The Year’s Question

by Kat Beyer

It was Siobhan woke me up. The smell of honey wine on Summer’s End does it. (Whiskey works too.) To my surprise and hers, it still worked, even after so many years when no one left anything beside my notched stone.

Scared her bowels loose the first time. I got a laugh out of that.

“You’re allowed one question a year, granddaughter,” I said out of the air beside her.

When she got her breath back she said, “I’m not your granddaughter. She must be gone long ago.”

“I know that. I spoke with her for years after; she’s moved on now. I stay. And so does the customary name.”

“Well then,” she said, drawing herself up. She asked grimly, “There’s a man I want. How do I get him?”

Oh, the living.

“The answer is in the question you asked, and the way you asked it.”

“What do you mean?”

“One question a year,” I answered, and went for the honey wine and apples.

“I hate you,” she announced, and went down the hill.

She was back again the next year with a bigger plate.

“You were right,” she said sadly. “This year’s question. There’s a man who wants me. Should I have his child?”

“Certainly not.”

“You were right,” she said next year, holding the baby, a little girl with her same lively eyes and three-cornered smile. But I’d said no because she’d put no value to herself. I’m not all-wise; how was I to know that a baby would help her do that, instead of making the matter worse?

“There’s a job, overseas,” she told me ten questions later. “I want it. They want me. A good job. Will you hear me across the ocean?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “We used to stay at home, your family. Try. The baby and her father going with you?”

She smiled. “Sarah’s eleven. And his name is Ian; I’ve come to love him.”

“I’m glad.”

This year I was up early, moving things around in the grave, scaring birds off the stone, nervous. Well after dark came the scent of honey wine and flowers, candles and apples, drifting across the salt sea, and I climbed up out of my old bones for a taste of it. I heard her voice clearly, but with a sound of waves in it.

“Are you there?” She asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

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