SEOLH: A Selkie Story – Part 13


Of Selkies:
” [Selkie men] often made havoc among thoughtless girls, and sometimes intruded into the sanctity of married life.”

W. Traill Dennison


Painting ‘March Wave Breaking’ by Maggi Hambling

Part One

Part Twelve

Did I feel guilt?

Perhaps so, at first. Just a little. For I danced with you within our ocean of words, as often as I could, immersing myself in our love – and yet Matthew still lay beside me every night, his snores rattling the bedstead. Thunderous. Matthew with his clumsy and reluctant caresses, his quick and passionless lovemaking. Matthew with his same routine, shuddering so the whole bed shook before turning his back upon me. Barely there at all. Leaving me empty, staring up at the ceiling with silent tears filling the space where his arms should have been. Aching. Matthew who could not – would not – tell me that he loved me, though I longed for both love and affection. Matthew with his solid concrete dam walls, built to keep everything in. To control. A defence. Matthew with his distance that had grown like a chasm between us. Awful and insurmountable. So that the heat of our bed grew cold. Ice-crusted. The ice crept into my heart and there it took hold. Frigid and fragile and brittle. So what we had once been, Matthew and I, fractured into a million pieces.

Did I feel guilt?

Perhaps so but it was a small and insignificant feeling. Sickly. It soon gave way to exoneration. After all, why should I feel guilt? I was never inconstant to Matthew. Not in body. Not once. Never! And I’d given and given and given to him until I was empty. And he was willing to take and take and take until there was nothing left. And after all, Matthew’s wife was a fictitious creature, wasn’t she. Entirely fabricated. Make-believe. She was forged from the many uncomfortable years she had spent pretending to be like everyone else. She was constructed from the jagged and fragmented pieces she thought she was suppoed to be; made up of others’ expectations. Built upon the shaky foundation that she must fit into a skin that was not hers. She was an imposter, trapped by her own mask. Matthew’s wife was a mortal woman who walked upon two graceless feet, tripping upon them as if they were not her own. Matthew’s wife was a land-creature who had a gently ageing face in place of a gleaming pelt, whiskers and snout. A woman worn-and-weary from existing within a cold and loveless marriage. Matthew’s wife did not know that the salt that fell from her eyes came bleeding through from the ocean that coarsed through her veins.

Matthew’s wife did not really exist. She was not me.

Did I feel doubt? Perhaps so, for a while. For how can love grow from such strange and stark beginnings? From neat letters typed into a text-box. From black text marked on a bright screen? How can love grow without touch? It’s an organic thing, surely, that requires spoken words and embraces and companionship to nourish it, or else it withers. It dies. How could love grow from such a distance? For lands and oceans rose up between us and circumstances did not allow us to do more than type to one another. The pulse of our love at first no more that soft tapping of keys. Tip-tap, tip-tap-tip-tap. I could not hold your face in my hands and gaze into the depths of your eyes, nor taste those written words on the surface of your lips. Kissing them from you. I could not feel the surge of you breaking within me as I clung to you, gasping your name. Though I longed for it.

We both did.

Did you feel those things too – guilt and doubt? Yes, I know that you struggled and grappled with the immensity of it all. Our love. You had your own guilt, which you carried heavily upon your own back, for there was a mortal woman who loved you too at the time. A beautiful faceless young thing. And you loved her back then, as I had once loved Matthew. Your love an earthly thing, oh, how I envied her that! You carried that weight a long time and it would cause the rising and falling of your moods. Moon-pulled.

And your doubts were like mine, for how could we believe that the stories we wrote together, woven only with words, could ignite something so immense that it left us breathless? How could we believe that the hours we spent together, fully immersed within one another’s minds, could be something so real? So profound. I know that you did not always believe me, at first when said that I felt you out there, beyond the words. When I felt you calling to me. Beckoning. When I felt the strength of your aching. But with the turn of the sun, years passed by and love only grew stronger. So we learned to accept it, you and I. And we came to cherish our words and our stories and the soft tip-tap of keys. And we came to hold our moments dear, each one treasured. Revered.

