By sean mcnulty
It was mostly a faultless translation. Katrine had taken great care to deliver her mother’s words in an eloquent arrangement of English; as a result, each sentence was punctuated with a short silence while she queued up the next one, aiming to render it as close to how she felt her mother might have sounded had she been able to speak the language.
‘What did she mean by devoted mor?’ asked Stinson.
‘Mor is mother in Danish,’ replied Katrine. ‘Sorry, that one sounds similar. I forgot to translate it.’
‘Ah – an isonym,’ said Father Geissel.
‘A what?’ asked Stinson.
‘Kognat,’ advised Walter.
‘Mmm,’ Geissel nodded in agreement; and while concurring, a slice of beef sausage bounced off a fork and into his mouth. As he chewed, he commiserated: ‘My heart is with the pair of you at this time. May I ask where the body is now?’
‘In the kitchen,’ Katrine told him.
And those sausage bits came spluttering out post-haste.
It was almost noon. They had gathered in the hotel restaurant, Katrine and Walter, the priests, and Captain Littlewood, who was leaning forward on his seat with both index fingers stationed like stern pillars under his chin. He certainly looked perplexed as the letter was being dictated, but so far charmed by Katrine and her voice as she read aloud the words of her dead mother. Her stepfather, sitting beside her in a bright yellow suit and a frilly velvet shirt like an 18th Century court composer in Vienna, was a vulgar cheese to Katrine’s chalk, with lifeless eyes on him like that thresher shark the captain had tangled with off the coast of Mayo a year back, the one that nearly took his bloody arm off. Not that Walter put the fear in him like that old thresher had, but he for sure had a different effect on Littlewood than that of the stepdaughter – reminded him that he was of a rural bearing on the whole. It was a small world Littlewood occupied generally, leaving aside the stretches of land and sea he had covered in his time; this sort of outlandish individual brought out his hidebound tendencies; he didn’t usually see this type of man. All that came close were his teachers at school who were about as oddball a crowd as you were likely to see in a town like Killybegs with their dicky bows and blazers; but not even they would have dressed as flamboyantly as this fellow. He let this prejudice fan an excuse now to shoot down the mourners with some practicalities.
‘You’re asking me not only to go off-course but to stray so far from it that we may all perish as a result.’
‘Yes – but look,’ said Katrine, throwing a sly wink at Father Stinson. ‘God will preserve us.’
‘Do you even have co-ordinates? Something more precise.’
‘No, but we will find it,’ said the man in the yellow suit and a frilly velvet shirt like an 18th Century court composer in Vienna. ‘The ice will inform us when we are near. And the ice speaks with extreme transparency.’