Inis Patraic, Isle of Man

'Who's in there with your father?'

“Ooh!” Suki said, veering off course at the sight of masculine backs. “Who’s in there with your father?”

“It’s nobody.” Sessot grabbed her elbow, but Suki jerked it away. Still, the contact with Suki’s chilled skin provided Sessot with an excellent protest. “Come on! I’m freezing!”

“Oh, bother! It’ll be warm by the forge.”

But Sessot kept walking, and as she had expected, Suki followed, unwilling to let slip the chance to make one of her favorite smug observations—particularly to the blacksmith’s stuck-​up daughter.

“In Iceland we’d reckon this a balmy spring morning,” Suki said, fanning her bare throat with her hand.

'In Iceland we'd reckon this a balmy spring morning.'

“Fine, but we’re not on Iceland, and on Man it’s cold.”

Sessot rubbed her arms through her woolen sleeves and tugged her apron up higher over her breast. She believed that a good part of Suki’s wintertime bravado was a desire to bare her shoulders in all weather, and to wear a thin bodice that showed the outline of her nipples in the cold.

Sessot trotted faster around the side of the house and hurried up the steps. She did not even want to be seen with the girl. Suki hitched up her skirts and followed her, doubtlessly shaking her rump all the way up the stairs.

Sessot closed and carefully latched the door once they were both inside. She turned to see Suki looking admiringly all about the room, slitting her slanted eyes like a cat.

'Home sweet home!'

“So! Home, sweet home!”

“Won’t you sit down?”

Suki sauntered up to the curtain and pulled it aside to peek at the beds in the back. Then she seemed to notice the quality of the cloth she was handling and stroked her hand down the embroidery; and from this she turned to the sideboard and picked up a painted mug.

Sessot slid herself between Suki and the sideboard and lifted the mug out of her hands.

“Would you like a cup of cider?” she asked. She did not want this interview to last any longer than necessary, but she did not know how else she might talk Suki into a chair.

Suki said, “Sure!” but catlike she slipped free of the arm Sessot raised to guide her towards the table. “Look at those plates! Where’d you get those?”

'Where'd you get those?'

“I don’t know. My father bought them off a sailor before we came here.”

Sessot glanced up at the blue and white plates whose soft gleam had brightened the shadows of her home for as long as she could remember. When she took them down to dust them, she used not her dust rag but a soft cloth, and she carried them with breathless care. They were her father’s pride, and he would have been furious if one had shattered.

“Lord!” Suki said when Sessot opened the tall cabinet to take out the dishes. “Is all that yours?”

Sessot hurriedly pulled out the tray and mugs so she could shut the door again. “They’re really my father’s.”

“I know, but it’ll all be yours someday. Unless he gets married again and has some kids. Or—” Suki snorted and tittered. “—unless he casts you out.”

'Unless he casts you out.'

Sessot did not answer that. “Won’t you sit down?” she asked again.

Suki lifted a mug from the tray as Sessot carried it from sideboard to table. She inspected it inside, outside, and underneath.

Sessot blinked back tears. She was defenseless against so much rudeness and vulgarity. Her only idea was to redouble her politeness.

“Do take the chair in the sun,” she offered. “Unless you would like me to close the shutters?”

Suki dropped the cup back onto the tray and flounced herself over to the chair.

“What? You think I’m cold?”

Suki flounced herself over to the chair.

“Oh! Of course, how silly of me.” Sessot tried to laugh.

She filled Suki’s mug with cider and passed it to her. Into her own she poured only a quarter of a cup, quailing at the thought of sitting through an entire cupful with Suki as she did sometimes, shyly, with captain’s wives and other polite women who came up to wait while their husbands talked to her father.

Suki took a sip from her mug while Sessot was still on her feet, and smacked her lips in satisfaction.

“So, let’s see the stuff.”

Sessot drew back out of sheer revulsion, but she had to admit Suki was at least getting straight to the point. The sooner this was over with, the better. Sessot did not bother wishing the affair could be transacted in a less sordid manner. Everything seemed sordid to her now.

Sessot set her cup on the tray and lowered her head. “Let me get it.”

'Let me get it.'

As she went to kneel at the foot of her bed, she even wondered whether it was wise to reveal her hiding place to Suki. These days she mistrusted everyone.

“Say,” Suki called, “how come your father never got married again, anyway? He sure does like the women, so it ain’t that.”

Sessot froze. Had her father ever been in Suki’s bed? Suki was her own age… but it was time for her to begin looking at girls her own age in those terms.

Sessot froze.

She wondered what she ought to say. She needed to prevent Suki from even entertaining the idea that she might be mistress of this house someday, and of its embroidered curtains, its glazed mugs, and its gleaming blue and white plates.

