A Pale Horse

Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl.

Come the end of the world, love and music will endure.

 

She sits by the water’s edge, listening for a song to prove that point.

She came out here to the edge of Loch Fada to see…something.

All she sees is water and hills.

There is only the wind in her ears, only the lapping of the waves on the beach against rounded rocks. There are no words to weave music from here. And love left a long time ago.

The sun is about to set and take with it the remaining heat of the day like a cloak it wraps around itself through the night, leaving only the moonlight to promise tomorrow’s dawn.

She does not notice the chill tonight. The cold does not touch her lately.

She thinks as she walks back up the beach to her car that she has turned to ash and failed to notice her own immolation. Or perhaps sea glass, tossed against the sand so long it has lost its shine. People like sea glass. She herself used to collect it, hold it in her hand until her skin warmed its surface. Nice, he’d say, and then he’d turn away, back to his phone, back to the endless demands of Reddit and the scroll like an anchor that never finds the shoal.

Dulled and blunted. That’s her after years of being sanded down.

Across the planet, the Amazon is burning.

She thinks it is strange that so large a piece of Earth could be on fire without the smell of smoke reaching her nose even here, on a Scottish beach thousands of miles from Braisil. She looks to the southwest as if smoke will appear like an apocalyptic smudge on the horizon, but it doesn’t.

When she turns back, there is a gleaming white horse on the beach, one hoof nudging a clump of seaweed. The sight gives her heart a thump. A water-horse, an each-uisge—for a moment, it could be. It is incandescent in the sun’s dying light. A mythical being, so alive she thinks she could feel its warmth if she put out her hand.

But a horse’s bridle shines in the setting sunlight. She doesn’t think the each-uisge would deign to wear one of those. Nor would the pale horse promised in Revelation. Or maybe it would.

Every day lately is proof that stranger things have happened.

The world is too quiet. The songs of insects have died. No bees. No clegs. Only one solitary midge, the sight of which is unnerving enough. Midges are most often collectivised in clouds.

She climbs the small hillock to her car. There’s another vehicle parked beside it now. In the dust along the passenger side, someone has scrawled the words seeking a friend for the end of the world.

Below it they’ve written, thig crìoch air an t-saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl.

She stops and stares for a moment, because those are her words, the ones she was just thinking, the ones that have lost the hope they once held.

She supposes the apocalypse doesn’t feel so far off to most people these days. Her fingers twitch. She shivers and ignores the reach of the cold trying to grasp at her.

Beyond the rise, on the shore, the horse whinnies.

She isn’t sure why she does what she does.

She walks around to the driver’s side of the car, and with one finger she writes, is luachmhor càirdeas followed by her mobile number.

Why not, she thinks.

She can’t see the horse anywhere when she peers after it. With a shrug, she gets into her own car.

She drives away, back to Glaschu.

 

Life is made of orbits, she thinks. People glancing off each other and spiraling away, helical patterns through the universe, waiting for gravity strong enough to bring another body close for a time.

It is a hard thing, being alone when there are people all around.

Walking through the streets of Partaig and stepping over piddly lines of dog pee on the footpath, people are simply getting on with life. There’s the woman who sits outside on the corner with her Yorkie every day, and the man with the blind Staffordshire terrier who gets his coffee at the new organic coffee shop. There’s the cailleach who walks her puppy in a pram and the pack of ranging lads who annex a bit of Pàirc na Croise every week or so and spend more time making war on the foliage than anything else. Everything somehow continues onward.

She guesses in a way, she does too. She gets her groceries and remembers her reusable bags. She walks her glass bottles down to the recycling point. She gives the homeless bloke with the curly blond hair a tenner when she passes, though she hasn’t the courage to take off her headphones when he looks up, startled, to thank her.

She is at home two days later when her phone screen lights up. It is a message from an unfamiliar number.

There is no text, just a sound file. One time she got such a thing from a guy she’d been messaging on a dating app, and she has filed the memory of the accompanying sounds away in a dusty corner of her mind reserved for unsolicited dick pics and what fragments of the news cycle she can banish.

Her finger hovers over the play icon for just a moment.

Why not, she thinks again.

Music pours out of the phone, drifting through the air like motes of dust in the sunlight. She thinks she recognises it. Some part of her does, anyway. It feels like yesterdays and tomorrows all at once, longing and reaching and having and holding. It tastes like honey touched to parched lips.

When it goes quiet, she plays it again.

Then a third time, her heart beating a little bit faster with something that might be called curiosity and might be called charm. Whatever it is, it is a tender feeling, one she is afraid she will crush if she holds it too close.

