Rabbit Island by Robert Barrett

The lobster boat pitched and slapped in the chop as they drove hard out of harbour, and westward, beneath the blackened, limestone cliffs. Here and there, two or three shags stood together, on ledges high in the rock; and higher still, puffs of green and yellowish grass appeared.

The lobsterman shouted from the door of the wheel-house, over the noise of the engine, ‘There’s a few dozen Spaniards buried above on those cliffsArmada men… swam ashore from wrecks.’ He kept one hand on the boat-wheel and had a broken-handled mug of tea in the other. The tea slopped over his fingers as he leaned back. Kelly nodded to show that he’d heard. He was trying to keep his own balance on the slippery deck. The priest sat at the stern on an upturned fishbox, pulling his coat around himself and keeping his head down against sea-sickness; rosary beads held tightly in his fist.

The locals hunted them down and crushed their skulls like turnips,’ the Lobster man shouted, ‘for a few English schillings.’ He let go of the wheel and kicked out at a gull who was swooping down on deck, spilling more tea as he did so. The body lay tight against the lobster pots, on the other side of the boat. It was zipped into a heavy canvas bag with tractor batteries tied at the end, for weights.

The wind picked up near Rabbit island and a thin rain came in, wetting their faces. The lobsterman cut the engine close to the rocks. Seals floated towards them in the greyish water, their oily necks bobbing, their black eyes watching. ‘I’ll go no further out than this,’ the lobsterman said, flicking the dregs of his mug over the side. Kelly looked to the priest as he climbed stiffly off the fish box.

It was bad luck not to bring a woman with us,’ the priest snapped.

Sure, isn’t she a woman, the lobsterman laughed, flicking his foot towards the canvas bag.’ The priest lifted his eyes angrily and then stumbled on the pitching boat before he could say anything.

‘Anyway, my boat, my bad luck,’ the lobsterman jeered, jabbing his thumb towards his own chest, like a petulant child. The priest muttered something about respect. He took a leather missal from his pocket and began preparing himself as the lobsterman set out a fold-up fillet table. He brought it level with gunwale.

It was only when he and Kelly lifted the body onto it, that the alluminium legs folded under the weight and the batteries slipped over the side, ripping the wet body bag from their grips. They spoke no words on the way back. When the boat was moored, Kelly counted three hundred euro into the lobsterman’s hand.

It was a month and a day later when the priest came to Kelly’s front door. Kelly thought he’d heard what happened to the lobsterman, but the priest spoke in a whisper. ‘She’s back,’ he said. 

Robert Barrett lives in Wicklow, Ireland, where he writes flash fiction, plays, and short stories. He has won first place in the RTE PJ O’Connor Awards in 2017 and 2020 and his work has been published in the Fish Anthology, The Incubator, and on RTE Radio 1, amongst other places. He is a co-editor of Splonk

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