Irish Omens & Wee Sheep

An ocean of shimmering sea grass, heather, and sheep swirl
on the reflective planes of Mom’s crystal necklace. My body
bounces on a old rickety bus that snakes under gloomy skies and
sputters over a muddy road. I hide my necklace safely beneath my
thin shirt and clutch my mom’s purse hard to my chest, knowing
the crystal necklace, purse and a small suitcase are all I own.
   “Iona Fay, you’re not in California anymore,” I say to myself.
   “Why would Mom come here?”
   Certain that Ireland holds an award for overcast days, I distract
myself from lingering too long on the fact that I’m a 14-year-old
orphan sent to live in a foreign country with my only relative. Well,
I heard the social worker call me an orphan, but I know my mom
is alive. Absently, my fingers weave strands hanging from my shirt,
mending a spot as I think about the fact that my grandma, whom
I’ve never met before, will be my keeper.
   Two days ago, I had a life in Los Angeles. I had friends. I had a
dad. I had a home. Or what was once a home until it burned down.
   I can’t help feeling guilty. I can’t believe I’m somehow responsible
for Dad dying. My throat tightens and my eyes burn. Dad…it’s not
how I wanted it. I force my eyes to close and swallow the tears. I
know Mom is out here somewhere…I have to find her.

Rain drizzles down the windows as the bus stops for the latest
sheep crossing. The sheep are like cats. They arrogantly cross the
road, regardless of cars. We’ll be here for a while.
   I scan the countryside, searching for distractions. Green moss
on stone forts reminds me of the latest colors coming down the
Paris runways. Not that fashion matters anymore. Mom used to say
that stories are what matter in Ireland. I think back to her stories
about Ireland and try to use some of her imagination.
   A black bird circles above gray stone forts covered in an army of
moss that fights forgotten wars in a lost world. A black sheep rules
over one of the stone fortresses.
   Now, Mom, she would add magic. But I don’t believe in magic.
If the world were magical, my parents would still be with me. My
eyes settle on the black sheep. I’ve never seen a black one before.
“Black sheep carry good or bad omens, they do. No one knows
if it’s good or bad until the omen is revealed,” Mom would say. I get
a creepy feeling down deep in my stomach and the crystal burns
around my neck.
   I ignore the feeling. It’s my story. I declare that the black sheep
is a good omen. The black sheep moves closer to the bus. It looks
directly at me. I wipe away the steamy window for a better look.
It’s no sheep at all. Instead, it’s a wee man wrapped in a black cloak.
And I mean, “wee.” He’s the smallest man I’ve ever seen.
  The wee man tips his hat at me. Stunned, I look around to see if
anyone else notices. No one pays attention. When I look back, he’s
   My fingers wipe my eyes, chalking up his appearance to jet lag,
stress and lack of sleep. No wonder Dad didn’t want me coming to
Ireland. It’s bizarre. I wish I were back in Los Angeles with both of
my parents. I wish that none of this ever happened. I close my eyes
and click my heels together.
   Nope, nothing. I’m stuck in real life. The bus continues rattling
down the road. I roll away from the window and curl up with
Mom’s purse as a pillow, praying for sleep. Rain musically pelts
the top of the metal roof. I nod off to sleep, unconsciously singing
Mom’s lullaby to myself:
   “…Belief in herself she will need.
   Birds of the mind, set fairies free...”
   My eyes drift off with the rhythmic song, and my last thoughts
revolve around black sheep and omens….