Her flat is empty and too quiet without the music, so she plays it a fourth time, sitting at the folding table she assembled with her own hands and running her fingers along the grains of wood she learned to hate with the frustration of lacking pre-drilled holes. All that is forgotten as long as the music is playing.

She has no music to share in return, nothing that could be worthy of this offering.

So she goes to the window, where the sun is again dipping toward the horizon. It has burned through the mist of the day just in time to say goodbye. She believes fully that there is nothing like this colour outside of Alba, the power of the sun to turn silver mist to golden tendrils that coat every blade of emerald grass with molten light. She opens her window wide. Opens the camera app on her phone. Turns it to video mode.

A light breeze stirs the trees, and the clouds are moving above the branches. As she records it, the light stretches, unfurls, dances through the leaves. When the breeze dies, she hits stop.

After a moment of hesitation, she sends the video to the unknown number.

 

The next morning, another bit of music arrives. She listens to it like she listened to the first one, her mouth still gummy with sleep and her eyes still bleary, a bit watery, because she didn’t get enough of it.

When she has listened to it several times in her cocoon of blankets and cat hair and sound, she puts both pieces together and listens to them in order. They are complete on their own, the first rising, reaching, the second sitting, stroking, safe. Together they move like a wave.

It’s a dreich morning, the sky having sat hard upon the neighbourhood, coating windows and people alike with water droplets that cling rather than fall. If she stands still, she might not even get wet; it’s the movement of walking that soaks her.

It mutes all the sounds around her.

There is nothing that she thinks could repay this second gift, so as she turns to walk the time-beaten stretch of Rathad Dùn Breatainn, she thinks she must resign herself to providing something of lesser value.

She aims her phone’s camera toward some trees. The entire thing looks like she and everything around her is stuck inside a ghost. Echoes of future extinction cast back in time.

Through the day, she takes pictures of small, unremarkable things. A rose bush she thought was done for the season that suddenly is bursting to bloom with buds the colour of orange sherbet that will fade to rhubarb-custards and glow even without the sunlight. The woman in her neighbourhood who doggedly collects the rubbish others left behind, even knowing she’ll never get ahead of it.

It is her small chunk of this precarious place.

After she leaves work—she photographed her silly doodles in her meeting, the swirl of milk dancing with spreading red-brown from the teabag in her mug, the pair of heels her coworker abandoned halfway through the day—she goes home and chooses the nine best pictures and sends them to the unknown number.

 

For the next few days, there is nothing but the usual push notifications. She turned off the news notifications long ago—something about seeing her phone flash with a death count, something about the endless repetition of the word “shooting”, something about the bleeding wounds she cannot bandage was too much.

Now she reads it in bits, a little at a time. She feels far away from herself when she does. To be at home, to be within her own mind is too close to her heart.

Push notifications now are mundane. The kind that don’t give away that this swiftly tilting planet is leaning hard to port and already listing on the rocks of mass extinction events.

You’ve logged in for 47 days in a row! Don’t lose your streak! says her food and activity tracker.

Sale! 20% off all gems—get a bonus booster with every level of care package! This from a freemium game.

I miss you. This one she deletes with a pounding heart and moves on before it can sink in.

Driiiiiiiiinks? Niall, a pal, one teetering on the edge of alcoholism. To this one she responds, Coooooofffeeeeee?

She is probably not helping.

To that, there is only silence.

She makes some chips in the oven, curly fries, really. They’ll go with the veggie burger. She’s not a vegetarian. Every time she tries to be, she gets sick. Really sick. Her doctor says she gets the wrong kind of iron from spinach, and she can’t keep supplements down. So she eats veggie most of the time until her stomach screams at her for steak, and then she eats a steak.

Today she just has the black bean burger and curly fries.

Which still aren’t done.

With a burst of dry heat that tightens the skin on her face, she puts the tray back in the oven and picks up her phone.

Maybe that was it, she thinks. Maybe that stranger just wanted the novelty of texting another stranger. Or maybe it was just a wrong number.

She wants to talk to someone, but she doesn’t know who. Cara is in the throes of new parenthood, and it’s too big a risk of waking the baby to ring her. Meg’s on the other side of the planet, skiing probably. There’s still snow on some mountains. Angus is not good at Serious Talks, and Niall’s, well. Niall.

Good at the Serious Talks. Maybe too good. Niall doesn’t need any more of her burdens weighing on his shoulders.

So she waits for the curly fries to be done.

