Marcus Grant | Managing Editor
Declan placed the last of the carved turnips on the stairs just outside the door, watching as Aoife ran back towards him with handfuls of yarrow and thyme. She rushed past him, making haste towards the altar. It was her third year without her mother and his daughter was already an expert at assembling everything in a neat order, leaving space for a picture of her grandfather and placing a few offerings for him. In the backyard, a fire was beginning to take shape. Declan threw dried logs and bay leaves and calendula into the flames, allowing them to dance higher as the sun dipped beyond the nearly bare trees.
He went back inside, stopping in the doorway to watch as Aoife took a pan out of the cupboard. Declan put a glass bowl on the counter next to her. They moved about the kitchen gathering ingredients for the cake they were set to prepare for the night. Cinnamon wafted from the bowl as Aoife stirred the batter, giving her father a look to indicate it was ready to transfer to the pan and then into the oven.
“Hello, hello,” he heard Maeve call from the door. “I hope we aren’t too early.”
Her son, Wynn, ran up to him, wrapping his arms around his waist and bouncing as Declan moved away from the oven. “You’re right on time,” he ushered Wynn towards Aoife before hugging his sister. “How have you been?”
“We’ve been great,” she chimed. Lugh, her husband, placed the cider they brought into the fridge before holding his arms out, offering a hug as well. Declan accepted, getting a whiff of his cologne – cedar and something floral.
They gathered in the living room, beginning to light the candles as the last of daylight faded from the room. Earthy wind caked with smoke moved in from the open doors and windows. It carried the quiet song of crickets inward along with a family of moths.
Declan’s mother arrived with dinner, placing an assortment of pumpkin and apple and potato dishes around the table. In the center, she uncovered a plate of soul cakes. She made a trip to everyone there, delivering hugs and wet kisses as everyone made their way to their seats, leaving two empty: one for Declan’s wife and one for his father.
His mother started the prayer as she always did, lighting the last tall candles that sat between the plates and cast an orange glow on everyone's faces, combating the dark that had set in the night. “Tonight the barriers between our world and the spirit world are the thinnest it will be all year. Let us honor our ancestors for protecting us in this world.
“We thank you for providing us with this meal and ask that you continue to watch over us all in the coming months as winter passes.” She finished with her final line, “may our harvest fill our stomach and our hearts,” and allowed peaceful silence to settle in the room. Everyone piled their plates high and dug in, allowing the sweet taste of the meal to satiate them.
As the family wrapped up their meal and moved into the living room, Declan brought the offering dishes to the altar, mouthing his thanks to his wife and father with his head bowed. He looked into the next room at the people he loved. Aoife and Wynn were setting up a card game for everyone, taking extra care to leave two extra piles, their giddy laughter filling the space around them. His mother stood nearby, admiring one of the juniper wall hangings she had gifted him in the years prior that now hung next to the window. Maeve and Lugh looked on from their spot on the couch.
They would play late into the night, until the children had fallen asleep with their cards still in their hands. Everyone else would gather pillows and blankets and choose a spot in the living room for the night. Declan’s mother had made a bed of cushions next to the children on the ground just before the wood turned to tile, announcing the entrance to the kitchen. Maeve and Lugh had pulled out the couch and stretched out on top of it. A low snore played out from his sister as her breath slowed. Declan left out two extra large slices of cake with forks and napkins and cider on the table before climbing into his sleeping bag beside the open door. His body grew heavy as he slipped into a deep and comfortable sleep.