Some stories of selkies from Shetland contain the theme of the beautiful selkies luring lovelorn islanders into the sea at midsummer, the humans never again returning to dry land or their island homes.
How long did it take me to recognise you, or you I? How long before I saw those flippers hidden behind the typeface?
You once told me it only took you a few weeks to recognise me for who I was; perhaps no more than six. I don’t know if that’s true, for I have often wondered if it was less than weeks. Less than days, even. Perhaps seconds? Perhaps even a fraction of that? I have pondered if our recognition occurred in the pause between an inhaled and exhaled breath. Did we percieve the reality of one another in the infinitesimal space between one thud of one heartbeat and the next? In the time it took for me to lift up my hand and tap my own perfunctory response to you, could I already feel the magic surge within my fingertips? Were my hidden whiskers twitching, already so familiar with what they sensed? Did the tides within me rise?
I like to think so.
But I am looking back now with eyes that have the benefit of hindsight. Seers eyes. You see, I’m time-blessed. For with old age the Gods gift us with the power of hindsight. As our human-vision grows dim and hazy, so the wisdom of our retrospect becomes greater. Paying one off for the other. So in my winter years and with my crone’s eyes, I am able to look back at this moment with a certain clairvoyance that did not belong to me at the time. Hag-favoured. Looking back in my mind’s eye to that moment, so very long ago, I am aware that I observe that day – that very instant that is captured in just two typed letters – knowing what the future will hold for us, and so my perspective is perhaps happily distorted.
And I also admit that the time of our first encounter has been squashed and squeezed. Pressed and packed into a concentrated treasure. For me, the heaviness of time and the warmth and heat of love has done to our first interactions as the earth does to carbon atoms. Our first words, our first typed conversations, the first things we shared with one another are all condensed into a neat little package within my memory. And the years that rolled on-on-onward with nothing but continued correspondence between us are all compressed. The plague years now seem to have disappeared, dissolving in no more than the blink-of-an-eye. Years spent indoors, trapped within the four walls seem insignificnt now. Time does that. It removes long, empty spaces where one simply exists in the humdrum of day-to-day living. It smooths hard edges, softening the enormity of wars, floods, famines and plagues, as running water carves and polishes the most stubborn rocks. It can transform long, drawn out years into a series of acute memories, which can be stacked neatly away in the mind. Memories that can to be taken out years later, re-lived and then placed carefully back again.
So I remember those long, long years as nothing more than a diamond necklace of intensely felt memories, the beads of which are strung together, slipping and dripping one-by-precious-one into the depths of our past.
I cannot remember what we wrote to one another, not anymore. There were messages sent to-and-fro, to-and-fro, to-and-fro that are now lost in the sea-fog of tumbling years. Rhythmic quips in real time forward and backward, backward and forward almost like a real converstion. Like the turn of the tide as the moon rises and falls. Messages sent in the modern way. Emails; some merely short notes and others full of narrative. Lover’s messages poured out from the soul. Read with greedy eyes, as if we were parched, needing to be quenched. Read with bated breath. With hope. I remember the synthetic sound I heard when I receieved a message. My heart’s little thump-skitter, thump-skitter in the hope it was from you. I only wish that I could have kept every word we had written. Kept as lovers did in bygone years wrapped up with a red ribbon and secreted away in a box to be taken out and read at poignant moments or when my heart felt as if it would crack open and bleed like the ocean, for missing you. Much later there were hand-written letters too, secret things that came in envelopes with a foreign postmark. Opened with trembling fingers. Paper pressed upon my lips. Devouring with my eyes the sweeping curve of your handwriting, tracing words time and again with my fingertips until each formation became intimate and familiar. Of course I kept those letters you wrote to me. I have read and re-read them all so many times with bitter-sweet retrospection.
And there are dates, too, I remember some of those. For they marked a change for us over those plague-years. A shift in circumstance. Transitions. A new chapter of our separate lives, lived so distantly from one another. The rip-tide of your life’s events pulling you one way, leading you further from me as another caught me in its grip and sent me hurtling in the opposite direction. Sometimes it felt as if perhaps…just perhaps… we would catch one another. Surely life would be kind. Why would the Gods send you to me if I was not supposed to be with you? Were they really so cruel as to play such games?
