It's been three weeks now, and she still sits on that same soaking rock every day, right next to where dad was found. I can see her out of the window, her bare feet dangling in the waves as they slash around her ankles like they're trying to take her as well. I'm awfully wary every time she sits there, just in case something happens. So far, nothing has. As I look down into the dishwater, I see a reflection that shouldn't be there. I should be where Dad is, beside him, dead with remains of the Iolaire. When I look around the town, I see wives, mothers, sisters, all lost yet not alone. But here I am, alone, trying to cope with Mae. But I know our stay here is almost over. I glance at the small brown envelope that Tom gave me this morning. Now, somehow, I have to make things even worse for Mae, and tell her about our situation.
Drying my hands, I place two bowls on the table and a plate of warmed rolls in the centre. Mae slops into the house through the back door, soaked by the sudden downpour. Her shoes squelch as she plods through the kitchen and around me, to our bedroom to peel off her soaked clothes and change into her nightclothes I lay out for her. When she returns, her her is soaked but she is otherwise dry. She slips into the seat nearest the fire and looks at the rolls, then rolls her eyes at me.
“Well, we don't exactly have a lot of money, so I can't help it, can I? You're only 8, so you have no idea what it's like to actually work, do you?” I feel bad after snapping at her because her head's now hanging and her eyes are tearing up.
“Sorry, Mae, but now Dad's gone it's getting a lot harder to look after us.”
“I know! But you're not going to give me away, are you? Please don't!”
“Now, why on Earth would I give my little sister away? You silly wee girl, I would never do that!” I walk over with the pot of soup and ladle some into her bowl, kissing her forehead. She's cold, sad and alone. Her small hands are thin and frail and her tiny frame shivers despite being next to the fire. I sit down with my own bowl and we eat for a minute or so in awkward silence.
“John?” her tiny voice says. It's so quiet I almost never heard it. I look up and raise my eyebrows.
“We're not going to live on the mainland, are we?”
She's seen it. The letter. How do I explain this!
“Mae....we might have to, might!” Her face drops. Her eyes turn to stone. Her skin is now totally pale as she glares at me with a look that could burn holes in your head.
“John,” she says in the same way Dad would break bad news, “I. Am. Not. Moving!” She slams her tiny clenched fists next to her bowl, then flips it off of the table and it smashed on the ground. She storms through the hot soup, burning her feet doing so, but manages to hide it well as she runs through to the living room, screaming.
I push myself back from the table and try to catch her on her way out, but she's too quick for me. I start a chase-game with her, but she wriggles away from me each time. She screams and slams her fists against the walls. Finally I wrap my huge arms around her, like a bear enveloping a fish. Her anger is the same as Mum's, but she is relentless. Her spirit is the same as Dad's. When I have her pinned on the couch, I see in her eyes and hear in her wails that she is more like Dad than Mum. It's like Dad's spirit is in her, like all of those days by the sea were spent gathering pieces of him rather than shells and heart-shaped stones she collects in Mum's old hat box. She cries but doesn't struggle. She's limp, she's lost. The girl she always was around Dad is gone. Since he's been gone, her spirit, her happiness, has been drained. I hold her small body close, her shivers run through me as well. Her eyes are half-closed due to tiredness; she hasn't slept more than three hours a night since Dad died. As I release her, she drops softly onto the couch asleep. This amount of fighting in the space of three minutes is far too much for both of us. I kneel beside her on the stone floor for a few seconds, then get up to go and clean the kitchen.
The soup is still warm on the floor. The bowl is shattered all over the kitchen; the contact had sent shard flying onto the counters. Slowly, I pick up the pieces and put them in my own bowl which is cracked. I prick my fingers a few times, but it's nothing compared to the emotional pain. When I stand up I look in the mirror. The face I see staring back look so much like my father's, but too young. The build is similar to his, maybe a bit broader. I am him. I will take his place. But I will not lose Mae through this. I've decided my fate. I'm becoming a Naval Marine.