by Kay Patterson
I need to sit near the sea as often as possible. I mean that – I don’t just want it, or enjoy it, I need to be by the sea. I need its vast space, preferably when it is a stormy and wave-tossed grey, flecked with white and echoing the darkness of the sky as the rain pours onto me, and the wind whips up my hair until I can hardly see.
I always sit in the same place these days – on a rocky outcrop splashed with rockpools and dotted with seapinks. The weathered stone at one side drops off suddenly, into scarily deep water, where I prefer not to swim. I like this place, it is backed by tangled trees and brambles, sweet with honeysuckle and primroses in summer but uninviting otherwise. No one but me comes here, so I can be alone with the vastness and my memories.
The first time I chose to rest here, I was tired and needed peace, and although it may sound strange, this wild, wind-whipped place with its desolate view suited me perfectly. I had settled with reasonable comfort in a hollow between two rocks and was relaxing my aching legs with my coat slung carelessly across my shoulders – I enjoy the feel of the storm on my skin and rarely wear this awkward fur coat, a legacy from my dead parents, when it is not necessary.
Anyway, there I was, absently shredding some bladder wrack and gazing at the vague shape of an island in the foggy distance, when I heard a sound behind me. A young man, as wet as I, clad in a heavy, waxy-looking coat and hiking boots came nearer. He hesitated before he spoke.
“Sorry. I didnae realise there was someone else here. I come to watch the storms whenever I’m staying in the village.” His voice was low, with a gentle Highland accent; his hair, too long for this weather, was dripping into his eyes. He
brushed it away and gave a nervous smile. “D’ye mind if I sit with you a wee while? I won’t talk, if you don’t wish it.”
I found myself nodding, smiling at him as he settled on a rock near me, pushing his hair away again. He saw me watching.
“I know. I should tie it back. I do, usually, but my Mam hates it – says I look like a lass.” His smile was sweet, his eyes dark blue, and his lapel badge declared him to be a member of Greenpeace.
I decided to risk speaking to him, although it had been so long since I tried it.
“You live in the village?”
He shook his head. “No. I live in Glasgow now – I’m a student. But I come back here as often as I can. I love my family and this place too much to be away for long.”
“I love it here.”
We sat in silence for a while, feeling the rain running down our faces. I reached out my arms towards the sea, flexing and stretching the strong muscles that are so necessary for a swimmer. He watched – he seemed fascinated by my fingers – almost reached out to touch me, then hesitated, missed his chance.
That started him watching me instead of the sea. I tried not to notice, but this young man was unsettling as he looked at the slick wet hair down my back, my rain-soaked skin, strong legs and rather flat feet. He breathed softly before he spoke again.
“Do you often sit out in the storms with no clothes on?”
I gestured to the fur coat, which had slipped down onto the rocks behind me. He glanced at it, and shrank away. Of course, he thought it had once belonged to something else.
“It’s mine,” I said as meaningfully as I could, without going into detail. He picked it up, felt its sleek thickness, looked again at its shape. Then he dropped it, as though it had bitten him. He stared at me, eyes wide.
“Yours? You mean–” He could hardly speak, but gracefully mimed a sleek animal diving into the sea. I nodded. A strange little sound like a moan came from him.
I had to reassure him, he was so shocked, poor lad, so I wiped the rain from his eyes, slid my arms inside his coat, kissed his trembling lips. He reacted slowly, but gracefully, returned my kiss, stroked my back with a gentle hand, began, very delicately, to lick the rain and sea spray from my face.
When the storm had eventually rained itself out and the evening sun appeared, he was asleep in my arms, lying as naked as me on a bed made of our thick coats, while the rain on us dried. As the sun broke out, sending bright sparkles into the sea, his eyes opened and he smiled at me.
“Wow. A Selkie…”
“What now? I want…I want to be with you. To love you. Always.” He sat up, wincing, suddenly realising what he had said.
I pulled my fur coat out from under us, rolled it up, offered it to him.
“You take my coat, you hide it or destroy it, and I will go anywhere with you, will love you and be good to you.”
He shook his head. “No, lass. I can’t. I know the stories. I’ve heard them since I was a bairn. Eventually, you find the coat and run off back to your other family in the sea. I couldnae bear that. You need the sea more than you do me. I can’t trick you into staying.” A tear trickled down one cheek. Desolate, he pulled
on his Save the Whales T-shirt.
“But if you do not take it, I will have to go back. You will lose me. I will lose you. Please, Martin. It is not a cruel thing to want to be with someone.”
“No.” He was pulling on jeans, socks, boots, not fastening anything, careless and angry. “I can’t. I have to let you go – to be free. You have to stay in the sea.”
And he was gone, noisy, clumsy, and I was alone again with my fur. With the sea, now stunning as the sunset splashed it with pink, red and orange. It warmed my body and brought out my sisters. They were swimming some yards out, calling to me. I had no choice. I put on my sealskin and dived into the cold, deep water.
I have come back here today for the last time. All winter and half the spring, I have come here for every storm, and watched, and waited. I have not been disturbed again.
The storm is beginning to abate now. I toss my hair back over my shoulder and stand up, reaching behind me onto the rock for my other skin.
It is not there.