Cold Comfort, Cherry Blossom

Over Cluain Cearbán way they’d never called her by any name but Cold. Warped from when she was a babby, couldn’t get her mouth round the syllables, and then she’d been a rough lass, cut her hair short and broke her Mammy’s heart. Fought with the boys and spat blood and knocked her knees and knuckles raw, and tried for a short time to go by Cole before she gave up. Most of the time now she barely remembered the old name herself. Certainly no one else did. When tourists stopped lost in town looking for a mountain the locals nodded cheerily and said, “Sure yes: east and then south, and if you hit Cold Comfort’s farm you’ve gone too far.”

Long after that Cherry Blossom found the yellowing birth certificate, and hooted and said, “Colleen! What a name!” as if she had any room to talk, but of course by then there were no tourists anymore, and the shadow of the mountain lay heavy over them, and Cherry Blossom only found it in the first place because she was looking for corners where old ammo might have rolled. Cold looked at the paper all the same, fingered it delicately, and said, “Put it with the others.”

“We can’t do that,” Cherry Blossom said.

“Not much else can be done with it anymore,” Cold told her.

“What if we go to America after all?” Cherry Blossom said, but even as she said it she was turning and putting the birth certificate in the tidy pile of kindling. They both knew that if they ever pursued the old dream of going to America, hunting down Cherry Blossom’s old property and seeing if any of her folks were still about, they wouldn’t be getting in with birth certificates or visas or any of the old things. Cold kept her guns clean and Cherry Blossom carried delicate little knives, except for when her arthritis was acting up, when she switched to a hefty old rifle that was a bitch to aim but did the job. They knew how to get to America. They just weren’t sure they wanted to. Mountain ranges all over the world, and their own was enough to deal with. Not to mention the sea crossing. They’d heard the rumours: old volcanos resurfacing, salty peaks tipping up above the waves and strangers waiting on them.

In any case, things were calming on the west coast. Their farm stayed quiet for days, weeks, just the quiet jingle of Cold leading their ancient pony into the fields and Cherry Blossom singing low when she dug out the latrine. No more running water but their well ran deep and cold and true and once a week they took turns walking and riding until they got to the sea. No one left to worry about on the shore; sometimes wild bands of teenagers but they’d had run-ins before. Now they steered clear of Cold and Cherry Blossom. Once a girl approached when she’d broken her arm; Cold set it and strapped it up tight and sent her off while Cherry Blossom stood back with the rifle ready and aimed.

“Nice girls,” Cherry Blossom said, “but I wouldn’t trust ‘em far as I can throw ‘em.”

Cherry Blossom was quite strong. Cold eyed her and didn’t say anything.

Up the golden track of the Connemara back home. New purpling slip-traps of decay that they skirted round, younger than anything else in this landscape but old enough to be familiar. The pony wheezing enough that neither of them rode him, just walked alongside and grabbed at his nose when strange smells spooked him. “Easy, boy,” Cherry Blossom said, and Cold sized up the meat on his ribs.

When they got home Cherry Blossom marked the three girls they’d seen on the shore today in charcoal on the wall, and counted up the stick figures. That made twenty-one people in six months, she said. Cold screwed open tins of apricots and rice pudding and nodded. “Sure enough,” she said. They swapped spoons and sucked them clean, Cherry Blossom’s loose veneers tapping at the metal. Then Cold and Cherry Blossom went upstairs. Curled around each other in the little bed with the rifles tucked neatly on stacked plastic crates beside them, the old bedside tables having been burned for firewood some seven years ago. Tired from a long walk so not much need for fooling around. The tired mumbles of the farm settling down around them, timber easing into the mire, the pony’s wheezing panicked breaths as dark stole over. Cold put her fingers in Cherry Blossom’s mouth and listened, interested, to the noises Cherry Blossom made.

All night long they slept with eyes half-open and ears cocked, listening for what might come down the mountain.


Mikaella Clements is an Australian writer currently based in Berlin. Her writing has been published in Overland, VICE, BuzzFeed, Voiceworks, and more. Sometimes she makes shy jokes on Twitter @mikclements.

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