The sea breeze carries the tang of salt and memories of sugar and smiles.
The rushing sea was steel grey streaked with white, the day he arrived. Waves pounded along the beach, clawing at the sands, trying to grab the stone of the esplanade and drag it into the tumultuous depths. A sky like a bruise, and the regular flickering flash of the lighthouse beacons as they tried valiantly to illuminate the murk.
Of course, I only met him later, when the water was glassy smooth, and the gulls flitted amongst the mats of washed up seaweed looking for morsels. His hair was tangled with the weeds, his skins sleek and glossy with blood. I called my mama, for I was only young, then, and we took him up to the walkway and to our store.
I don't know how much you know about selkies, children, so I shall tell you a little. They are sea people, born of the wind and the waves, forever moving. With two forms, they live both in our world and the world of the deeps. Although most are familiar with the selkie-seals, with soft, dark eyes and dappled pelts, the truth is there are many kinds, and he was truly far from home. His skin, which he wore draped across his shoulders, was of a sea-unicorn, one of those mysterious beasts which haunt the chill waters of the far north. How he came to be here, he never said, although we spent months talking, walking along the esplanade for he could not bear to be out of sight of the water.
We called him a storm child, because his eyes held clouds, and all the ferocity and mystery of a summer storm. On the esplanade he was known as sweet-voice for his singing, although we could not understand the words. Wave-son, sand-piper, for he walked the shore as often as he could and sang as he walked. When we were alone, lying on the stones of the esplanade and feeling the heat of the day still hiding in them after the sun had set and everyone had gone home, when the stars stretched out above us in ribbons of light and we listened to the waves crashing below us, I called him love and he called me dearest heart.
Once, he showed me his second skin. The king-tide was high and the water came right up to the edge of the esplanade. I sat on the edge, my feet and legs dipping into the crystal clear water as he leaped and splashed. He was truly graceful in the water, despite his size, and he swam right up to me and let me see his horn. Children, you will have seen unicorn horns in shops, no doubt, but this was a living treasure. Its pearly sheen shifted without deference to the light, painting its length with turquoise and purple, teal and emerald green, as if someone had breathed soul into an opal. And then he slipped his skin off, and he was a boy again, laughing in the water.
Sometimes he would get a wistful look in his eyes, the storm calming for a moment, and he would tell me of palaces of ice and dancing lights in the sky, home weighing heavily on his mind. But almost immediately he would catch sight of something sparkling in a shop window, or hear some snatch of music and he would run barefoot and laughing towards it, dragging me behind him like a fish caught in the wake of a ship. Singing, dancing, laughing, crying, we span through our childhoods on this esplanade, feet planted firmly on the warm stones. Together.
But never out of sight of the sea, for he could not stand that.
We kissed for the first time here, tasting of salt and sugar as a festival swirled around us. He let me wear his second skin as a cape, although of course I could never wear it as he did. There were fireworks, one night, and we sat with our legs dangling over the edge and ate roasted nuts as we watched the lights dance in the sky. Before us was anything, everything, for we could accomplish anything when we were together.
A sudden hush falls; the old voice fades away. In the silence the children who have gathered to listen to the tales fidget nervously, until at last one summons up the courage to speak.
"What happened next, grandmother?"
The silence hangs heavy, like iron chains sinking to the depths of the ocean. A few of the children, bored and restless get up and leave, running off down the esplanade. At last, the storyteller speaks, the whispering wind of the rising storm snatching her words into the sky.
"Another storm came."
And she gets to her feet, knees creaking, hands shaking, and makes her slow way down to the crashing waves.