The Keening

Maggie. Miles.

Coming, Da.

What’s the delay? The Vicar’s set to turn up at half ten, for Lord’s sake.

It’ll be just a minute, Da.

It’ll be now, Margaret Elizabeth. I want the pair of you down here this instant.

Sorry, Da.

Must you make such a racket on the stair? 


Where’s Miles?

He won’t come down.


He says he can’t look at Mam laid out.

Miles Emmet Dolan, get down here or I’m coming up.

I can’t look at her either, Da.

Maggie, what’re you saying? That’s your Mam in there.

No, Da, it’s not. I mean, yeah it’s her, but it’s not somehow. She looks faked.

Mr. Shanagher did a fine job of work on her. She’s the spit. And in her white gown and rosary.

She’s not there, Da. 


She looks like a pretender from the Hall of Wax.

Christ on his throne. Think what your Mam would say knowing her own flesh and blood can’t look at her laid out. 


Can’t even say a proper goodbye to her.

Da, don’t … ohh …

Ah, Maggie. Pet, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Maggie. Come ’ere child. I’m sorry. 

Poor Mam.

I know. I’m sorry, love. Don’t blubber on your Sunday, it’ll leave salt stains. There, there, Magpie, it’s okay.

I’m sorry, Da.

You’ve nothing to be sorry for.

You have to talk to Miles, Da.

I will, right now.

No, Da. You have to explain it to him. He’s just a wee lad, Da. You have to explain that it’s not his fault.


He left his arithmetic turn-in on the breakfast table the day of. He’s been afraid to tell you. He’s sick about it, worse than sick about it. Mam, she ran after us with the turn-in and gave him a scolding. That’s why she was on the road that day. And her giving him a scolding as her last.

Ah, b’jeez. All right, look, I need you to wait by the door for the Vicar, in case he turns up early. Can you do that? 

Yes, Da.

And I’ll go up.

Don’t be cross with him, Da.

Of course not, why would I be cross? 

I don’t know. I’m sorry, Da.

Okay. Wait for the Vicar, and stop saying “I’m sorry” all the time.

I’m sor––okay, Da.

Miles? I’m coming up. 

Don’t come up, Da.

It’s okay, Miles, you’re not in trouble. I just want to talk. 

Don’t, Da. Please––


Miles. Son. Put the pillow down from your face. It’s okay. It’s okay, Miles. There’s the good boy. Sit here next to me. Come on, sit. There. Now look––

It was me, Da––


I didn’t mean to leave it. Honest I didn’t. Mam set it out so I’d not miss it, but I did, and now there’s no one can forgive me.


She can’t forgive me, Da. She can’t never forgive me––

Miles, listen––okay, okay––let it out. It’s okay, son, let it all come out of you. Let it all go. I’m right here, boy-o, strong as the oak. Let it go. That’s the way, that’s the way. Take my kerchief. That’s it. Let it out. 

I’m sorry, Da.


I’m so sorry.

God forgives you, Miles. 


He does, son. 


And I forgive you. And your Mam forgives you most of all.

No, Da.

Shhh … I’m going to tell you something, Miles, and I want you to listen to me. Are you listening?

Yes, Da.

No man can pierce the veil. You see? No man can know what makes a thing happen and another not. We don’t decide the fates, son. That’s left to the Almighty in the heavens above.

But she was only out because a me, Da.

No. No, she wasn’t. And you have to forget thinking on it that way. If I’ve learnt one thing in my life, it’s that. You have to forget thinking on it that way, you have to forget it.

I want to forget it, but all I’m doing is remembering.

Miles, look at me. Wipe your nose. Good. Now look at me. Your Mam, she came home after bringing you the turn-in. She put her scarf and coat on and went to the market; she stopped to McGill’s to buy a shank for our supper. You see? She was going out either way. No matter how you put it together, she was going to McGill’s that day. She was doing what she always did. She was thinking of us, putting us foremost in her thoughts, foremost in her heart. Same as she was doing with your turn-in. Even if she was cross with you in her last, she was thinking of you, son, because she loved you, she loved you, Miles. She loved you bigger than the world ‘round. And I love you, Miles. And Maggie loves you too.

She was so close to being home, Da.

I know. 

Yes, Da.

Okay then. Keep the kerchief eh? I’ll get another, and then I’m going down. It’s past half ten. That Vicar’ll be late for his own, I swear it. Take all the time you need, Miles. Sort yourself out. When you hear your Aunt Paulette start the keening, come down. Come down and take my hand. Then you and me and Maggie, we’ll open the window for Mam, and we’ll go to her, together, and say our goodbyes. How’s that?

Okay, Da. Thanks.

You’re a good boy, Miles.



Yes, Da?

Go into the kitchen with me. Mark me now; I need you to do something for me, a secret mission of sorts. 


Take this, go to McGill’s and get a shank. Go out the pantry door, and be sure to dodge the Vicar. When you get back, come in through the pantry. Then I want you to hide that shank under the cabbage in the icebox. And here’s the mark, you must never speak of this to anyone. Not me, not your brother, not your friends, not anyone. Ever. Can you do that for me?

Sure, Da, but why?

Sometimes the truth needs a boost. Now swear it.

I swear.

So long as you live?

So long as I live.

Good. Now go, and hurry back. And let no one see you with the shank, save Mister McGill. And let no one see you tucking it away once you’re home. Understood?

Yes, Da.

Quick like a bunny now, there’s the girl.

Okay, Da.


Ah, Mam. We made us quite a pair didn’t we? We certainly made us quite a pair. 

Scott McClelland is a Pushcart Prize nominated author. He is not comfortable in any home that has no pickles.