The Seal Wife

This is a little departure from the other pieces in this category, its not a post-modern take or a re-telling of a traditional tale, instead, it’s my interpretation of an old fisher mans’ tale – based on a Newfoundland version of the story.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a young fisherman who was all alone in the world. There was no mother, wife, sister or daughter to stand on the shore when his little boat struck out to sea, no woman to watch the horizon, a hand shading her eyes from the sun, waiting for his safe return.

This loneliness cut coldly to his very quick, made him brusque, distant and one day, fearful that his heart would freeze forever, he went away to find a woman to be his wife.

He brought her back, dark haired, eyes like sloes, sleek skinned, fleshy.

The women of his village looked at her and knew her for what she was, but they understood his hunger and besides he was one of their own and they wanted to be kind.

At first, the marriage went well, the winter storms came, the sea too fierce for the little boats which huddled together in the rough, tiny harbor.

The fisherman and his seal wife stayed indoors, buried under the feather counterpanes, listening to the wind howling around the little cottage. The seal wife opened her arms to him, wrapped him in her soft, giving body and he felt his heart defrost, his body warm.
It was as if spring had come.

And then one day, the winds dropped, the sea was calm and the fisherman left her arms, left her bed, prepared to catch the fish.

The seal wife wept, clung to him, begged him not to go, told him that the storms would come back, that it was too dangerous.

At first he was kind, tried to comfort her but finally, exasperated, he pushed her hard, pushed her away and walked towards the shore.

As he walked, he felt the warmth in his heart, wondered for a moment if she had unmanned him, made him somehow less than he had been, made him fearful of the waves.

His was the only boat to leave the harbor that day and as he set off for the fishing grounds, he turned to the shore and saw her, pacing the shore, her keening audible above the sea gulls.

The sailing was easy, the wind gentle, pushing him away from land, the sail puffed out, the boat cutting through the swell.

But the wind, the wind was only waiting, tricking him and it began to blow harder pushing him away from the safety of the shore.
The fisherman laughed at the wind
“You are strong, but I am smart” and he began to tack against it, heading back towards the shore
” Watch me now wind ” he shouted
But the wind, the wind was watching and it began to blow hard and fast and strong, pushing the little boat out towards the rocks.
The fisherman tried everything, zig zagging across the currents, but the wind was too strong and the fisherman too exhausted and knew he could do nothing more.

The wind brought its friends, snow and hail and rain and the fisherman was frozen and close to death.

He took down the sail and wrapped himself in it
” Sail, keep me warm” he said ” I am dying” and he lay in the bottom of the boat waiting for death.

And at that moment, standing on the shore, the seal wife heard his dying breath and with one movement she was in the sea and as she hit the salt water, she changed, became her aquatic self, swimming towards her husband.

The wind saw her coming and was angry, but she was stronger and she drew nearer the tiny boat and he saw her coming, her sloe black eyes fixed upon him and he felt the warmth grow in his heart once more.

The next morning, storm abated, the other fisherman found the boat drifting, sail less, rudderless, peaceful on the calming sea and in the boat, the fisherman, asleep, wrapped in the sailcloth, a big furry seal covering his body, keeping him safe.

Her back was covered in snow and she was quite, quite dead.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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