Rose smooths her housedress then takes a bowl of eggs out of the larder. The hens are getting old, and a fortnight ago, they stopped laying entirely. Still, she hasn’t the heart to turn them into stew. She goes out the back door to the coop, to plant a half-dozen shop eggs in the nesting boxes. She can’t get enough of the way wee Kerry lights up every time she finds an egg.
Rose has never let on how lonely she’s been since Seamus was taken, but she lives for Anne and Kerry’s visits. She pictures the joy in Kerry’s face as she runs to meet Rose on the stoop. The little girl’s warm brown eyes seem to hold a small, secret glow in them. Just like Rose’s sister Noreen’s had, God rest her soul, Noreen, who had died when her daughter Anne was hardly out of nappies.
An auntie is every bit as good as a granny, thinks Rose, for hasn’t Anne always been like a daughter to Rose, and Kerry a granddaughter? No wonder she indulges Kerry shamelessly. Last time Anne and Kerry came to visit, Kerry had grabbed the egg basket and trotted to the coop. When she’d found the nests empty, you’d have thought the little girl’s heart had broken in two.
She’d dropped the basket and run to the cottage, straight into Rose’s arms. “There aren’t any eggs,” she sobbed. “Is something wrong with the birdies?”
“No need to fuss, love,” Rose said, patting Kerry’s back.
Anne looked on anxiously. “The hens aren’t feeling well?”
“The birdies are sick?” Kerry cried even harder. “What if they never ever make eggs again?” Her little body shook with the force of her weeping.
“Now darling…” Anne began, sounding helpless.
Rose sat in a kitchen chair, pulling Kerry onto her lap, cuddling her close. “You remember my ring, don’t you?” Rose slipped off the silver ring she wore on her left hand. “The one your Uncle Seamus gave me when we married?”
Kerry’s sobs died away. With a careful finger, she touched the ring, tracing the two tiny silver hands holding a heart, then the crown above them. “It’s beautiful.”
“Well,” Rose went on, “It’s called a claddagh ring, but it’s really magic.”
“Magic?” Kerry breathed.
“That’s it.” Rose slid the ring onto Kerry’s finger. “When you wear it, even if it’s only for a minute, the ring makes your sadness disappear, and you’ll feel all bright and happy again. Is it working?”
Kerry gazed at the ring reverently. “Yes,” she said. “I don’t want to cry now.”
Rose took the girl’s small hand, the one wearing the ring, and kissed it. “Now, can you give the ring back to Auntie Rose and go play with your mammy’s old dollies?”
Kerry slowly slipped off the ring, placed it Rose’s palm. “Can I go see the baby cows instead?”
Rose laughed. “Of course you may.” She slid the ring back on her own finger and reluctantly helped Kerry clamber off her lap. As the child went outside, Anne said, “I do worry about her—the least little thing makes her sad, and she’ll cry herself near sick, sometimes.” Rose went to Anne, and stroked her hair. Anne went on, “Tom’ll say, ‘she’ll be all right, just let her cry,’ but I can’t.”
“She’s a sensitive little soul, isn’t she?” Rose said. “Just like your mammy was. Kerry will always wear her heart on your sleeve, but truly, Anne, it’s a gift. To love so deeply…”
Rose knows it’s the same way for her—how will she ever let go, when Kerry is so like…Rose feels a sharp pain under her rib cage, and her shoulders droop for a moment. Then she resolutely straightens. Anne and her daughter will be here any minute. Rose sets her freshly make jam cake onto one of her precious china plates, and gets out the teacups.
Sure, she’s running out of time, but she’ll make the most of what’s left.