“I don’t know,” she called back, trying to keep her voice softer than the banging of her father’s hammer just below. “It’s wives my father doesn’t like, I think. He doesn’t want a woman telling him what to do. He doesn’t need a wife as long as he has me.”

“Oh! Oops!” Suki snorted and giggled. “I just had a thought—but no! It’s too awful of me. Too, too awful!”



“Pretend I didn’t think it! It’s too naughty. Naughty, naughty!” Suki scolded herself, giving her own wrist a smack.

Sessot feared that Suki had struck upon just the thought she had hoped to prevent. “What?”

“So! If you insist! I just wondered if it’s your father’s!”

“If… what’s my father’s?”

“The—the thing we are here to take care of today.”

Sessot did not understand at first. She cried out wordlessly when she did, horrified and outraged.

Suki laughed. “I said it was awful!”

Suki laughed.

“Never! It’s—no! Never!”

“Oh, don’t be mad! You did insist! And if you won’t tell me who it is. And it does happen you know, to some poor girls. You ought to be careful who’s around when you say, ‘My father doesn’t need a wife as long as he has me.’ Just a friendly warning.”

Sessot hefted the small chest, strode up to the table, and banged it down on the lace mat beside the tray. She opened the lid.

“Just pick one.”

'Just pick one.'

Suki’s slanted eyes went wide. “Lord! Don’t tell me those are really your father’s, girl!”

“They’re mine.”

A hard knot stuck in Sessot’s throat, and the ache of it brought tears to the brink of her eyes. They were hers: her lace, her embroidery, and her deeply dyed shawls, gleaming like the blue and white plates among the browns and grays of her world. Like the plates, they would never be used until her wedding day.

Suki began pawing through the folded squares of fabric, grinning with greed. “Any one?” she asked.

Sessot would have to spare one of her shawls to ensure she could one day wear the rest.

'Let me just make sure it isn't one my father will recognize.'

She said, “Let me just make sure it isn’t one my father will recognize if he sees you in it.”

But she feared her father might recognize any of them. It was he who had bought the rich fabrics and brought them home to her. Her dowry—and the daughter that went with it—were his only possessions of value, his sole pride. She had to hope he had bought her so many shawls that he would not remember the details of any one.

She had to hope he had bought her so many shawls.

“Ooh! What’s this? What’s this?” Suki tugged on a clasp wedged in against the inside of the chest, and up came a string of amber beads to flash and glow in the slanting light.

“Not that!”

Sessot tried to snatch the necklace away from her, but Suki clutched it against her bare chest.

'That was my mother's!'

“That was my mother’s!” Sessot said. “You can’t have that.”

This is what I want!” Suki lifted her left arm against Sessot as a shield and held the beads out to the sunlight behind it.

“We agreed on a shawl!”

“Maybe so, but you didn’t tell me about this. I’ll take this.”

A pair of tears finally spilled from Sessot’s eyes. “No! I’ll give you two shawls, but you can’t have that!”

Suki smiled. “No, no, I couldn’t settle for a shawl now. It’s this or nothing.”


“Hmph! Your choice.” Suki tossed the strand carelessly atop the pile of shawls. “Anyway, look on the bright side.” She turned her smile up to Sessot. Her slanted eyes were mere slits. “If you have a girl you’ll be able to pass it down to her.”

Sessot wiped her eyes on her sleeve and stumbled over to the other chair. She plunked her head down atop her folded arms.

She plunked her head down atop her folded arms.

She asked, “Do you have it?”

“Course I do. But only for the necklace.”

“Do you have it now?”

“It’s right here.”

Sessot peeked up to see Suki pull a packet out of her purse: a tiny thing, only a square of cheesecloth twisted shut and tied with a string.

“But only for the necklace,” Suki repeated.

“You can have the necklace,” Sessot mumbled. “How do I take it?”

'You can have the necklace.'

Suki hurried to stuff the necklace into her purse before Sessot changed her mind. “You have to take half of it before bed, and half in the morning.”

She tossed the little packet across the table. It landed on the back of Sessot’s hand. Without lifting her head, she slipped it beneath the tabletop and tucked it into her purse.

“Put it into a cup of boiling-​hot water, and let it steep till the water’s cool enough to drink in one go. And do it again in the morning. But don’t take the whole thing at once or you’ll die for sure.”

Sessot did not even sniffle, but her eyes steadily dripped tears onto the wood. She had reached a point where she no longer had the strength to sob and rage, but sometimes tears still simply fell out of her.

Sometimes tears still simply fell out of her.

She noticed after a while that Suki had returned to digging gleefully through the pile of scarves and shawls. Sessot hated her now, and only wanted her to go.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “You got your necklace. You’re not getting a shawl, too.”

“I know, honey! I’m just looking. Lord! You don’t know what a lucky girl you are!”

'You don't know what a lucky girl you are!'