A Crazy Cabbie & Convoluted Car Ride

A pothole shakes the bus, waking me up. My finger traces a heart
on the frosted window. Through the heart, I see the first signs
of Dingle Bay—otherwise known as the most western point in
Europe and Mom’s hometown. It’s a hilly ocean village, forgotten
and isolated, with faded signs in Gaelic on 20th century sea-worn
buildings. Slea Head Drive, the main street, runs along the ocean,
leading up a steep, pub-lined street. Occasionally, cars drive by,
hitting the potholes, splashing the sidewalk.
   “Last stop, Dingle Bay,” the driver calls. He hoists the remaining
luggage under a dry awning outside the John Kenny Pub. Suddenly,
swirling orbs fill my vision. The cold, salty air stings my throat as I
quickly catch my breath. Travel must have made me dizzy. Then the
strangest thing happens.
   A tiny, black-cloaked man approaches the pub. Before entering,
he pauses and looks directly at me. For an instant, his eyes light up
like stars.
   My eyes do a double take. He laughs. I’ve seen that smile before
and realize that it’s the wee man from the countryside. But that was
hours ago! It’s not logical.
   “Do you know that man?” I ask a gray-haired woman.
   “What man would that be?” she asks, looking at him.
   “The one you’re looking at.”
   “Having a bit of craic with me, you are.”
   “No, Ma’am. I don’t do drugs.”
   “Craic is a laugh,” she says. “If he’s there, then I’m a cow. Eyes
play tricks, even on a wean like you.” She stares a moment at the
wee man before shaking her head and leaving.
  He smiles eerily at me and walks into the pub…literally.
Straight. Through. The door…I must be losing my mind.
   Girls without makeup talk in Gaelic and distract me. I couldn’t
look more different. I gather my designer luggage, which screams, 
“Foreigner. Traveler. Non-Local.”
   In my hand is a scrap of paper with a location scratched on it:
“Fay Cottage, Dingle Bay, Ireland.” There is no address or phone
number. Both sides of the paper are equally unhelpful. I wonder
how to get to Grandma’s house. The attorney who handled my
arrangements must have the information. I open my phone, and it
reads “No Service.” Of course.
   Nearby is an ancient looking phone booth. Its faded tomato red
walls stand out against the dismal, gray-blue town.
  In the phone booth, my reflection stuns me: hair drips in my face,
mascara stains my cheeks, and I look like a drowning golden
retriever. I brush the hair out of my face and shove quarters into the
   The quarters shoot out the bottom. The operator says,“Please 
deposit one euro.”
   “For real?” I had walked through customs in a daze and missed
exchanging currency. I sort through Mom’s purse. “Do you take
U.S. money or credit cards?” I ask.
   “Please deposit one euro.”
   “I get it. One euro,” I say.
   It hits me. I’m all alone. I have no idea where I’m going. And I
look like an escapee from the local kennel.
   I look over at the strange pub where I saw the wee man enter.
That man gives me the creeps. But I’m not sure where else to go. A
blackbird sitting on the pub’s sign eyes me suspiciously. I take a step
toward the pub.
   My foot touches the ground as a car tire sprays a wall of water
on my body.
   “Cab? Of course, you do,” a teenage male’s voice says, not
waiting for my response. His warm hand grabs my arm, shoving me
into a car.
   “You don’t want to go in there, you don’t,” says the teenage
   “I don’t?”
   “Naw, you don’t.” I get another dousing of water as the teenager
shakes his tousled, blonde hair. He careens the car down the street
as I brush water off. He looks in the rearview mirror past me to the
pub. His face relaxes, but his foot hits the accelerator.
   “Thank you, I think,” I say, still bewildered. “I haven’t told you
where I’m going yet.” He doesn’t answer. “Where are we going?”
   “Where are we going, she asks,” he says to himself, laughing.
   “Excuse me, this could be kidnapping.”
   “Kidnapping? Funny, we call it saving your arse.”
   “My ‘arse’ doesn’t need saving.”
   “On that I disagree.”
   “I’m getting out.”
   “Don’t bother. I’m Flynn. Grand to meet you,” he says, grinning.
   He has a bad habit of looking at me too long and not watching the
road. His face shows that he’s a mischievous teen with curious eyes,
a pointy chin, lips that curl into a permanent laugh, and blonde hair
as shocked to be on his head as I am in his car.
   “You have to let me out. For real. No one will pay my ransom.”
   “Not worthy of a ransom,” he says, shaking his head in pity.
   “No. So don’t get any other ideas.”
   “In that case, you’d better take this.” He hands me my paper with
   “Fay Cottage” written on it. Relief rushes over me. He’s not psycho,
just odd. I smile.
   “Hair pin,” I say loudly, pointing at an upcoming turn.
   “I was born on these roads,” he says, barely giving the road a
glance. He takes the turn as if it were nothing.
   “Is someone after you?”
   “Not today. But you never know when one will be. Is someone
after you?” he asks.
   “Why would anyone be after me? I’m a teenager.”
   “…From Los Angeles.”
   “Are you now?”
   “I really, really am…”
   Instead of looking at the road, his eyes catch mine in the
rearview mirror several seconds too long. I blush. My eyes go wide
as we quickly approach a white image in the road. “Sheep!” I yell.
With precision timing, he barely misses the sheep and driving off
the cliff. The force causes my body to slam into the car door. My
face plasters the window, allowing me to take in the crashing sea on
the rocky coast 100 feet below.
  “Let me out here,” I say.
  “All the same, there are no other cabs. I’m the only one.”
  “Just point me in the right direction. I’ll walk the rest of the
  “Nonsense. We’re almost there. Twenty minutes for this drive
usually, but I’ll get you there in 10, I will,” he says, making a turn
that could set the wheels on fire.
  Moments later, I spot a stack of rocks in the distance. The closer
we get, the more I realize that the large pile of rocks is a
shack. Flynn sees it and accelerates, causing the car to catch air and
slam into the grass next to the dilapidated home.
  Moss and gunk have solidified between the stones, which make
up the walls of the shelter. I want to wash my hands just looking
at it. A thatch roof and smoking chimney tell me the worst of it.
We’ve arrived. “She’s a pre-famine cottage, she is. Those stones and
chimney smoke could tell a secret or two.”
  The stones and chimney look so old; it’s amazing they can do
  “Eight minutes. A new record,” he says, proud of his
accomplishment. I check my vital organs and exhale, relieved that
each one survived.
  “No payment necessary,” he says, full of himself. “Beat my
record, I did,” he says, smiling. I hit him in the head with Mom’s
  “You may have been bottle fed beer as a baby, but that doesn’t
mean you have to drive like it!”
  “Is that Yank for ‘Thanks’?”
  Begrudgingly, I hand him payment in U.S. currency. “I’ll take
that as a yes. Home Sweet Home,” he says, smirking as if he had
delivered me to the Four Seasons Hotel.
  I mumble “home” under my breath. Is he for real? How could
anyone call a “pre-famine cottage” home?
  “You know, I didn’t get your name,” he says, politely.
  “That’s because I didn’t give it,” I say.
  “Well, I’ll need it if I’m to use it next time I see you,” he says,
getting out my suitcase.
  “What makes you think there’ll be a next time?” I ask, sure that
he’s the last person I’d want to see again.
  “You think not?” he asks.
  “Without a doubt.”
  A bright blue front door greets me. I’m finally here. I stare at a
painted wooden sign that reads, “Fay Cottage.” My fist slowly rises
to knock, knowing that within moments I’ll meet my grandma.