The Coupla First Chapter

The Coupla, by Philip Casey
The Coupla. Age 9+

1. MAM

The Coupla’s father, Cormac, hardly ever took them
out on his boat, but one summer’s morning when the
twins were twelve, he said, ‘How about this, Coupla?
It’s a lovely day, so why don’t we go out on Pudda?’

They’d humoured him, because they knew he was
lonelier than ever for Mam, who had loved the sea.
They loved the sea too, though Cormac had never let
them learn to swim, even though they lived so close to
the sea that the sound of the waves pounding on the
strand was like a second pulse. All their friends could
swim like fish, but their dad was anxious when the
Coupla even paddled on the shore.

They knew why, but the older he got, the more it
bugged Danny. He was bursting to learn – it just
seemed natural to know how to swim when you lived
near the sea. Kate didn’t mind so much. Or she said she
didn’t. Anything her dad wanted was law with her.
They had always liked going out on the boat with
their father when they were younger, but now they
weren’t so sure. The truth was, when he took them out
on the boat he always talked about how happy he’d
been with Mam, and it was all just a bit much.

Once on their way, The Coupla sat on the foredeck,
their arms around their knees. The sea was calm and a
lovely blue. The mountains on the Western Shore
looked soft and beautiful and seemed to go on for ever.

Kate looked around at her father, as he steered the
boat. Jumpy, their terrier, sat inside at the window as
usual. He didn’t like the wind.

‘Do you remember much about Mam?’ Kate asked
Danny. She knew they were both thinking of her,
though they’d been very young, only three, when she’d
gone from them.

Danny wrinkled his nose and didn’t say anything for
a while. For some reason, neither of them had ever
asked Cormac what their mam had looked like.

‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘I think.’
‘She had the fairest skin, hadn’t she?’ said Kate. ‘And
long golden hair.’
‘That’s how I remember her,’ her brother mumbled.
‘Do you ever wish she was still with us?’ Kate
persisted.

Danny shrugged and looked away. He didn’t really
like to talk about his mother, but Kate insisted on
talking about her every time they went out on Pudda
with their father. The salty wind was making his eyes
water.

They were quiet then, and the only sound was the
water being split by the bow of the boat, and the pudda
pudda pudda of the engine.

Pudda, pudda, pudda,’ Danny mimicked, raising a
laugh, and glad to change the subject.
‘Good old Pudda,’ Kate said. ‘I love this boat.’

They had called it Pudda when they were small,
because of the sound it made, and the name had stuck,
just like their nickname had stuck.

‘Did Mam ever call us The Coupla?’ Kate asked her
brother.
‘I don’t remember,’ said Danny.
‘I hope she did,’ Kate said.

The wind was really annoying Danny today, and it
looked like it was bothering Kate too.

‘No,’ said Danny, as it came back to him. ‘It was Mrs
Janey who called us The Coupla. Remember? And she
only came to us after Mam – died.’

One evening Mrs Janey had been cooking dinner and
she shrieked when the twins tickled her legs with a
goose feather.
‘Oh, Coupla!’ she squealed, laughing at them. She
often used words from her other language, and
‘Coupla’ sounded like cúpla, the word for twins. The
twins were only four at the time. ‘The two of you are
rogues, so you are!’
‘Yes,’ said Kate. ‘You’re right. It was Mrs Janey.’

Then Danny noticed a change in the sound of the
engine and touched Kate’s elbow. Their father was
turning the boat out of the bay towards the open sea.

‘What’s wrong, Dad?’ Danny called, but Cormac
couldn’t hear him, so they went to the steering cabin to
talk to him.
‘What’s wrong? Where are we going?’

They had to shout to make themselves heard above
the engine, but their father still said nothing.

Cormac steered the boat relentlessly forward until
they were so far out they couldn’t see the Western
Shore behind them. Then he stopped the engine. Danny
glanced at the radar to see if he could make anything
of it, but he couldn’t. The swell of the sea was stronger
here, making Pudda roll on the waves. Cormac went
out on deck and The Coupla followed him, but Jumpy
stayed in the cabin.

‘Why are we here, Dad?’ Kate asked, worried that he
was so quiet, but he didn’t answer and just stared at
the sea. Then he took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes
shut, and went back to the cabin and started the
engine.

‘Surely he wasn’t out here with Mam?’ Danny
whispered to Kate.
‘Dad, why are we here?’ she pleaded again, following
him into the cabin.
‘This place is called Imaire,’ he said. ‘Remember that.
Your mother was here with me once.’

