Imagine being all of five and living a world away from Ireland when you have an encounter with the Banshee.
Imagine being told by your Grandfather that it was pointless to tell anyone, since in the United States no one respected the old ways or recognized them anymore.
I remember it clearly.
My Aunt was suffering from breast cancer, a young thirty-nine, with my Mom, who was a nurse, caring for her. My Grandfather, their father, was living with us at the time. For some reason he and I were at our house when Mom and Dad were at my Aunt’s. I suspect it’s because nobody expected my aunt to die so suddenly.
The other kids were out in the street playing ball in the hot summer sun, but Grandpa and I were together in the shadowy house. I don’t know what I was doing. Drawing, I think, on the chipped and scarred coffee table that had been roundly abused by the seven kids in the house.
It was really quiet. I do remember that, and my Grandpa was sitting in my dad’s comfortable chair doing a crossword puzzle in the daily paper. We’d been listening to the shrill voices of siblings and neighborhood kids all morning, but it seemed that they’d moved farther down the street, because I remember a hushed kind of silence.
Suddenly I heard a sound I still can’t describe; a keening, yes, but the most beautiful, hair-lifting cry I think I’ll ever hear.
Outside, up, as if it hovered high over the front porch.
I looked up.
My Grandpa froze where he sat.
Slowly he set down his newspaper and rose, pausing, as if by dragging his feet he could prevent the inevitable.
Then he walked to the front window and pulled the curtains aside.
The keening came again, like a high wind or one of the old ladies who showed up at the family funerals, except indescribably more beautiful and haunting.
I sat where I was, suddenly unsure what to do. My Grandpa knew. He looked out, looked up, as if something hovered in the bright white sky.
“She’s gone,” he said, and there were tears in his voice.
Quietly he let the curtains fall back into place, and for a while just stood there, his head down.
“What was that, Grandpa?” I asked.
He shook his head, never looking for me.
“It was the Banshee.”
He walked back to his chair and sat down.
He picked the paper up that he’d carefully folded to exhibit the crossword puzzle, but he didn’t look at it. He just held it.
I looked out toward where the voice had come from. I knew what banshees were. I’d just seen ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ not long before, and the Banshee in the movie was a terrifying swirl of flowing black robes and hair. Her voice, though, had been terrifying.
This hadn’t terrified me. Even so, I didn’t have to courage to get up and walk to the window to look out. I just went back to coloring.
Just then my Mom called. My Aunt had just died. My Mother didn’t seem surprised that my Grandpa already knew.
I never asked my Mother about what I heard. I didn’t tell anybody until only about ten years ago when I finally discovered the Irish part of our family who had been able to stay in Ireland.
“Of course,” my cousin said when I told her. “The Banshee follows our clan.”
I’ve never heard her again.
Eileen – United States.