THE BANSHEE • by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

The morning milk was sour and Mom blamed me, sent me back to the liquor store to buy a fresh carton even though it wasn’t my fault it went sour. I said it was probably the little people and she told me to stop talking nonsense and just git. So I ran and bought the milk, ignoring Doreen’s dark look when I counted out the pennies and then I ran all the way home again. But then Mom said I took too long and no one wanted breakfast anymore and why couldn’t I do just one little thing, like somehow by getting the milk I’d done something wrong. Gran would have stood up for me but she’d been dead for almost a year now and I still felt mad at her for leaving me.

Mom had been on my case since then, or at least since Pa lost his job, so I just ignored her and poured myself a glass of milk and sat down at the table and no one said anything more. Pa’s face was shut like stone and when I looked to see what he wasn’t looking at, I saw Lucy’s eyes were swollen and her hands were on her tummy like she was protecting her insides. Then Mom saw me watching and told me to get along now and go out and play.

Normally on a Saturday I’d have to clear up breakfast and wash the dishes. Thing is, I couldn’t stop looking at my sister’s eyes, all red with crying, and Mom just shook her head and looked weary, like there was a whole lot of work to be done that she was going to have to do. “Just go,” Mom said without looking at me and I went.

I walked down to the lake and kicked my shoes off and felt the sand pressing up between my toes. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, else I’d have at least kept my shoes and maybe taken some bread from the house or something, but once I started walking I just kept on going, like I had somewhere to go to. The leaves started rustling as the wind picked up and I could smell a storm coming on but I just kept walking, singing one of Gran’s folky songs about a young girl with the second sight. Gran used to say I had the sight, that I could see what was going to happen. I don’t know that hoping or dreading something is going to happen is the same as foretelling it. Mom said it was just an over-active imagination and Gran should stop filling my head with nonsense. But Gran kept telling me her stories right until she passed and that was why I recognized what the banshee was, when I saw her.

The sky had gone dark and the rain was starting to fall and I was getting cold. I’d been following the water so I wasn’t lost although I knew I was a long way from home. That’s when I saw her, she looked not that much older than me and had red hair like me and my sister and like Mom had too when she was younger. She was kneeling at the edge of the lake, underneath a big old willow tree, dipping some clothes into the stagnant water and wringing them out and crying. I felt all shivery as I remembered what Gran told me, about the long-haired banshees at the rivers of the old country. They are ladies that died when they were making babies and now they are crying forever because they are dead and the babies too. Gran told me they just stayed there at the water’s edge, washing their bloody clothes and keening. My toes dug into the mud as I stood there before the willows, scared to move in case she came after me. She kept sobbing and moaning but then the lightning flashed again and when the thunder rolled she turned around. The rain started gushing down and I felt it running cold down the back of  my neck when she looked straight at me. That’s when I saw Lucy’s eyes, bright red and swollen with tears, staring right back at me out of that cold white face.

The smell of sour milk filled my nostrils as I turned and ran away from the lake. I don’t suppose I’d have said yes if you’d asked me if I was running away from home. I just kept running.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is a German-American living in Spain who writes about things she sees in a room which isn’t there.

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