But mostly those years are condensed down for me now into something potent. Something pure and undiluted. Raw. Something that started with a mundane Hi… but soon grew and burgeoned into something immense.
So there must have been something in that very first moment, mustn’t there? As I lifted my fingers and typed back to you. We must have felt the magic from the very start. For why else did I find myself compelled as I did? Why did those interactions cause me to free-fall in a way I couldn’t understand? In a way that made me fearful. Elated. Emblazoned. And why was there such a pull between us? Like planets pulled into the gravitational field of the same sun, you and I. Orbiting. A waltz of the stars reflected onto the glinting wave-crests. And why was it that my heart leapt when I saw your name appear upon my screen?
I can only think it is because I knew instantly. I’d found you at last! My selkie-boy. And I recognised who you were.
And still how much longer was it before I allowed you to see my true skin? How long did it take to reveal the stories that slipped under my bones, pulsating and beating deep beneath my sealskin coat?
That took longer, perhaps, for we had a dance, you and I. To begin with. Intense and stormy at times, for we are both children of the deep, dark waters. There was a push and a pull to it, our dance. You upon one shore and I upon another, so that the body of water between us rose and then fell, ebbed and then waned. Undulated. So too did our interactions at first. Your moods rose high and then dipped low, confusing me. Mine felt so huge they would engulf me and you were afraid you may drown in them! I was so afraid that you would reject me for being something else. Seal-touched. Star-lit. I was so afraid you would go; my faceless, voiceless lover. More than once we tried to give up. To surrender and withdraw. Exhausted and breathless and almost depleted with the effort. How easy that sounded. To stop. To let go and let the tide carry us back to the shore.
And yet we never could. For the pull was too great and the magic too strong and that is the way of it, when exploring the depths. And that is what we were doing, you and I. Exploring. Deep sea-diving. Becoming intimate with the cerebral landscapes that were hidden from sight.
Some – like Matthew – are content with the soft treasures carried upon the wave’s fingers and placed softly upon the shores edge. These gifts are purified. Cleaned and transformed so when the sea hands them up to the sands, their origins are forgotten. Some people like it better that way. They want the pretty sun-bleached shells, empty of the creatures that had once inhabited them. Skeletons and ghosts. They seek out the tumble-polished sea-glass with no edges, which had once been sharp and jagged. And before that a vessel – a bottle perhaps, or a jar? And before even that the sea-bed. From sand made, and to sand returned. Some people, they love the bone-like driftwood, so softly smoothed by the waves that their brave, sap-blooded trees with mighty branches and deep-reaching roots are forgotten. Yes, some prefer the spewed up contents of the ocean regurgitated like the gulls do food for their chicks. Partly digested and palatable. People who like it that way never crave the stories beneath.
Not us! We sought out the deep, dark stories that are hidden. The ocean keeps these tales close to its heart and does not reveal them to just anyone. No! For only those who are worthy will find them. Only those who truly wish to dive down-down-down will be rewarded. And it is not always pretty. Not always kind. For where there are glorious high-swells, there are also white-spitting, furious crashes. Where there are treasure chests laden with gold, there are also stripped-back, lifeless bones. There are biting black rocks that wrenched them from their ship and vicious arms of water that drew them down to the sea-bed. Where there are darting silver fish, there too are strangling kelps and predators that will chase them down. Devour them. There are always dangers alongside the rich abundance. So to become intimate with the depths is not for the faint of heart but I can tell you this truth – a Selkie-heart cannot resist the challenge for they are not creatures of the shallows.
And we never were, you and I. We were never creatures of the shallows and nor were we ever faint hearted. Not once.
So we had a choice. Keep our words safe. Distant. Polite. Pretend that we had not felt the electrifying bolt that had caught us both unawares or … or let the magic flow through us and carry us away upon its currents. Yes, we had a choice.
But if the Gods have fashioned two souls of the same fabric – flipper tail and whisker – in the end who were we mere mortals to tear such divine stuff asunder?