She takes a picture of them when they are. It’s a bit pointless, she thinks. They are temporary. But they are orange and crispy-looking, and they remind her for a wee while that she is still here, in spite of everything.

 

The next morning, she goes to work. There is a hush on the subway that crescendos into a vibrating rumble in her office.

“Another one,” Ben says. Or is it Brian? She only sees him once a week.

“Another one what?” She’s afraid to ask, but the words spill out anyway.

He holds up his phone. Shows her the headline.

She doesn’t have time to get out of her body. The force of it hits her full in the chest, and she hears her sharp intake of breath too loudly, too present. The air is sharp in her lungs.

“What’s it fucking going to take?” Ben or Brian asks, and then he’s off, grabbing his mac and brolly from the coat rack by the door, and she doesn’t have an answer or really think he expected one.

She sits down at her desk, hearing someone blow their nose not far away.

Her lungs still burn.

It feels strange. The numbers are still small enough to feel close. Nine here. Twenty-three there. On the other side of an ocean, but still. Still.

When her phone screen lights up at lunch time while she’s sitting alone in the break room, she plays the music that has arrived.

This time it is a lament.

She only listens to it once.

 

The next day she calls out of work and drives north and west. She doesn’t know where she’s going, and it doesn’t matter. Out. Away.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches Uig on the outermost edge of an Eilein Sgìtheanaich, and she pulls up at the ferry terminal, swallowing over and over because she’s afraid she won’t be able to go pay for her tickets without crying.

Thig thugainn, thig cò’ rium gu siar, gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nam fèinn.

The lyrics echo in her mind, familiar and insistent. It’s been a long time since she felt them like this. She picks at a hangnail. She doesn’t relax until she’s on the ferry, her car stowed below, the alarm turned off.

“Fàilt’ oirbh air bòrd,” a woman’s recorded voice says warmly over the intercom.

She goes to the uppermost deck, where the wind is loud and wild. She points her camera to the waves and hits Record.

 

There are people she knows in Beinn na Faoghla. Angus is one of them. He is there in Loch nam Madadh in Uibhist a Tuath when she arrives, which surprises her. She only texted him when they were in sight of the harbour.

“Feasgar math, a luaidh,” he greets her.

He folds her into his arms like she’s still half his size the way she used to be, before she had any Gàidhlig herself, before she bothered to learn, to get it back where it belonged inside her heart and mind.

“Cà’ robh thu?” she asks. He shouldn’t have been able to get to the ferry terminal so quickly.

“’S toil leam a bhith feitheamh o chionn ghoirid,” he says, his eyes releasing her gaze as he pulls back from kissing her on the cheek. “To be a friendly face.”

She hugs him again, Angus, who is not good at Serious Talks.

Once she is at his house, at his old familiar house where she spent so many summers, she sends the video she took on the ferry to the unknown number, and then she turns off her phone.

She listens to Angus for a while, just listening to the sound of his voice, the song of his words, of her language and his. She is not long there when others start to arrive. Cairistìona from Uibhist a Tuath, Dòmhnall am Post, even Rona over from Leòdhas for the weekend. Some others, all older than her. They ask the usual questions, like is she getting back together with Anndra Mòr (Angus rescues her from that one), how’s work, if the ferry was on time, what the weather was like in the baile mòr, and it is a flow like a river, one she is used to. She knows these currents.

Together they eddy, their Gàidhlig as much a home as the old familiar house surrounding them, and they talk about the new causeway, the new sea walls, to keep the tides at bay a little longer.

As the night goes on, as always, Angus starts to sing. She thinks it’s funny how it’s when he sings that he becomes Aonghas to her, when he is always both.

Aonghas sings the song she was thinking of on the ferry. He always seems to know.

“Thig thugainn, thig cò’ rium gu siar, gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nan Gàidheal…”

What would it be like, she wonders, if she did not have to come into the edges of the west to hear it all around her?

She turns on her phone and hits record when he’s halfway through, almost without thinking. She sends the recording to the unknown number.

 

She sings, too. A Pheigi a ghràidh and Fear a bhàta and a few small songs from the archives that have not been heard by living ears in decades, and she remembers what it was like to do this all the time, when the Gàidhlig was still clumsy on her tongue but Cairistìona and Aonghas hooted and clapped for her anyway and gave her everything they could remember so that someone else would have it too. Memories are safer like that, in the lockboxes of many minds. So are languages.

