Aveny’s grandmother gently rubbed the lump on her granddaughter’s knuckle, rolling it back and forth between her soft fingers. “It’s a Ganglion Cyst,” she pronounced definitively. “Look, I have one too.”
Catherine extended her papery hand and Aveny ran her fingers over the joint, mirroring her grandmother’s motion. Sure enough, she could feel the lump just beneath the surface. She rubbed her own joint in comparison.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s nothing bad – just fluid filling a weakness in the membrane, causing a lump. They used to call it Gideon’s Disease or a ‘Bible Bump.’ Can you guess why?”
“Because they thought it was a curse from God?”
Catherine laughed. “Not quite that serious. In the old days, they treated them by smashing them with the biggest book available. Back then, that was…”
“The Bible,” Aveny offered.
Catherine smiled. “That’s right. It was effective. Sometimes too effective,” she added with a laugh. “It often resulted in a successfully ruptured cyst – and a shattered hand.”
“Does yours hurt or make it hard to move your fingers?” Catherine asked.
Aveny shook her head, no.
“Then it’s nothing to worry about. These little cysts are usually harmless. They’re actually a remnant of our Irish roots.”
Aveny eyed her grandmother skeptically, taking note of her silver-streaked coal black hair and midnight eyes. “Are you sure we have Irish ancestry?” she asked.
“My family was mostly Irish,” her grandmother said. “There’s a little English and a little Scottish too, but mostly Irish.
Aveny chewed her lip. “Are you sure? I mean, we don’t have any redheads in the family. She imagined an old family secret – maybe an Arabic ancestor whose existence was lost to the passage of time.
Catherine just laughed, “Irish people aren’t all redheads. Trust me, my side’s Irish – not 100 percent – but mostly.”
Aveny smiled and nodded … and didn’t buy it at all.
It was hard to comprehend that both years and her grandmother had passed since that conversation. It remained as fresh in Aveny’s memory as the day it had occurred. Her heart fractured as she recalled it, sitting on the Puget Sound shore, gazing out over the sparkling water.
She didn’t remember driving back to the sound. She recalled waking, delivering the kids to school, and completing a perfunctory amount of work. She remembered gathering a stack of selkie folktales at the library. But she didn’t remember the decision to return to the sound – or the action that had delivered her there.
What she did remember was folding her clothes on the shore and stepping into the sea, skin in hand. She recalled the wildly freeing release of transformation, the cool rush of ocean, and the complete and utter sense of liberation.
It wasn’t a fever dream.
So, what was it?
Later that night, Aveny hungrily devoured the books she’d found on Celtic folklore. They were filled with stories of strange women appearing on distant shores, sailors disappearing into the sea and seals that weren’t quite what they seemed.
They were nothing more than fantasies – but they were the only clues she possessed. Were these tales an echo of what was happening to her? Or was she just insane? The latter seemed much more plausible.
When she had read more than she could process, Aveny dropped the book on her lap and gazed up at the ceiling. Her mind raced with images, sparking connections and igniting her soul with previously unimagined possibilities. And then it hit her – there was one more place she had to look.