In scottish folklore a Selkie takes the form of a seal in the sea, and sheds her skin to reveal a human form on land. She can't return to the water without her skin. There are many old tales of men hiding the skins and keeping the lovely creatures for wives.
Lightning illuminated the rocks for seconds at a time, playing across the waves that crashed against stone and flesh. Panic threatened to burst through my ribcage. My pale hands grappled against wet stone and slid helplessly off. The fingers of icy sea waves gripped my hair, pulling me under again and again. Coppery bile and blood assaulted my throat and nostrils.
Somewhere beneath it all the sensation of nakedness swelled sickly against my gut. Some part of me was gone, borrowed indefinitely by the wrong set of hands.
I was half unconscious by the time he saved me. One strong arm wrapped around my waist while the other battled us to shore. He washed my gashes right there on the beach, and I think the salt water is under my skin to this day.
I loved him at first, but soon the restless nights spattered with dreams of home set in, and so did melancholia. It took a while for me to understand in full what he had taken from me by pulling me out of the sea.
Sometimes I wish he'd left me there to die.
Dawn was still just a bit of charcoal rinsed from the horizon when I climbed to the cliffs to watch the sea. I stood at the very brink, arms outstretched to bare every bit of me to the breeze. It rolled in with a new set of stories each morning, and it was my custom to listen. Most days it only sighed of the fishes and the ever-moving crinkles in the watery globe, but I clung to the prayer that it would someday admit more to me. Some infant dawn it would come home to grip my face in two gossamer palms and tell me every secret ever whispered into the wind.
I closed my eyes to listen. On a particularly quiet morning I could hear my sisters singing softly to me beyond the waves. They pled for my return home, but their voices grew more distant every day.
The first time I made this journey he sighed when he finally found me. The frozen air formed shrouds around his mouth and nose and I saw the relief behind gruff eyes. He handed me my shoes, telling me to wear them when I went out in the cold. His gauzy breath stopped appearing for a moment when I told him the wind was beckoning me back to the rocks.
One gray evening I drank an entire glass of salt water. I wanted to taste home, to feel the familiar burn in my throat. This indulgence found me buckled over the sink, body rejecting what my mind had yearned for.
He came in that night to see brackish tears trailing down my cheeks as I barked the ache out of my belly.
Three days later I tried to drown my longing in a bathtub. More than once I closed my eyes and thought my sodden hair was the kelp forest, the cold porcelain beneath me some sand-smoothed rock.
Perhaps if I just fell asleep for a moment it would be true when I woke.