selkies come and selkies go

great orme from moelfre 656x300

You may know the great time-crafted selkie stories. You may have heard them sat by a peat fire with old friends and whisky. You may have travelled to Orkney or Shetland to hear them told by new friends or be from one of those fine isles yourself and heard the stories since you were a peedie bairn.

But no one has heard the like of this selkie story before. It does not belong to the Northern Isles in their cold, stormy ocean but to Anglesey – a Welsh island in a warmer sea although stormy enough for that.

It is a story about a young woman from Moelfre, named Mona. So pour yourself a Penderyn, pull up a chair and I shall tell you a new selkie story.

Time had gone too long since Michael had departed – far beyond Moelfre Lifeboat Station and the wreck site of the Royal Charter, past the Isle of Man and the Mull of Galloway and up to the rich fishing grounds of the Western Isles where a terrible storm had blown the doomed trawler, with Michael among its crew, to the north and east – through the shadow of the Cuillin, just out of reach of the Summer Isles and safe harbour in Loch Broom, and on, some say, round Cape Wrath into the wild northern ocean and who knows where.

Time had gone and no boat had been sighted. No wreck had been found. No men had returned.

Mona took out Michael’s rigged dinghy – the one he had used for mackerel and herring fishing trips with friends – and sailed out into Red Wharf Bay on a northerly breeze. She passed the first golden rays of the rising sun and into the soft, grey shadow of the distant Great Orme. Once in shadow she rolled away the sail and let the boat drift.

Mona gazed over the bow of the boat and tears rolled down her cheeks onto the surface of the water. One was for Michael’s twinkling eyes and another for his tears when they lost their baby. A third fell for his lilting voice with its soft, northern accent. A fourth carried the smell of kelp from his fingers and a fifth, the taste of salt on his lips.

Mona’s sixth tear held the memory of Michael slowly massaging her shoulders and back, lifting the weight of the world from her along with her bra.

All six tears gathered on the surface for a moment, the time it takes a rope to unravel or a plank to splinter, and then they were gone – gone forever beneath the water. But a seventh tear lingered.

That seventh tear did not wish to be lost forever. Instead it summoned a great wave:
  rising and falling, falling and rising
which carried a selkie woman onto the stern of the boat.

“I didn’t cry for you!” protested Mona.
The selkie woman stepped towards her with dark, wavy hair down to her hips, and spoke with twinkling eyes, “yet I know the one for whom your tears fell and I bring you his love along with mine.”
“Come,” the selkie woman continued, “I shall row our little boat back to the land.”

The selkie woman held her precious seal skin in one hand and Mona’s trembling hand with her other. And so they walked hand in hand into Mona’s house.

Inside was an empty cot made up with sheet and blanket. Above, hanging from the low ceiling, was a mobile of fish slowly turning in the breeze. From the corner of the cot hung a bra, several sizes larger than Mona now wore.

The selkie woman carefully folded her seal skin and placed it in the cot. “I have heard your sad story,” she told Mona, “and if you do not disturb this skin of mine, you will know parenthood once more.”

Then she took Mona by both hands and danced her around the room, both feet off the ground, face to face, twinkling eyes captivating sad eyes.

And as they danced, the selkie woman sang poetic words in a strange tongue that Mona had never heard before. She learned their truth and beauty.

When they kissed, Mona tasted the sweetest honey from bees that fed on summer heather. As her clothes fell one by one she felt herself enveloped by the selkie woman’s soft skin. Her scent was like freshly buttered toast. Mona breathed in deep – her small breasts
  rising and falling, falling and rising.
This was love she had never known.

And so Mona and her selkie lover lived together for a time. Days became weeks and it still felt like a blissful union. But as weeks became months the selkie woman grew restless for the sea. She rose early each morning, when the rising sun was still behind the Great Orme, and the words to her song were changing.

Now, Michael had told Mona the selkie stories he heard as a boy in the Northern Isles. So she knew that to keep her selkie here with he, she needed to hide the seal skin. Every time she passed the cot her hands trembled with desire to take the skin. But every time she drew near and temptation grew strong, she heard the voice of a baby cry out and felt her breasts begin to swell. And so she left the selkie’s precious skin undisturbed.

One morning Mona passed the cot and saw that the skin was gone. She hurriedly got dressed and rushed down to the little boat with her shoe laces still untied and her dress still unbuttoned, flapping in a keen northerly wind.

The Great Orme cast its soft, grey shadow across Red Wharf Bay. Once there, as before, Mona rolled away the sail. Then she tied the boat to strands of kelp to stop it drifting too far.

Mona knelt down to look into the water. The surface rose gently and fell as if asleep. In the distance she saw two figures riding a wave – two seals, one female and one male. They were dancing, singing and playing among the kelp. Their strange love song echoed round the bay. Nose to nose they kissed before diving into the depths.

The female seal briefly surfaced in the sunlit water beyond the Great Orme’s shadow. She looked back at Mona with twinkling eyes.

