When my final child is born, the lights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit shine on her both day and night. She sleeps in an incubator, too weak to feed from the breast. I must suckle a large breast pump so that she may be tube-fed. I am bent over this machine, adjusting its intensity, when with a jolt, I remember the whale’s jaw impaled in the dirt near Skibbereen. How it must have begun its life with its jaw at its mother’s side, absorbing long threads of her milk. After a whale calf leaves its mother, no nudge will open this secret trapdoor again, no white ribbons will unravel into the dark to connect her to her child.
I fumble for my phone and search for Aghadown, zooming from satellite map in to Street View. Compulsively, I move up and down the roads, as though I am pacing the boreen, my slippers growing damp on the road. I search until I find the ruin of Colonel Beecher’s house. I suspect that I even find the old gate posts, where the jaw may once have been suspended.
In the still image, the ruin is surrounded by meadows. I see a herd of cattle there, frozen, their faces buried in lush summer grasses. I stare so long that I can almost imagine the sound of their jaws working the cud. I think of the milk building in their udders, milk that will never see their calves’ mouths, but will be extracted in a distant milking parlour in a symphony of hiss and gush. I think of the whale’s jawbone, somewhere nearby, unseen. I think of all the other jawbones in the earth. The lilt of music from the lios. The milk in the ocean. I turn dizzy, then faint, fingers and knees trembling. Then, I fall. I fall back. I fall back into the dark. I feel myself float, long, liquid ribbons emerging slowly from my chest, floating around my floating body, until the threads cover me, sheltering me in their pale light. I give myself to those opaque filaments, and feel myself unravelling into milk.
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