Christmas comes and goes. I turn nine on Epiphany. Snow falls, rain melts it, and now it's February, and we're sad along with the weather.
We keep trying to explain to Tarin what happened. A group of bad men--Da says they're Vikings--sailed up the Shannon. They stole things, but worse than that, they stole people. They took Mum because she was pretty. Da tried to stop them, but he got hit in the head and couldn't do anything about it.
In our dreams, we all see the man who took Mum. Sometimes, Tarin wakes up screaming. Aunt Sorcha and her new baby Maura have been staying with us, and she always tries to calm him down, to make him go back to sleep. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, he cries all night, and Britta wakes up and cries with him.
Britta cries all the time now. She won't nurse off anyone else, and she won't drink from the bottle that Nan tries to give her. Sometimes she'll take a few sips of sheep milk, but she usually spits it up.
Now it's March. One morning, I wake up, and Britta's not crying. I take her out of her cradle, and she's cold and grey and heavy. I take her by the fire to warm her up, and I try to wake her, but nothing happens. When I put my ear to her chest, her heart isn't beating.
We put her next to my sister Louisa in the graveyard, and I wish there were flowers growing so we could give some to her. But we pray masses for her, and Da gives the priests money so they'll pray even more masses for her, and we know that she was baptized, so she'll go to heaven. And since Louisa's there, she won't be alone.
One grey and rainy day, Da wakes up and packs all our things into two trunks. All our clothes and dishes. Monika, the rag doll Mum made for me when I was little. Tarin's little wooden ox and cart. We take the trunks to the graveyard. There's a bunch of people there--Nan and Grandad, Aunt Sorcha and Aunt Ruari and all our other aunts and their husbands. Uncle Micheal, Uncle Stiofan, and Uncle Oisin are there too, and for once they're not causing trouble.
Grandad walks up to Da; he's angry. "Don't do this, Rowan," he snaps.
I jump. I've never seen Grandad angry. I want to run away, but Da's holding my hand and would sooner twist my arm off than let go.
Da's voice shakes like it has a lot since the Vikings took Mum. "I can't stay here anymore. There's too much sadness. Too many memories."
"At least give us the children," Nan says. "They deserve a better life than you draggin' them town to town. God knows if you'll ever get a decent job."
"I've had two of my children taken from me, and by God, I'm not lettin' you take the other two."
"There's memories in them, Rowan," Nan says. "Alynn's turnin' out just like Cait. Tarin's got her green eyes. They'll sadden you worse than Limerick City, Rowan."
"You were hit in the head. You're not thinkin' straight," Grandad says.
Da holds my hand tighter and swears. "I know what I'm doing. Caitriona's not the first person I've lost. These children are all I have, and blast it, I know how to take care of them."
Nan gives a strange sob and hides her face. Grandad just gets angrier. "Rowan McNeil, you--"
"Stop it!" I shout. "Stop yellin'! It isn't helpin' anythin'!"
I start crying, and Nan hugs me and kisses me and cries with me. Da lets go of my hand long enough to kneel by Britta's and Louisa's graves and say good-bye to them. I hug all my aunts, all my uncles, and my eleven cousins. Then Da picks up one trunk, Uncle Micheal picks up the other trunk, and we start walking.
Da and I take turns carrying Tarin. He fusses and cries and wants food and water, but I can't give him anything. We keep walking until we reach another town. But Da doesn't go into town. He goes into the woods, breaks down a few branches, and builds a wee shelter to keep the wind away. He says it'll do until we find a house.
Finally, I sit down, and Uncle Micheal gives Tarin a crust of bread to quiet him. Then he hugs us, wishes us well, and leaves back for Limerick City.
We all sleep in a pile to keep warm that night. Da puts his arm around both of us, and I hold Tarin, and Tarin holds Monika the rag doll. Just before he goes to sleep, Tarin asks me, "'Lynn?"
"What is it?"
"Does it wain in heaven?"
"I don't know."
"Will Bitt cwy if it wains in heaven?"
Tears sting my eyes. "Bitt won't cry in heaven, even if it does rain. There's angels watching her."
"There are," I promise, holding him tightly. "I'm sure there's angels watching Mum."
"There are. There's angels watching us, too."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.