Now, this selkie had found love and happiness both on shore and in the sea. And if Mona’s love had been selfless and pure, like no human love ever is, she would have rejoiced for her good fortune. But instead tears rolled down her cheeks.

The first tear fell for her joy at dancing with her selkie lover and the second for her delight at the selkie song. The third took away the sweet taste of her lips and the fourth, the warm scent of her skin. The fifth tear cut her long, wavy hair and the sixth dulled her twinkling eyes.

With her lover no longer in sight, a seventh tear fell onto the surface of the water.

And with that a swell suddenly took hold, lifting the little boat onto the crest of a wave and down deep into its trough:
  rising and falling, falling and rising
and the deck shuddered.

Upon the stern of the boat, untroubled by the turbulent sea, stood a large selkie man. He could have been Michael’s long-lost twin although his webbed hands had nothing of Michael’s strong yet precise fingers. Mona could not bear to look into his face to see his eyes twinkle.

She shouted at him, “I didn’t cry for you!”
“Yet here I am,” replied the selkie man in a voice that sounded flat and tuneless to Mona’s ears, “for I have known the one you must truly love, and I bring her love with me as she carries mine.”
“I have come,” he continued, “for you, my Moelfre bride.”

The heavy boned selkie man moved towards Mona. The little boat swayed with each step. She stood up to meet him. He put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her towards him. He smelt of neither kelp nor toast, his kisses tasted of neither salt nor honey.

His flipper-like hands clawed clumsily at her dress. Eventually she pulled it over her head herself. He roughly patted her shoulders and back.

He felt for her bra strap. But he could not undo the clasp. He flapped and fumbled, pushed and pulled, snagged and snarled. He shouted strange and ugly words in frustration. He stamped his big wide feet. The little boat rocked from side to side.

Mona tenderly gripped his waist and led him to the centre of the boat. There, they danced face to face, either side of the mast.

She rubbed against the wooden pole and winked at him. She kicked off her shoes and they splashed into the water. She slid her bra strap first down one arm and then down the other, and she pulled the lusty selkie man’s large webbed hands to her small, round breasts.

Then, with one quick movement, Mona fastened her bra around the selkie’s thick wrists and hands, wrapping him round the mast like a drunken sailor. And from the stern of the boat she took his seal skin. She wore it round her shoulders and leapt into the sea.

The little boat heeled over as if in a storm but did not capsize. And then it righted itself.

The selkie man gave a long cry but could not shed tears. They had all been cried out for him. He struggled and strived to free himself but the small-sized bra would not fit over his huge webbed hands. He tried to climb the mast, gripping it between his feet, but just slid back down. He tried to bite though the bra with his sharp, fish-slicing teeth but though he tore and tore at it he could not cut it.

The selkie woman heard her mate’s cries and swam to his rescue. But first she spoke to Mona, “with your cleverness and beauty you have earned your skin just this once, but when time has gone too long the sea shall have it back.”

And with that she took strands of kelp in her mouth and towed the little boat to the north.

Mona watched them go. The mast of Michael’s little boat remained in sight until it rounded Moelfre Island. Then she felt the seal skin tighten around her neck, the hood slip down and fasten over her head and face, and her body straighten beneath the sleek, streamlined skin.

And now Mona felt reborn.

She swam around the Isle of Anglesey – beyond Moelfre Lifeboat Station and the wreck site of the Royal Charter, past the disused chemical works at Amlwch and Wylfa Power Station, under great bridges and beneath castle walls.

She swam at a watchful distance from South Stack Lighthouse, mindful of the rocks there. For Mona did not want to come back to land. She did not want to stop riding the waves and chasing porposies. She did not want to lose her precious selkie skin that gave her such graceful strength and freedom.

But time went on.

Then one hot and sunny day, near a sandy beach remote from any houses, a little wave rippled towards her. And then another and another, and three more little waves rippled towards her.

But the seventh was bigger, much bigger. First it lifted her then dropped her deep, deep into its trough before raising her up again and carrying her on its crest:
  rising and falling, falling and rising
clean out of the water.

She landed on a rock, where her seal skin snagged and was taken by the surf. Time had gone too long. Now tears rolled down Mona’s cheeks again. And then the wave returned to carry her onto that sandy beach.

Waiting there was a pregnant young woman, wiping salt-water from her face. Their gazes met and two pairs of eyes saw each other’s tears twinkling in the sunlight. Mona sang a song with words that she did not understand but she knew were beautiful and true. The pregnant woman kissed her lips sweetly and breathed in the scent of her warm skin.

The two women held hands and walked into rolling dunes where the sand was hot from the midday sun and they were sheltered from the sea breeze. Their fingers danced together over each other’s bodies and they shared many kisses.

Eventually the pregnant woman became tired and lay down on the sand to sleep. Mona rested her head upon her lover’s milk filled breasts –
  rising and falling, falling and rising.

And now my selkie story ends so another can begin. I hope to tell you that too one day. Until then, farewell my friend.

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