So this was Imaire. It was hardly a place at all, just
waves wherever you looked, far from home. They
knew their father always came here on Halloween –
which he called by its name in his other language,
Oíche Shamhna, which means November Night. He
wouldn’t let The Coupla celebrate it because that was
the night, they knew, without anyone ever telling
them, that their mother had gone from them.
The Coupla had often wondered why he went to that
lonely spot in the ocean, where the fishing fleet went
to catch cod, at Halloween. They knew he wasn’t going
to fish, because Pudda always came back empty when
he went there without the other boats.

All three of them looked at the sea in silence. There
was nothing to say. Even Jumpy came on deck and sat
still, until Cormac went back to the cabin and restarted
the engine. Kate and Danny sat on the deck again and
never said a word until they were home.

Over the summer, they went to Imaire a few more
times, if a Sunday was fine. On the third time, they
recognised it, because although the sea appears to be
the same everywhere, they could somehow guess when
they had arrived. Cormac stared at the sea again, and
The Coupla couldn’t think of anything to say, but they
knew there was something that was haunting him.
The fourth time they went to Imaire, Cormac seemed
to wake up and notice them.

‘I know you think I’m mad,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I
think I’m mad myself. You’re still a bit young to know
some strange things. But you will, very soon. Your
mother promised that you’d learn great things when
you were old enough. She promised that she would
look after her Kate and Danny.’

What was all this about? they wondered. And when
would they be ‘old enough’? They were twelve now.
That seemed more than old enough to them.

That evening The Coupla went for a walk down the
lane from their house, stopping a while to check if the
blackberries were ripe in the ditches, but it was too
soon. The ditches smelled lovely, though, and Danny
picked a bright red rose-hip, and began to open it
slowly, grinning.

‘Don’t … you …. dare,’ Kate said, backing away, wary
that he’d push the hairy seeds down her back, and
she’d itch all night long, like she had last year.
‘Only kidding,’ he said, still grinning, and threw the
rose hip away.

Kate pulled another rose hip, and pretended to open
it, and when Danny made a grab for it she screamed
with laughter and ran like the wind. She didn’t throw it
away until he finally caught up with her, the sea wind
billowing her hair.

They walked along the shore then, stopping now and
again to throw shells and flotsam back into the waves.
‘Do you remember that time in school,’ Danny
shouted over the roar of the surf, ‘when that friend of
yours told you what happened Mam?’
‘You mean Georgina Muddy Teeth Thompson? She’s
no friend of mine.’

The memory still upset Kate. ‘She thought I was the
teacher’s pet because I knew stuff.’
‘Yeah,’ said Danny. ‘I got that too.’
‘Your mother walked into the sea-ee, your mother
walked into the sea-ee.’ Kate mimicked Muddy Teeth at
the top of her voice and ran as fast as she could along
the shore.

Danny caught up with her.

‘What’s with the mad running?’ he panted. ‘Yes, I
remember, and you said, “She did not,” didn’t you? And
you said, “She went to heaven.”’
‘Yes, and Muddy Teeth laughed at me.’ Bitterly, Kate
mimicked Georgina again: ‘No, she didn’t, she went
down to the bottom of the sea-ee.’

Kate raced away along the sand again. ‘Then you
came to my rescue,’ she called back to Danny.
‘Yes,’ Danny said, catching up again and standing in
front of his twin. ‘I did.’
‘Hah!’ said Kate. ‘She was afraid of you, even then.’

And she dodged Danny and went dancing and racing
away.

He shouted after her to come back and she flew
towards him, her eyes flashing, her anger at Georgina
twisting her voice.

‘Do you remember what Muddy Teeth said? She said,
“The whole school knows she drowned herself, except
you two teacher’s pets.”’
‘Yeah,’ he said darkly. ‘That’s what she said all right.
Don’t worry, I remember.’

Kate stopped twirling and dancing and then they
walked for another while, looking at shells, kicking at
sea wrack.

They’d told Cormac what Georgina had said about
their mother walking into the sea. He had got angry
and demanded to know who had told them, but young
as they were at the time, they knew not to tell tales
from school.

As they headed home from the beach, Danny asked if
Kate remembered old Mrs Janey telling them that
heaven wasn’t in the sky, but underneath the sea.

‘Yes,’ said Kate. ‘I remember. She called it The Plain of
Happiness. Or Joy, or something. Tír na nÓg, the Land
of Everlasting Youth. Síoga and all that stuff.’

Thoughts of the Síoga gave them the shivers. The old
people sometimes called them the fairies, but these
weren’t pixies that flew around on fluttering wings.
No, these ‘fairies’ were giants, bad and dangerous to
know. They could sink ships, for example, just by
blowing the waves into a storm. That was why their
father said it was dangerous at sea on Halloween,
because that was when the Síoga came to the surface.


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