Those Vast Grey Skies
I come from a tiny wee place called Elphin. Elphin is a small town in County Roscommon in Northern Ireland. It is the quietest place I have ever been, the only sounds come from the singing birds and the train that passes through 12 times a day. Sometimes the wind will rustle the leaves and cause a commotion among the trees, and cause the stray petals of the Easter Lilies to waltz and ballet along the streets, dancing to the silent music that inhabits this part of Europe. The people don’t talk here, either. They walk along the streets in silence, their feet barely making a tap on the walk which they trod. Their thoughts are whispers, and their greetings are hushed by the gentle harmony of Roscommon; the quietest place on Earth.
I don’t so much mind the silence, I think to myself, as I watch the empty railway tracks before me. I lean against the large trunk of a tall oak tree, my cheeks are red from the chilly air, and my nose is soft and numb. My hair billowing lightly in the gentle breeze is a messy, tangled heap of dark chocolate curls, my eyes icy blue just as silent snow beginning to fall around me. The gloves on my hands help only a wee bit to add heat to my frozen fingers, and my dark blue scarf, tied securely around my neck, helps just as much as my mittens to keep me warm. The dark brown trench coat I wear is soft and warm on my skin, and my Navy blue dress is layered 3 times to conquer the nippy air of fall.
I thrust my hands in my pockets as a gust of wind sweeps over the dark green landscape, and listen to the Oak shudder above me. This tree I sit upon is tall and beautiful. Nor I have seen, or will ever see a tree taller than this very one. The trunk is very wide in diameter, and is tall in length. The leaves were just beginning to fall off the many branches, still bright and dark green. I stared up at it. For years I have come to this very spot, for years I have leant against this very tree and listened to this very song that billows around me. And for years I have dreamt of climbing this tree, branch by solid branch, to the very peak, and I thought, maybe, if I could do that, I might be just able to see all of Elphin, County Roscommon, and perhaps Ireland. I sighed as I thought this. Tis’ was only a dream. The first branch didn’t emerge until at least 12 feet up, and the trunk was much too wide to climb alone. I could only imagine the sight I would see as I look up at it from the gusty ground.
I hear a train whistle in the distance. The Poppy Train Station is a mile or so down the way, and this train has just left the station. This Poppy Railway opens at seven, as this is when the first train leaves station. The school house begins session soon after the first whistle of the train blows, which is why I take up my book quickly and begin to stride past through the thin layer of snow on the plains, and through the thick layer of sticks and stones covering the small forest floor, headed towards my school house in the East. Trodding, I made an unhealthy amount of noise for the deaf Roscommon, and began to hear the school bell chime in the distance. One chime with a minute indention meant schools in, two chimes meant school was in session, and three chimes signified that you were late.
I arrived just before the 4th chime of the first bell. I wiped the wettened snow off my boots before I entered the small building. The school house is very small; it is merely a small cottage with one window and one door. It is all one big room in which I walk, 14 desks in orderly rows of four in the first three, and two desks in the last row. Of these fourteen desks, only 13 are filled. The first three rows will soon be crowded with students, I think as I make my way to the very last row. The 4th row is the row in which I am seated. I am the last in the line-up, alone in the last row. However this doesn’t bother me so much. I have spent most of my life alone. My mother works 12 hours a day at a near-by Mill, and still struggles to keep food on the table. It would be easier if my father was still here, but he passed away when I was seven.
I hear two loud chimes of the bell ring from above me. Mrs. Laraway sat up from her desk and headed to close the door.
I peered down at my desk. Oh how I missed my father. How I missed his laughter, and his sparkling eyes, and that warm smile that could heat up any cold day. I missed his scent of dust and rubble from working in the mines as well as his sense of humor. With out him here, Elphin was just cold and bleak, never had I seen the sun shine all day since the day he died. My hands clenched into fists. I didn’t so much mind the darkness, the grey skies. I didn’t mind the rain and winds. The sights of these things were very calming to me, like a blanket is to a child; comforting and secure.
I heard the sound of a chair slide out next to me. I looked up curiously. A boy was setting down his bag and removing his coat, hanging it on the hooks to the right. I didn’t recognize this boy as he sat down in the only single desk beside me. Which is rather strange, because Elphin is such a wee place that every one knows every one else. He had very dark brown hair, almost black that was messy atop his head, and his eyes were a deep mud brown. his skin was as pale as mine, and he wore a white button-up shirt and brown slacks. Who was this boy? Was he new? Or was he simply one of the other boys in the class that simply moved seats?
