It was that time of the day when everything is luminous. There was a long dark cloud just behind the lighthouse and you were walking barefoot in the sand. The beach was not barren. A child of about two, a girl, was walking on her tip-toes at the water’s edge, dangling from her father’s hand. I could see, even from a distance, that you had entered that faraway place you imagined, somehow, that you could hide behind the loose strands of your hair. You didn’t know it then, but I didn’t need to see your eyes. Your tell was the way you held your head.
The little girl at the edge of the water made one of those shrieking noises that only toddlers can pull off as joy, and when I looked up I saw a Harbor Seal bobbing in the kelp-bed just offshore. It looked at me with eyes like two black plums. That’s when I remembered the Selkies. I tried to get your attention without alarming the seal and when you did look up at me you followed my finger to where I was pointing and at first you didn’t see it but then you did and I saw you smile. I wanted to tell you about the Selkies but you were too far away. You were looking down into the tide pools. I felt, in that moment, that I should stay in my land and let you stay in yours.
The seal’s head spun at the surface like something mechanical. And then it was gone. If it was some Protean princess I was sure she had sized me up as unworthy of the bother. It isn’t easy for them to transform. But Selkie women are legendary for making excellent wives. The Selkie men, they say, will answer the call of human women who live unsatisfying lives. To call a Selkie husband, a woman must shed seven tears into the sea. Was that what you were doing? For a moment I really did think I saw you cry. But you were laughing. You had poked your finger into the soft purple flesh of an anemone and when it closed suddenly you let out a little shriek of your own. It also came out as joy.
The little girl, the toddler, was riding on her father’s shoulders. They were looking for the seal. I could tell because he was pointing out at the water. I watched for it too but the seal never did resurface. You were squatting on the balls of your feet at the water’s edge, looking at something you found in the sand. It turned out to be this strange white plant with segmented branches. You were taking a photograph of it with your camera phone. I thought, perhaps, you might have been counting off your falling tears.
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