August 5, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Selkie, by Phoebe Cramer


Perhaps the roar of the waves
would make her feel close to him...
Editor's Note: Is it really "love" if it is based in a jealous act? This update of a selkie tale, set in modern times, is a poignant reflection on trust and that unexplainable pain known as love...
It was a summer night, and a woman walked by the ocean. Her shoes were in her hands, her feet sinking, step by step, into the cool, damp sand. The horizon was a maroon-ish bruise. The air was hot, the breeze cool. The waves sang the same sad lullabies that had helped her drift off as a girl growing up on the coast, but the woman couldn’t sleep, hadn’t slept in weeks. She felt like a dating profile clich√©, taking long walks on the beach night after night through July and now half of August. It had been almost two months since her husband left her.

When they first met, he was a seal. She couldn’t tell any of her friends this story.

When they first met, he was a seal and she was a passenger on the boat of a man she met on Tinder. Her future husband was sunning himself on an island of stone; she was sunning herself in a folding chair on deck, breathing in the scent of salt, the scent of sunscreen. Her Tinder date was at the wheel, circumnavigating the rocks.

“Look, seals!” the woman said.

The Tinder date grunted his response.

He was a very tall man, but they would never have really been compatible.

The storm hit out of nowhere. Blue skies grey in the blink of an eye. Thunder. Lightning. Raindrops so hard they felt like needles hitting skin. The ship capsized. The Tinder date drowned. The woman was saved from the roiling water by the nose of a seal, headbutting her to solid ground.

With stinging eyes and blurring vision, she watched as the man stepped out from his sealskin, approached her as a human to check her pulse, listen to her breathing.

At their wedding, there was no best man to embarrass them with the story of their meeting in his toast, no maid of honor to tease the woman about how she’d needed saving. There was just this: the two of them at city hall. She in a sundress, he in a thrift store suit.

In the year that they stayed married, they were happy, weren’t they? They were happy, the woman thought.

But there were nights when her husband would leave her in their bed. Disappear to off somewhere. There were more and more nights like that as spring came again, and the world burst into a thousand greens and yellows.

One such night, she followed him. That jealousy-thing that she’d always meant to work on but never had overcame her and she could take not knowing no longer. She saw him walk down to the beach, slip into his sealskin, and swim out, out, out into the waves until she could not see him anymore. She waited, crouched in the dune grass, for him to return. Two in the morning, three in the morning, four. When he finally returned to shore and transformed into a human, he hung his sealskin to dry over the bench of a picnic table, and wandered off to walk along the beach until the dawn.

The woman did something stupid then.

That jealousy-thing.

She crept up to the table, grabbed the skin, put it in her bag. She returned to their home and hid it in the rarely-used oven (neither of them were much for cooking) before climbing back into bed, pretending she had slept the whole night through.

She told herself she’d done it to keep their marriage together, to keep her husband close to her and the two of them intact.

All that May she watched her husband spiral into sadness, wander through their house like a wayward soul, directionless. She asked him what was wrong as though she didn’t already know. She prayed that it was something else, that his drawn face and worn-down demeanor were the fault of something other than her own actions.

Their anniversary came in June. Her husband put on a brave smile. He loved her. He trusted her. He had no reason not to.

While she went out to fetch him flowers, he stayed home to bake her cake. He sifted flour, whisked eggs, preheated the oven.

It took mere minutes for the fishy smell to fill their kitchen. It smelled like death, like dying. He opened the oven and found within: his own flesh, his own skin. Understanding hit him fast as a summer storm.

When the woman came home, bouquet in hand, her husband was already gone, the oven door left gaping like a mouth mid-cry.

The woman took to walking the beach at night, perhaps in hope that she would see him again, perhaps in hope that the roar of the waves would make her feel close to him once more. June. July. August. Each night she wondered, if she threw herself into the sea, whether he would come once more to save her. She was either too cowardly or too intelligent to try.

Then in mid-August, dawn approaching quickly, painting the world in grey-ish pink, she found a sealskin drying on a stone. She couldn’t be sure if it was her husband’s. She had never learned how to differentiate seals, but she picked it up between her fingers, felt the rubber slime of it against her human hands.

She thought of taking it, and so capturing herself a brand-new spouse.

She thought of putting it down. Walking away. Closure.

Instead, she brought the flippers to her feet and pulled it on.

Phoebe Cramer is a queer writer and performer based out of Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, Obra/Artifact, NonBinary Review among others. She is part of the acquisitions team for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and a volunteer bookseller at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. Occasionally, she hangs out on Twitter @PHOEBELCRAMER

Cover: Amanda Bergloff


HulderMN said...

"When the woman came home, bouquet in hand, her husband was already gone, the oven door left gaping like a mouth mid-cry." A very powerful image.

I like to think she was a selkie looking for own skin, all along.
Lovely story!

Unknown said...

I didn’t expect that ending! I loved it.