ONCE UPON A TIME
The word selkie is a diminutive form of the Scots word for seal selch, which means “grey seal”. This in turn derives from seolh, the Anglo-Saxon term for a seal. According to many of the ballads, selkies may periodically emerge from the water to interact with humans,
but they do not form lasting relationships, returning to the sea after a brief period.
Image by Pascal Campion
All stories have a true beginning. A place where we recognise that something extraordinary is about to happen. A hero taking a first, nervous step upon their quest. All stories have a defining moment that will be marked as the start. And this was to be ours.
Who would have thought it could start in such odd times? The years had been the strangest I had known in my lifetime. Outside the four walls of home there was an invisible threat that kept us all within. Caged in our own lives. Our houses were both safe-havens and prisons cells into which we were constantly detained. We grew rooted to the spot. In isolation. Day-in, day-out, one week ran into the next like raindrops upon a pane during a storm. We could only watch through our windows as the entire world descended into a surreal but systematic chaos. Plague. Disease. Infestation. What old words they seem. Unhygenic words. Dirty and unsanitary. Words that conjure up visions of boils and sores. Of rats and vermin. Coughing and wheezing. Words to which clings a stench; a scent that hangs in the air like death, thick and cloying; that cleaves to the flesh and the breath of the dying. Putrid. These old fashioned words that only seemed relevant to bygone years were replaced to make them more palatable. Pandemic. Transmission. Virus. The grotesque words we learned about as children in fascinated awe were replaced to make them feel safer and disinfected. Put with a catchy phrase to help us to remember to wash our hands. To wear masks. To sanitize. Neat names for a modern time. But package it as they tried, it was all inclusive. Pandemic. This imperceptible threat cared not for who you were nor where you lived. It was relentless and unyielding. Deadly.
The Pandemic years. They felt so far away from the heady, youthful days in Cornwall. So distant from the ocean waves. During these years our worlds narrowed into a slither. A small slice of life shared through the eyes of a screen. The globe contracted into a flat, rectangular window and we would gaze at it, our noses pressed up close, hungry to see what was going on outside our diminished bubbles of reality. I remember how normal it became during those years to rely on digital photographs and typed text. The Pandemic years. Gone was our real connection to others. Gone were the conversation of friends and colleagues. Gone our ability eat, drink and be merry together. The Pandemic years. We lost touch…and lost touch. Loved ones were reduced to nothing more than moving pictures and disembodied voices. New relationships were forged through the medium of image and words, their rhythm a synthetic tic-tac-tic-tac-tic-tac of fingers on touchscreen keys. And we lived like that for some time; our ability to reach out and touch others stolen from us. Some of us drew a thinly masked breath of relief and peeled off our tight, ill fitted skin for a time, giving our flippers a stretch and our whiskers a space to twitch-twitch-twitch. And we learned to adapt to new ways. Different ways. Technological ways.
I remember smiling to myself, wryly as I read the perfunctory greeting. Shaking my head at the dots upon the screen that suggested you were typing more. A soundless word belonging to a faceless man. Stark, upright text typed neatly onto a glowing screen by unseen fingers. Fingers I would one day know intimately. Fingers that would one day cause me to gasp, to arch my back, to sigh out a name. Your name. Fingers that would one day seek me out, in my darkest and sweetest places. But for now they were nothing to me but tools to scribe your words. Innocuous words. Plain and functional. Yes, your first words to me were not spoken but typed.
A word without a voice. And for years to come I would not hear it, your voice. We kept ourselves distant from one another, it was the safest thing to do. All for the best. Instead I merely read all that you wrote to me in a voice that I had given you. A voice in my head. I laughed with you. I wept. But the subtle nuances of mood and of emotions that seeped from a typeface, all so precious to me, were all read in my very own voice. The one you spoke in my mind.
A gateway. A portal. It opened up with the appearance of two small letters and if I dared to enter? Then worlds would be revealed to me and a love so deep and so precious that I would never be the same again. For I had found you.
I have since thought of that day and your first words typed upon a screen. What was I doing in the morning before your words lit up my world? What was I wearing? How odd that I don’t remember when I have such clear memories of other times much further away. And I think of how mundane the day would have felt, at the time. Nothing to mark how important it was. When I sat up in bed, muzzy-headed and yawning was there anything different? When I slid open my curtains, bright summer sunshine filtering in, making me blink, and squint, watery eyed – did the birds settle in the trees and bushes and trill to me of the importance of the day? When I scuffled and shuffled downstairs, bumbling and bleary-eyed to make my first tea of the day, was the kettle singing a fanfare to alert me? Was it written in tea-leaves at the bottom of my mug? When I slung dirty laundry in the machine was there any clue in the way the cloth fell – an omen of things to come? If so, I was blissfully ignorant of the signs gifted to me by the cosmos. You would enter my life with all its banality and stir your magic into it. A delicious concoction that I became addicted to. Wanted more of. Needed with every ounce of my being.
But I could not yet have known this as I lazily pulled the knots out of my hair with a brush, nor as I pushed the splayed bristles of a toothbrush over my night-yellowed teeth, nor still as I made my children’s breakfast and cleared up their mess. The mundanity of my day prevailed until:
At that moment as my eyes swept over the two letters I had no inkling that this day would change me. Profoundly. How could I have known as the second hand slid to the very moment that you arrived with your simple typed greeting, that this was my true beginning? That the years of hiding in a skin that didn’t belong to me would be gone. That my first love had come back to me. I could not have known that this word, this moment was…
Once upon a time.