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  • The Well of the Seven Sisters
  • Mary O'Malley

In every house, someone is always looking out the window. In our house, I was the one.

The window is small and deep, and there are three in the house, one in each room. The sill in the kitchen is full of forms and leaflets and one or two rosaries. There is a statue of the Blessed Virgin, her tiny bare foot crushing a serpent. Flames leap behind the barred grate like big cats in the zoo.

There are three, four, five of them in the house, crying, eating, pretending to pray. She feeds the baby, puts turf on the fire, washes the dishes in a tin basin. She wipes the table, leaving swirls of wet on the ochre oilcloth for her mother to finish off. When it is fine, they play on the street. She is always in charge of the younger ones, who are bold and run rings around her. It is not fine now. She stands for a while, doing nothing. Looking through the window at Cnoc a Dún.

The place they live in is called Connaught, and its settlers came in streels of misery, because they'd have to go to hell if they refused. Cromwell sent them; he was a Protestant. Hell began when you crossed the Shannon. Her father said that it was well under way in East Galway. East Galway was inland and flat.

Her people were there for a different reason; it was where they came from. In Irish they were just called muintir na h-áite, or the people, but in the English books they were "natives" or "locals." They only felt like locals when the tourists came in summer. The tourists called every village "Connemara." No tourists stayed the winter, because they weren't tough enough and everything went brown and rotten-looking.

Outside there is a flavor of rushes, ice, stagnant water. Underneath, something—perhaps the waterhorse—lurks. Everywhere, and in monochrome, the unforgiving granite shoulders out of the earth and lies low to scrape the knees at every fall. If you turn over a stone you will find, in the brown-gray nest inside the rim of silky green grass, worms and centipedes and spidery creatures pearly and many-limbed, creatures meant only for the dark. But once the light is turned on them they live, and enter the shadowy world behind your eyes, silently building a nest there, where they may hibernate and feed and rear their [End Page 9] multiple swollen bellied young. There are mountains, twelve blue hills in the cloud or closer, near enough to touch when the rain is due.

Someone would ask, "Think is there rain on it?"

There nearly always is, or was, because now I am entering the past. The village exists in the continuous present, but the child peers out from all the tenses of its slow or sudden transformation. She used to do this or that. She used to play, and it used to rain. To avoid a linguistic farce, we must untangle the syntax and find some road through to give this place its due, to rescue a part of it from the gaze of well-meaning visitors, the passing trade who sometimes put down what they thought were roots and stayed. We must see that she attends to her grammar.

She is our witness and she is always reliable, even if memory itself is treacherous. She is solemn and very responsible for her age. I admire her, and I think I would have liked her. She had faith and she loved her world with cool-headed innocence before she grew up and became me.

There were rushes and yellow flaggers and puiteach outside. In winter everything went brown except for the sea. The sea was where the ships went, to America with people and to Spain for oranges. She wanted to see real fruit growing on a real tree, and real princesses with real diamonds in their black hair. She saved orange seeds and dried them under the range. Her father said he would sow them in a sod of turf and maybe they'd grow...


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pp. 9-17
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