Chapter Five: Saga of a Seal Skin

“The Alaskan seal skin is known for its durability and appearance, which, in the author’s well-established opinion, exceeds all others in the luxurious beauty of its thick fur coat. Far more preferable than ermine, silver fox, or sable, this treasure is a highly sought-after accompaniment for the ladies of London’s high society.”

Aveny turned the page, skimming the faintly pressed words on the well-worn text. The book felt light and small in her hands, the cloth-wrapped cover foreign to her touch. She was standing ensconced between the Centralia library’s long rows of stacks. She inhaled deeply, savoring the delicious scent profile of academia, and ran her fingers down the book’s peeling spine.

The weathered grey tome had come to her through a quick “seal skin” search on a library computer.

“Unfortunately, the price of quality seal skin is on the rise, courtesy of recent treaty conditions between Great Britain and the United States of America. This is, after all, the source of many quality skins, which have become difficult to find locally over the past century…”

Aveny continued to peruse, until her eye caught the words, “Those critical of the seal harvesting practice can take comfort in knowing that the process is done both quickly and humanely. Commonly used tools are a club, knife, or rifle, an advance from the traditional spear hunting method. Manned by a wide array of jovial characters, this industry is marked by much heartiness and whimsy.”

Aveny couldn’t say exactly what led her to search for the topic that day. She supposed it was an accumulation of curiosity over the skin’s origin, which had nudged her with increasing persistence since its arrival, and picked up exponentially since its distant cousin followed her kayak.

Was the seal skin one of those whose overzealous execution left a hole in the British market? Or was it an Alaskan seal, hunted not far from where it now resided? How old was it? Male or female? When had it met its fate? And why?

According to the book, a male could grow up to six feet, while females were generally smaller. “The ideal skin comes from a seal who is between three months and two years of age,” it noted, “as this age produces the softest texture with optimal coloring.”

Aveny’s stomach clenched and a strange guilt bubbled at the base of her throat. She batted the emotion down, telling herself that her skin was too large to be a baby. It was much closer to the six-foot mark, which Aveny supposed meant it had come from a male.

Besides, she told herself, it was a different time.

Aveny rolled her shoulders to release the tension, shivered, then laughed at herself for the overreaction. The small chuckle sounded like cannon fire in the silent room. She glanced sheepishly up and down the aisle and was relieved to find herself alone.

She resumed her reading on a page entitled, “Hunting and Trapping in European Culture.” As her eyes skimmed the page, Aveny’s mind wondered not only where the skin had originated, but where it had been on its long journey to her. Whose lives had it played a role in? And what role had that been?

She imagined a fair complected woman in Victorian dress hurrying down the streets of Dublin, steeling herself against the cold with the seal skin wrapped tightly around her waiflike shoulders. Then she imagined a poor fisherman entering a small hovel and presenting the offering to his wife, her eyes widening in shock at this unimagined luxury. She imagined a mother covering her newborn infant in the fur, safe from the frigid night air.

It was a different time, she thought again.

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