Katrine and Walter
By sean mcnulty
Her phrasing reminded him of home, but there were inflections in the accent that indicated she was not Irish. And why would she be? She had perfected English and fooled Stinson into thinking there were no other languages out there apart from that; more the fool he who could not shake off provincial biases.
‘Are you Faroese?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she answered. ‘Danish. Him too.’ She shot an eye at the seemingly paralyzed older man sitting at the other end of her mother’s coffin. ‘He’s my stepfather.’
‘Well, I am so sorry for your loss. For both of your losses. Do you mind if I sit?’
There was a flutter of chestnut hair which seemed to show consent from her. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked, as he sat on the seat in front of their table.
‘I’m Fathe----call me Stinson. Aidan Stinson. From Ireland.’
‘Ah, Ireland. I met an Irishman before. He was also a priest as it turns out. There seems to be a lot of you. How many exactly?’
‘Approximately five-thousand – but I’d have to double-check that with a colleague.’
The young woman gasped and reached for the glass of gin in front of her.
‘What’s your name?’ Stinson asked.
‘It’s very nice to meet you, Katrine.’
‘And you. Are you not drinking, Stinson?’
‘Yes.’ He turned to the bar and saw a fairly liberated Masterson taking the opportunity to share some of his most tasteless jokes, much of it through gesture, with Dagny and the barflies; they simply stared at him bemused, capable of understanding only the universal indignities. ‘My drink is up there. I’ll get it in a minute. Do you mind, Katrine, if I ask how your mother passed?’
‘It was a disease of the heart,’ she replied. ‘The blood stopped flowing.’
‘The poor woman. Well, now she is with her .....‘ Stinson stopped, he had been about to use the word ‘maker’ but then thought this traditional reference to a prime mover might be met with distrust; but he quickly found another word and continued ‘----she is with her elders now.’
‘No,’ said Katrine. ‘In fact, that’s why we are here now. We are trying to bring her back to her kin.’
‘Oh, she was Faroese?’
‘No.’ Katrine paused for a moment, and took another drink. ‘No, my mother was born far off in the north, somewhere in the sea of Greenland. We don’t know exactly where, it’s not on the maps. She said it was called Akkitok, and little else. But she left us a letter. She must have written it a long time ago because in it she talked of me as though I was very young at the time. And she gave instructions that her body be brought back to the island after her death. She stressed the importance of it.’
‘Oh,’ said Stinson. ‘I understand. The body should be laid to rest according to her wishes and beliefs. That is crucial. Yet the island you mention perplexes me. Why has it not been located on the map? If, as you say, she was born there in a community with a highly developed set of customs, should not the wider world know of it by now? I mean, if she was able to leave the island, and build a new life in Denmark, there must also be others from the society who migrated, and I would assume they shared information about where they came from.’
‘She didn’t share much, as I said. Apart from the letter. All we know of her origins is from whatever nuance came with her character. And how can one pinpoint such nuanced things? Everyone who knew her in life considered her as Danish as the next. I don’t know of any others from Akkitok. It could be there are some here now, for all we know – on this island – in fact, I would not be surprised. Secrecy seems to inform the culture. If my mother is anything to go by.’
‘We are also heading for Greenland, as it happens. We are missionaries.’
‘Ah, so you’re out here civilising, is that it?’ said Katrine, with a brusque tone.
‘Well – just....I like to think we are edifying. That’s mostly what we are equipped to do. We are all teachers.’
‘Can’t you teach at home? Oh wait, that’s right, they sent you away to do it, didn’t they?’
Stinson once more felt that snippy comeback he’d felt upon first introducing himself to Katrine. He had never met a more elfin and fair lady in his life. She looked almost like a little boy. Yet a cheeky boy, given the intermittent bite in her tongue. Since seeing this side to her, he had chosen to be diplomatic and shroud as much as he could the fact that he was an ordained priest. It was a communication strategy that all three priests and their superiors had discussed having to utilise in the weeks before travelling. The underplay: a way of meeting hostility with a soft hand, with the purpose of establishing conversational footholds, and not shutting down interaction. But now he decided to withdraw those defences and let it all come out. After all, they had already made the connection, Katrine and he, and they seemed to be getting along quite well. She knew he was a priest. So why try to hide it?
‘Well, the word of our Lord needs to be spread. It is a necessary course of action. It is a message so great it cannot be contained. Not by island or continent.’
‘Well, your church certainly didn’t feel it needed to contain you. Oh well, maybe there’s just too many of you in Ireland. 5000. That’s a lot of priests they have to fatten.’
They were interrupted by Katrine’s motionless stepfather who suddenly jolted as if a breath he had taken had caught him by surprise. His tortoise shell glasses bounced slightly on the bridge of his nose.
‘Is he alright?’ asked Stinson, realising he had almost forgotten about the man and his strange state of quiet time.
Katrine took another drink and said, ‘Don’t worry about him. He’s just projecting. Astrally, that is.’