I am interested in food I can eat, water I can drink, and stories I can tell.
I am interested in doorways and roads: leading in, leading out.
I am interested in stones, particularly the stones that mark the path we must walk tonight.
My mother has died, and her corpse lies on the table, ready for travelling. She has coins in her pockets and wheat in her shoes. The local church has no stomach for burying witches, so tonight my brothers and I will carry her, feet first, from here to St Agnes’ of Erldale, there to be interred. In preparation for the journey, I have filled my pockets with river stones. Round and smooth as pearls.
The corpse road is a spirit’s path, passing not only between our village and the churchyard, but also between this life and another, between this world and the next, though it belongs to neither. It is, like me, an in-between thing.
I take the corners of the sheet at my mother’s head and my youngest brother takes the other end. We lift her up and carry her out to the cart. I remember when she and I used to carry him like this, in a hammock of clean sheets, and swing him as he laughed. Onto the cart we heave her now, no laughter to be heard, and we’re away.
The dark washes up in our wake, like an eager tide. At each cairn I leave a stone to mark our passing. And all night, as we walk, till my throat is hoarse and the dark is so thick it lies heavy in my bones, I sing the grieving song my mother taught me, just as she said to: wild and terrible and low.