On Sunday morning a dog and its owner discovered watermelons washing up on the small drift of sand at the edge of the harbour. Children were gathered, who in turn gathered the watermelons into one of the fishing boats left up on its trailer. In turns they dragged the boat up to the village and laid the fruit out in neat rows on the green.
Thirty-four melons were counted, one for every house on the island. Most of us had never seen a watermelon, much less tasted one, and scarcely believed the travellers who described a bright red flesh under its skin.
Families sent a runner to collect their prize, while the children organised delivery to those further out the road, who wouldn’t have heard yet about the salvage. By afternoon we’d each retreated to kitchen tables, where the strongest will took a knife and sliced awkwardly into the fruit’s unknown heart. The flesh was still cold from the seawater. Hens ate the rind, and children collected the black seeds and planted them, hopelessly, in the yards’ sunniest quarters.
On Monday morning we watched thirty-four pigs swim purposefully around the neck of the harbour and up to the beach. There they collapsed on the shore like seals, panting and trying to lap at the pools of seawater collected on the hard sand. With some effort we herded them up the rise to Mahon’s field, where he’d a trough with enough spring water left to quench them.
The few fishermen not already away took boats and went out of the harbour to search for more pigs, or men, or anything. Nothing was found.
Once the drove of pigs were up in the village, families arrived to claim them. It was the adults who came this time; farmers or wives of fishermen, and those who arrived first chose first. Those with no space in the kitchen or no love of muckers made deals with the farmers, swapping their pig for half of his meat or a promise of next year’s crops.
On Tuesday nothing washed up but the body of an old sailor. He wore only a pair of waxed trousers and a selection of seaman’s tattoos. We had Egan’s youngest take his pencils and draw a likeness of the dead man’s bloated features and the ink on his arms. Later that evening we buried the body above in the graveyard, and the king made a speech and thanked God that there wasn’t thirty-four of them.