But as those years rolled onto the shores of our lives, so too did the pull grow stronger. The magic so strong that it wove into all we were made of. It pressed thickly into our hearts and upon our loins. And I could not doubt it. Not after such a time. For it was not a fleeting thing, our strange and unconventional love. Not born of a quick thrill of excitement and flirtation that soon dulled and faded away. Our love was a constant, like the stars in the skies. Our correspondence a regular joy. Our clandestine and wordy trysts growing ever more enchanting. Even as those years rolled ever onward.

Time marks two things: waxing and waning. From new to full and then back to black. For the young, time marks life in a state of growth and change. Getting fuller. But as we grow older it marks descent. A life in decline. As years inhale and exhale the slow breath of time decorates a child with an adult’s form and so it was with my own water-babies. My little loves. They grew and matured and put away their child-like ways. Chubby limbs sprung forward like sprigs upon boughs in the spring, lengthening and strengthening to long capable bodies. As they aged, they moved away from me as their lifeline. Their breath. My heart ached and yet I encouraged them as they swam away from me, up-up-up! Rising to the surface. Breaking from the safety of my waters in their adolescent years in order to escape my deep, subaquatic world – their eyes blinking into the bright sun. Their wings unfurling as the water trickled from their backs. Seabirds lifting further up-up-up as the sky sang to them and as their own worlds called them away.


As for me? I stayed a creature of the water. Each day my reflection changed in imperceptible ways. A soft creasing around my eyes and my lips; the skin there ruckling softly. The ghost of laughter written in folds upon my skin, even when my face was still. The lines pleating as they became more defined, more advanced. A crease between by brows where cares settled. Where worries crept. A hollow forming upon each cheek to steal the bloom of youth. A vague shadow bruising the flesh beneath my eyes. A silvering gleam to my hair when the sun rose high.


Yet there was you. Somewhere in my life there was always you! Sometimes you disappeared for months. I’d not hear from you, though I waited and waited, wringing my hands as my eyes skimmed the horizon of technology for signs of your presence there. Some years you were entirely silent. But you were always there, a ripple beneath the surface of my life. Darkly gliding somewhere close, ready to resurface. Yes, you always came back to me.

So I put my guilt and my doubt aside, for what good would they have done us? I put them aside and allowed it all to unfurl, just as it must. Let fate do its work! Let the gods do their best or their worst. I allowed our love to burgeon beneath our typed tide of words.

And what of Matthew?

He left me, and who can blame him? For our distance was far too great and his dam walls were far too sturdy. I was relieved and he seethed. He left me and resented me with a burning bitterness because he kept me out but wanted me close. He demanded love from me but could not give it. Matthew slipped from me as those crabs had done long ago upon Polperro’s harbour wall, brandishing their claws at me in defiance. He left like the boy with tangled lashes and stumbling words who had shuddered in a field and then was gone. And I wept, though I knew it was right. I was free of him! Matthew with his low, furrowed brow and his still, stagnant waters held in with a dam. Matthew with his paddling feet and his shallow beach-combing, giving nothing to life for fear it would take too much from him. Offering nothing and getting nothing in return. And I grieved. Not for the man who had left me but for everything lost. The lost hopes I had held so dear. For the years I’d wasted. For the shallow and depthless love I’d never been offered. For the dreams that had been torn up into fragments. For the future I had imagined. I walked the world in a daze, tear stained and grief-sore. And I grew thinner and my ruddy hair became streaked, dusted with a frosting of silver. New, deeper lines furrowed my brow. And my friends rallied around me and Bessie hugged me close, offering comforting words; none of them knowing of my secret love. None of them knowing of you. And I drew my children close to me, though they had grown taller so I could no longer fold them in close to my belly or tuck them in under my chin. They now enfolded me in their arms. My little loves.

And things shifted once more. Bringing me ever closer to you.