Selkie by Frank O'Connor

The Star of Hope was dangerously low in the water when Joseph felt the tug on the net. He called for Mac to help him haul it. The wind blew capricious while the moon skittered on the breakers regardless. Joseph tasted salt in his mouth as he brought her aboard.

She looked up at him from the deck, with the wide face of a girl. Mac shouted to be heard over the wind. Selkie? He wanted to know if they should throw her back. Joseph shook his head, stood, and turned the boat for home. Later that night, in his cottage near the harbor, she slipped out of her skin, folded it carefully and handed it to him.

'Why?' he asked.

'It was you that took me in,' she answered, 'and I who chose to be taken.'

Joseph placed fresh sods on the fire and watched the smoke roll up the chimney. He carefully laid her ocean skin on top of the heat where it cracked and curled into ash.

Weeks passed and they were married. Joseph went back out to the ocean. He brought her pictures: waterfalls, sea scenes, a lighthouse enfolded by a surge of wave. She told him that she didn't need reminders, but he was certain that she was lying. He bobbed up and down in the Star of Hope, skewered between the uncertainty of the waters and the needs of dry ground.

Excuses abounded. She didn't complain.

After his last day at sea Joseph turned and ran up the harbor slip, hoping desperately that she would be

home when he got there. He found her making jewelry out of seaweed and tree bark. She looked up, surprised to see him, knowing, all at once, that things must always shift and change.

They moved to the big city and found themselves an apartment on the sixth floor of a block in a crumbling estate. They had to use the stairs because the lift was jammed between six and seven.

One day when Joseph came home from searching he found his wife staring through the window to a point on that horizon where the land runs out. She undressed and showed him her bruises, sustained from all the corners and angles that she'd stumbled into. The air was arid and false and they found it hard to sleep.

He got work in a factory and tried to keep it together by speaking less and less. Angry cars waited at traffic lights in the streets.

The weather was filled with foreboding. And so it was that one day he ran home and found her in the plastic bathtub, lifeless and still.

Her skin was pale silver. The bath as half-full.

After he buried her, Joseph took to drinking in the nearest bar. He drowned himself over and over. He told limitless strangers the same thing. How he would never forget the taste of salt in his mouth when she first chose.


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