There’s a shoreline not too far from here. Right where the shimmering seas meet the salt flats, beyond the tansy meadow and the old widow’s marsh, there’s a pool as deep as stars.
Things turn up there from time to time. Lost things. I found things I didn’t know I’d lost. An old doll, a pair of glasses with one frame empty, a rusted watch, a leather jacket. I kept them all.
That’s where I found her. Not discarded, at least not that I could see. Her face came from the depths, lilies in her hair and duckweed on her flesh as she emerged, like a butterfly crawling from its chrysalis. Her eyes skated over me and, sensing no threat, she proceeded to dry herself in the sun. A grey fur cape at her back, she burred contentedly in the morning’s ray. There were whiskers on her lip and chin, no hair on her head, little dots for eyebrows.
An hour later she left back the way she came. An apparition, perhaps.
I returned the next day to repetition. She would climb out, rest, then descend back into those limitless depths. Again and again. When it rained, she kept her cloak about her.
I found my laughter in the finding pool. Partly submerged, I reached my hand in to take it back. By chance I caught sight of her one night as I walked home, dinner in hand. Her nostrils grew wide at my approach, her eyes wider when she saw fish wrapped in newspaper. It was perhaps the first time I ever heard her speak.
“Thank.” She said, reaching out and taking my meal for her own. Her eyes closed before she let out a happy bruxing.
She picked a flower from the meadow. “What is this? It is my favourite land flower.”
“Then that shall be my land name.”
I reached over and placed it behind her ear. When Tansy smiled she bore rows of sharp fangs, and when she spoke again I could feel myself bending towards her.
“What is my sea name?” I asked her.
That smile was addictive. A glimpse of a joy I’d forgotten. Somewhere along my years I had muted my feelings quieter and quieter until I did not notice their loss.
I needed to see her smile again, I yearned to make her dizzy with joy.
I would bring her offerings of mussels, scallops, salmon, anything I could find in the shops. But it was fresh catches she revelled in the most. I took to crabbing like I once had as a child and Tansy split the shells open in her teeth.
I brought her fish and chips and she brought me periwinkles and pearls. The more we met, the more we spoke, the more beauty I saw within her, and the more I felt within myself. I laughed for the first time in months, a braying, loud, cackle unburdened with thoughts of self-consciousness. Tansy was my home.
One day she asked, “why do you wear that skin?”
“I don’t have any other to choose from.”
Her head tilted, she fixed me with a look of condensed confusion. “Yes you do.” She said and I believed her.
Those words rattled around my thoughts as I reached home. I have another skin. I do. In a shed in the garden, in the box I used to store everything I found at the pool. Old toys, a rusted watch, and a spotted leather jacket.
Not leather, I realised, pressing skin against skin. There was some fur at the collar, but not much. Heart pounding, I wrapped it around myself and my body wracked with sobs.
Such a profound sense of loss overwhelmed me. A loss I didn’t even know I’d suffered. Below it, peeking through the mire, was a hint of joy to come. It is a privilege to cry so, it means I had something to lose. Now that I’d found it I’d found the answer.
Those depths beckoned me. As I once had, I dipped my hand in. A curious colour, those waters, even in the height of summer it never dried. First my hand, then my arm to my elbow, to my shoulder. The leather jacket moulded to my flesh until it was my skin and I was part of it. I felt a purr building in my throat.
I entered the waters as I had seen Tansy do so many times before. Just to see how deep it went. My whole body pressed down. It started as a tunnel, then turned to open waves. Still it reached down. No cold pierced my furs, no panic struck, the air in my lungs remained no matter how deep I went.
Tansy was in the kelp forests off-shore. Delight bubbled from her in waves when she saw me, our fingers brushing each other, our nuzzles touching, whiskers splayed. She weaved through seaweed like a dancer, and I followed.
I softened into her, twisting and turning, until we moved as water. We furled and unfurled deeper into the waters, to where human feet could not venture. Starlight, Tansy, seal and woman, woman and seal. The undertow was our bloodstream and the tide was our realm. Shoals of minnows tickle our skin and elvers skirt around us. Salt in our bones, spray in our breath, under rock and over seamount.
The sea offered welcome and I took it whole-heartedly. I had my own skin now. I took off the jacket that brought me here and let it drift upwards.
Should you ever wish to join us, come to the finding pool.