Sometime in the middle of the night, once the songs have dipped over from swelling anthems of longing into off-key Runrig (still anthems, just a different sort, bless them all), perhaps after a few too many refrains of “och, dìreach tè bheag, tè bheag” to the point that many wee drams added up to several big drams and the recipe for sore heads—sometime in the middle of the night she wakes up from where she’s drifted off to sleep in front of the peat stove with her head on the cushy armrest of the overstuffed sofa and a warm wooly blanket someone’s tucked over her that’s now tickling at her chin. She wakes up.

She wakes up, and she is wide awake.

She wakes up, and she feels split down the middle like a piece of sea glass revealing the sharp-edged, gleaming centre that was still there all along beneath time-dulled edges.

Aonghas is at the table still with Cairistìona, speaking softly about something as quiet and mundane as their voices.

She wakes up, and her chest is tight with something she cannot identify until it pulls the cry from her lips and the sound is like tearing bone, and it stops Aonghas and Cairistìona short mid-conversation, and then she is doubled over with her head between her knees, and she is sobbing, she is sobbing, and her lips taste like the sea, and words fall past them in two languages at once, and all of them are built of rage.

Aonghas comes to her side, and Cairistìona to her other side. Aonghas is the same size as her father was, rounder in the middle. Cairistìona is built like a teddy bear, and she wears her white hair in one long white plait over her shoulder like Katniss in The Hunger Games, and they flank her as she churns forth enormous hideous hiccoughs like earthquakes and tears like tidal waves, and there are four hands on her, on her shoulder, her knees, one stroking the back of her head, and after a while the only thing she can say over and over and over again is “Murt, murt, murt, murt,” because murder is the only word she has for what is happening to an entire planet that contains countless worlds, several of which she herself is frantically trying to keep alive, and the executioner is only greed, and it’s all so fucking avoidable.

Cairistìona bundles her into her car some time later, and they drive to the shore, to Culla where the land has changed shape since she was a child. The rising seas have reshaped it, but it is still a beach.

The sand is damp, but the sky is clear, and Cairistìona lays out a blanket, and together they sit bundled with their bums sinking into the sand, watching the stars glitter above their heads.

She sets her phone up to take a time lapse of the stars, and when it’s done, she sends it to the unknown number.

“Cò th’ ann?” Cairistìona asks, peering at the screen over her shoulder.

“Chan eil fhios a’m,” she answers, admitting the truth of sending photos into a stranger’s life in the middle of the night.

If Cairistìona thinks it’s strange, she doesn’t say. “Am bi iad a’ freagairt?”

In answer, she plays the music the stranger has sent her, piece by piece.

Cairistìona gazes into the west, over the waves whispering against the shore as she listens.

Her throat moves, and she glances over at her younger companion once, but says nothing.

“Èist,” Cairistìona says, so she does listen, and beyond the songs on the phone, somewhere out on the rocks in the water, she hears a voice that should not be.

They sit there like that, listening over and over to the music on the phone and the music drifting in on the incoming tide, filling the bay, filling their ears with the reminder that there have always been so many worlds contained in this one, if only you are willing to listen and hear them.

“Tha sinn beò fhathast,” says Cairistìona.

She has to agree. For now, they are indeed still alive.

The sun eventually rises.

She records its climb past the horizon and sends it to the stranger.

 

She takes the long way home, the very long way. She calls out Monday and takes the long ferry from Loch Baghasdail in Uibhist a Deas to Mallaig and drives south and around to Cille Chòmhain and takes another ferry to Tobar Mhoire in Muile, and then she drives most of the day through the hills, considering the short ferry over to Eilean Ìdhe where there is peace and teal waters, but Ìdhe feels like a place of new beginnings, and she is seeking something older.

Instead she stops near the crossroads in the Ros before returning to Creag an Iubhair to sail back to Òban, and she parks her car and walks for a while in the forest. Muile has good forests, some of her favourite forests, in spite of the foreign sitkas that uncaring invaders planted when they uprooted the islanders. Older native trees remain if you know where to look. The trees here look like they remember. They wear moss like cloaks and stand stately as if they are ready to teach you all they have seen. She records flashes of gold on that vibratingly alive green and water droplets of mist that glimmer in the sunlight.

In the distance, green and rustling, something moves.

She stops, her phone falling from her hand. Her headphones come unplugged, and music pours from her phone as it hits the forest floor, the stranger’s music, spreading out more loudly and more thoroughly piercing than an eagle’s cry. She is slow to pick it up, waiting until the piece reaches its end.

