her fish supper and turns on the television set. Her fingers shuffle on the buttons of the remote control. There’s something about a man who lost part of his face to cancer. You can see his tongue through the broken wall of his cheek. She shouldn’t look but can’t take her eyes away.
The rain comes down harder, powerful and insistent.
But it can’t mask her thoughts. The memories keep coming. They just keep coming.
The sun setting over the Shannon estuary.
A fierce wind blowing.
She saw a man drown there once.
His black-brown silhouette bobbed in and out of the roiling water, arms like matchsticks. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. By the time Branna realised he wasn’t coming up again, it was too late.
She remembered what her Da used to say.
Always keep to yourself and mind your-own-business.
So she’d wound her scarf around her throat and walked away from it.