HOW TO MEASURE THE LONELINESS OF A TIDAL ISLAND
First remove your shoes and socks then step from east to west across the island’s only road, counting as you go. Salute the farmer in the small red Massy Ferguson. If he waves back (which he will) you can subtract a quarter of a mile of loneliness. If he stops to chat, on his way to feed his cattle, ask him if he’s a permanent resident on the island. If nobody lives there permanently any more, multiply the number in your head by ten, then add that to the number of cuts you got on the soles of your feet. That’s the diameter of the island’s loneliness, specifically the east-west kind. Next you must do the rounds, that is: walk in the footsteps of pilgrims around the perimeter of the island’s holy places—the church, the well, the cemetery—saying the rosary. However many sorrowful decades you get said, that’s the circumference of the island’s loneliness. At the ancient cemetery fill your pockets with any bones that have come up out of the sand. Think about how many visiting children have slipped bones like these into their pockets over the years, mistaking them for the bones of animals and therefore: treasure. Cup your hands around a bundle of finger and toe bones. Hold your hands up to your ear and shake them. That rattle, mingled with the sound of children playing, is the exact frequency of the island’s loneliness. Make a large pile of some bigger bones, femurs and tibias are good or, if you’re lucky, skulls. Now dig a hole and bury yourself under them. Feel how heavy they are. Imagine how many bones have ever been buried here. That’s the weight of all the loneliness the island has inherited; not to mention all the tiny lonelinesses of the shells of cockle and periwinkle, razor-clam and limpet to the power of the time it has taken to grind them into a fine sand. That’s the purest kind of loneliness, the kind that breaks down in the interest of making whole. Lastly, lie down with the island when it gets dark and monitor how many times a night the island turns over in its sleep and mumbles the word: uninhabited. This is the threshold of the island’s loneliness. When you’re done, walk across the strand at low tide to Sweeney’s Pub in Claddaghduff where you can put on your shoes and socks. There may be loneliness there too but you won’t notice because you’ll be drinking a pint of Guinness and eating a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Somebody may even be playing a guitar and singing a familiar folk song. Don’t bother trying to measure anything on your way there, like whether the strand between Omey and the mainland is more or less lonely when the tide is in or out. Nobody has ever been able to measure that.