Something moves again as she brushes off her phone. At first she’s certain it is just a sheep. She followed a small herd of them for a while, their pastel-painted bums bobbing as they trotted away from her, looking back over their shoulders with ribbon-pupiled eyes as if to accuse her of the sin of still being there, for Christ’s sake, but the something in the distance moves again, and it is not a sheep.

She stands stock still, one finger pad worrying at the jagged edge of her abused phone case. It moves again.

This time it doesn’t stop, moving across the middle distance like a watercolour animated, but its edges are sharper, defined like leaves, the greenest leaves of new growth. There is a scent rising from the forest around her, alive like loam and springtime in spite of it being nearly autumn.

It turns, and a flash of gold shines back at her, two points high enough to be well above her head, like eyes.

Then it is gone, behind the trunk of an enormous oak and vanished.

It is some time before she can make her legs return to her car.

 

When she gets back to Glaschu late at night, she goes to text Aonghas that she made it home safely—such a strange word, home, dachaigh, a word that can mean so many things—and there is a message from the unknown number.

For the first time, it is not a recording. It is words.

Sing with me, sometime before the end of the world.

She sits there for a while, thinking of the brilliant white horse and the ghostly voice in the middle of the night and the rustles of moving leaves and their flash of golden eyes.

Okay, she says in response.

She follows it with several pictures she took in Muile.

The response is a final clip of music, one she knows instinctively is the end of the piece, because it is quiet, waiting, still, and then like a crash of thunder it reminds her that her heart can still beat that fast, that her skin can still break into gooseflesh like that, and that her eyes can make tears for reasons other than despair.

She gets a piece of paper. It is ordinary paper, edge ragged from being pulled from a notebook with no perforation.

She writes in two languages, not certain her Gàidhlig is strong enough for the task, but it’s those words that come out first anyway, and then English on their heels, lacking capitalisation like e.e. cummings almost by accident or laziness or urgency.

 

Dh’fheuch mi toirt air lusan fàs

Ach bhàsaich iad an greiseag

Chan e a’ ghrian a th’ annamsa

Agus chan urrainn don t-sàl mo dheòir

Am biadhachadh

 

Ma bheireas mi air beatha

Is i a’ bàsachadh nam làimh

Cha dèan e dìa dhìom

Cha toir e sòlas dhomh

 

Cha do shlànaich mi an sìol

A dh’fheum fìor-uisge

Nach dòrtadh bhuam

Oir tha mi tioram

Is tha mo thobar fàsach

 

Chaith mi cus ùine a’ feuchainn

A bhith nam sholas

Gus an do dhìochuimhnich mi

Gu bheil a’ ghrian na teine

 

Chan urrainn dhomh beatha a dhèanamh lem làmhan

Mur a h-eil mi fhèin beò

’S chan urrainn do lusan

Adhar sam bith a thoirt dhuinn

Nuair a bhios an duilleagan loisgte gu ceò

 

And then:

 

i tried to make plants grow

but they died in a moment

i am not the sun

and my tears will not water them

if i catch hold of life

and it dies in my hands

it will make no god of me

it will give me no comfort

the seeds did not heal

when they were dying of thirst

for water that would not pour from me

because i am dry

and my well is desolate

too much time has slipped from my trying

to be a light

until i forgot

that the sun itself is made of fire

i cannot make life with my hands

if i am not also alive

and no plants can give us their air

if their leaves are nowt but ash

 

And she sends it to the unknown number, all of it.

After a few minutes, she gets back, Sing this.

So she writes, Okay.

She texts Niall a bit later and invites him over for dinner. To her surprise, he comes. They laugh and they eat spaghetti and she agrees to try to Lady-and-the-Tramp a noodle, and they fail miserably, and then they laugh harder and almost shoot Bolognese sauce out their noses, and later they curl up and watch silly films, and they don’t drink a drop of alcohol.

Niall sleeps on the sofa. She makes him breakfast in the morning before she has to go to work.

She is glad he came. She doesn’t tell him what she’s doing at the end of her day.

She goes into her phone after she gets in her car, and she blocks Anndra Mòr’s number.

 

There is a hush on Sràid Bhochanain when she arrives after work. The sky is quiet and bright and full of birds that do not lift their voices, only their wings.

She does not know who she is looking for.

She goes to stand near the steps at the foot of the Royal Concert Halls where there have been rallies lately, protests lately, anger and rage and fear and hope and not enough of any of those things.

People are still shopping, still touristing, still taking photos of buskers and the techno drumset bloke in his neon orange and the duke in his traffic cone crown and surgical mask. She feels like she is the only person not moving.