I couldn’t help but stare at him. He didn’t see me for a long while but as Mrs. Laraway began to call role, he suddenly felt my stare on him. He looked at me with a look of curiosity and discomfort, but my shyness, caused me to look away just as quickly as I received his glance.
His eyes pierced me like a sword, like lightning from heaven, an arrow from Cupid. It made my heart quiver and chills my chest and made me shiver. But not out of fright or out of coldness, something else. I felt my cheeks go hot and red as I cocked my head awkwardly to the left to avoid his angelic stare. It was strange that he looked at me. No one ever saw me. I was invisible; just that ghost that sits in the back of the room. As though I were transparent, I felt as if this boy looked right through me.
If only I could talk to him, I think to myself as I turn my head to the front of the room observing as Mrs. Laraway continued to call role. I sigh and stare down at my desk, attempting to peer through my tangled curls and maybe, see him. But my hair was too dark and too thick.
“Essebelle Wynn?” I hear my name emerge from the silence of my mind and pop up awkwardly. It takes me a second to reclaim reality, and realize it is my name on the role-call list.
“Present,” I say in a choked tone. Quiet and high-pitched my voice is. I am shy and have not had much experience talking.
“And…Daniel York?” I hear a loud contagion of ruffling clothing and scooting chairs as the 3 rows ahead of us turn to look at the boy that sits beside me. I am uncomfortable with the many stares that are too close to me for comfort, so I allow my hair to cover my eyes and my head to rest on my right palm, and my left knuckles to rest under my chin.
“Here,” His voice is sweet and lovely. Not too deep not to soft, the tone is perfection.
As the sounds of moving seats and talkative children cease, I allow my arms to drop to the desk again, and I brush my hair back with my hand instinctively. As Mrs. Laraway begins teaching, I attempt to listen, but am still distracted by the boy—Daniel is his name. Daniel York; his name is so strange and foreign to me.
I wish inexplicably that maybe he might talk to me, but I know that he will not. Nobody does; perhaps tis’ because I do not talk to them. The teacher’s voice is muffled, and the words are scattered, I cannot hear very well from back here. So I look down at my desk and play with my fingers. I do this for a while and then I hear a voice from beside me.
“Essebelle?” It is a soft, velvet voice. Sweet as honey.
I look up, surprised and turn my head to the boy. He looks at me with chocolate eyes that I long to stare into forever.
“Yes?” I answer in a choked whisper, my voice shy and cowardly.
“That is your name, isn’t it?” He asks me.
I nod slowly. His accent is a mixture of British and Irish.
I wish he would talk to me some more, but by nature, I turn away nervously.
I can only think about the fool I am as Mrs. Laraway continues her lesson. I look back at Daniel repeatedly during the class, he stares out the window.
He does not listen, he does not take notes, he simply stares out the one glass window beside him in the room. I myself did not understand what he saw outside. A bleak sky endless and grey, a dying landscape of bitter cold. He stares out this window for the rest of class, and when the bell chimes, I stand up hesitantly and leave. Thinking how stupid I’d been and what a fool I was to turn away from him. As I walk many steps down the cobblestone pathway I hear running steps from behind me and a familiar voice, “Essebelle!” It’s Daniel. My heart leaps with glee as he comes up beside me.
“Hello,” He says casually as he stops mid-stride to walk with me.
I smile friendlily, as if to say ‘hello’ back.
“You don’t talk very often, do you?” He asks me.
I feel I should say something but am overcome by shyness, and only look at him.
He laughs. “Where are you headed?”
“Home,” I choke out.
I notice now that he is the only one talking, all the other students exiting the school are quiet and simple. “Then I guess you’d best be going then.” He says rather sadly.
I nod with a smile, and after a silent good-bye we depart.
My home is a small house half the size of the school. As I walk in, I do not expect to see any one, I haven’t laid eyes on my mother in days. Her days at the Mill are getting longer. I hang my coat on a hook and begin to make myself supper, thinking the whole time about Daniel, the angel-faced boy.
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