It was a lazy, sultry Saturday afternoon, and Aoife was restless. The stifling heat had her hiding indoors in air-conditioned comfort, and she’d made the mistake of digging out a family photo album her mother insisted she bring with her to her new home.
It was a book full of memories, and there, on the first page, was her father. Young, healthy, and vigorous, he grinned broadly up at her from the page, frozen in time as he bounced a four-year-old Aoife on his knee. Remorse rose up like a thick pall of smoke to choke her. She hadn’t been there, she hadn’t asked after him, she hadn’t stayed by his side or even known of his illness as he suffered and lay dying of cancer…
She abandoned the album in favor of pacing back and forth along the axis of her little church’s nave until she felt she must be rattling around the space like a solitary coin in the alms box.
Irritated with herself beyond bearing, she stomped up to her loft bedroom, savagely stripped out of her clothes, and yanked on a pair of white track pants and a white tank top. She swept back downstairs and outside, determined to outrun… something. Anything. It was better than standing still and being eaten alive by her memories.
She took off at a brisk jog, heading out towards the shore where she could run along the sand. The specter of her shame ran with her, so she ran faster, and faster yet again. It wasn’t until her legs began to register their displeasure that she slowed and glanced around her. She’d run far, two miles or more from home, and the sky over the ocean was purple, heavy with rain.
The wind began to blow faster, and with a twinge of worry, Aoife set off for home and safety. The ocean was angry, rumbling and frothing before the approaching storm. She increased her pace, hoping that she’d beat the weather in, but she was scarcely halfway back when the sky rent asunder, and the world turned to water around her.
The storm was ferocious, a summer squall swept in off the water by capricious winds and unstable weather patterns. The deepening shadows under oppressive thunderheads vanished in blinding brilliance as lighting streaked across the sky, leaving the air charged in its wake.
Aoife gritted her teeth and ran faster, white sneakers turning to grey in the shifting wet sands. The rain plastered her clothes to her body, and the fierce winds whipped her heavy, sodden tresses into living, black snakes.
A searing gout of lightning made her stumble, and the ensuing clap of thunder nearly threw her to her knees. Aoife staggered to a halt atop the dunes and screamed her rage and despair into the very teeth of the tempest. She looked a ghostly apparition against the murky sky; but for the darkness of her hair, she might well have been mistaken for one of the fell bean sidhe of her people, beautiful and terrible in her fury and grief.
As the storm began to abate, so did the fire in her heart, and tears began to slide, unnoticed, down her face. Aoife Ní Bhraonaín stood alone upon the beach, wishing vainly that her regret would wash away with the rain.