But then she is not alone.

“Haidh,” says the person with the unknown number. “’S mise—”

She smiles, extends her hand, gives her name as a token of gratitude for their own.

This isn’t how it works. It’s not how anything works. You need rehearsals and conversations and practice, or at least a clue of what the hell you’re trying to do.

But the stranger-who-is-not-a-stranger just unpacks a case of simple gear, an amp, a speaker, a board, some keys. They look at her and start to play their song.

So she sings.

She is unsure at first, and the melody changes a little as she figures it out, but every time they reach the end, it starts over, and they build it that way, feeling everything out together.

A crowd slowly gathers. Many trickle away again, but many don’t.

She sings it in Gàidhlig. She sings it in English. She goes back and forth between them. She sings until she inscribes both versions onto her vocal chords and into the air. It starts to drizzle and several someones shield them and their gear with umbrellas, so they keep going. The rain stops again. The sun comes out.

When it is finally finished, people come up to them. Her voice is tired. She answers questions mostly in English.

“Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl,” someone says, an older someone, an white-haired cailleach with a brooch shaped like the sun on a fashionably asymmetrical cashmere jumper. The old woman smiles, eyes bright and hopeful.

“Thig crìoch, co-dhiù,” says a teen boy beside her, and several heads turn because even if they don’t understand his nihilistic words, they certainly understand his tone.

She can’t really blame him, and she can see looking around that no one does. “’S dòcha,” she offers quietly, a maybe, a perhaps. “Ach chan ann an-diugh.”

“Chan ann an-diugh,” says the cailleach.

“Chan ann an-diugh,” says the no-longer-stranger.

“Chan ann an-diugh,” says someone she is pretty sure has no Gàidhlig but that brand-new sentence and does not understand what they’ve said.

“Chan ann an-diugh,” says the lad after a beat, looking around him.

He looks for a moment like he wants to cry.

She hears people murmuring what does that mean, and after a moment she hears a translation filtering through the crowd, of his “an end’ll come, anyway”, of her “perhaps, but not today”, and then there is a spreading hush, and then she hears someone call out from the back of the crowd with a strong flavour of Glaswegian layered over the Gàidhlig, “Chan ann an-diugh!”

She goes to the lad, and to her surprise, he throws his arms around her the way she greeted Aonghas in Loch nam Madadh, and she enfolds him because she knows.

“Chan ann an-diugh,” she whispers in his ear.

He shakes in her arms. He leaves with the cailleach’s phone number and a promise to come round for tea.

“Is inntinneach sin,” says the not-stranger some time later, “dìreach dè cho feumach ’s a tha sinn air a’ chèile.”

She agrees that it is. Beyond interesting, just how much we truly need each other.

They talk for a while as the crowd finally disperses, their conversation ebbing and flowing between languages so easily.

“Why’d you do it?” she asks finally, just as she’s getting ready to get on the subway home.

“What?”

“Write what you did on the side of your car. The same thing the cailleach said—thig crìoch air an t-saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl. And the seeking a friend for the end of the world bit.” She is curious at that boldness, the boldness that prompted her own.

The not-stranger’s face is pensive for a moment, a bit bemused. “I didn’t.”

She stares. “But—”

“I just sent the music because of what you wrote. Is luachmhor càirdeas. Friendship is precious. Even to strangers.”

“But you even said to me—sing with me before the end of the world.” The street feels uneven under her feet. Golden eyes in a forest. A voice on the waves.

A shining horse near the shore.

“Perhaps I needed a little hope too. We all live here. Sometimes we all need a little help not to drown.”

“Whatever help you need, it’s yours,” she says, and she means it. She ventures something else. “And if the world doesn’t end?”

“Then we sing again knowing we worked to save it. There is no loss there.” They embrace her then, pulling her close. They smell a little of rain, a little of salt, a tiny hint of seaweed and warmth. A little of magic. “It’s better than the alternative.”

“Mairidh gaol is ceòl,” she says. She doesn’t want to pull away.

“More of both, please,” her new friend says.

She agrees.

Today she is alive. Her language is alive. The Earth is alive. And she has so much work to do.

 

M Evan MacGriogair

Writer, singer, artist. Evan sings and writes in Gàidhlig and in English. You can find their bilingual fiction at Tor.com, in Steall Magazine (summer 2020), and Uncanny Magazine (summer 2020), with poetry in Poets’ Republic and elsewhere. Evan sings with the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association, the Alba Choir, and Fuaran. They live in Partick with two cats and dreams galore.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment. You can register here.