Chapter 20: Selkie Obsession

Aveny was obsessed. Everyone said so.

They weren’t wrong.

She reduced her hours at work and dropped all voluntary commitments. Every spare moment was dedicated to cleaning up the sound (and a few not-so-spare ones too).

When she wasn’t orchestrating Budd Inlet cleanups, she was caught in a strange mania – writing like her life depended on it. She penned an unending stream of editorials – some under her name, some under pseudonyms – and canvassed every paper, politician and publication she could find. She learned how to write grants and offered this skill free of charge to any organization who would help. She continuously churned out requests for more funding, more aid, more support. 

Brand worried about her. It wasn’t healthy. But he struggled to argue against what was obviously a good cause. And he hesitated to pick a fight with the cornered wolverine that his wife had suddenly become.

Instead, he and the kids joined her whenever they could. Miriam contributed by performing blessing ceremonies over the sound (and each article draft or grant application when Aveny happened to leave her laptop out on the table).

“Where did you learn to do this?” Brand asked one day, standing beside Miriam on the rocky shore next to Percival Landing Park. He pulled his knit cap lower over his ears, bracing against the Pacific Northwest chill.

“From the water,” Miriam replied. “It will tell you what it needs, if you just ask.” She gently extracted a peacock feather from her bag, unscrewed the lid of a small mason jar, and dipped the feather inside.

“Oh…kay,” Brand said. “What’s in the jar?”

“Curdled cream with just a hint of lemon,” Miriam replied, setting the peacock feather adrift. The thick white substance radiated oily tendrils from the feather’s edge as the tide pulled it away from shore. Then the whole creation sank with a gurgle. 

“Oops,” Brand observed.

“What oops?” Miriam asked, pulling out another feather. “She got what she wanted. May we all be so lucky.”

“Ahh, yes,” Brand said, then went to find his wife, who was orchestrating a team of volunteers nearby.

Cleaning up the sound was an uphill battle that might never be won – but he couldn’t tell Aveny that. Failure simply wasn’t an option. Truth be told, he couldn’t tell her much since the accident. She was on fire.

Aveny’s normally docile tendencies had been consumed by some strange beast inside her. It wasn’t just the sound. She snapped at everything and fought back against even the tiniest of grievances like a wounded animal.

Her Rosacea, which she hadn’t even realized was gone, returned with a vengeance, her skin boiling up in hot, angry bumps. The rash scorched across both cheeks and poured down her neck. She started taking routine antibiotics again just to quell its rage. They barely contained the spread. It was like her body was burning from the inside out.

At night, Aveny sat alone in the dark silence of her home. She couldn’t sleep. So, she wrote until her fingers ached, then sat frozen, numbly listening to the soft sounds of her slumbering family. Only then, did she retrieve the skin. She cradled it softly, longing for the strange humming that once ignited at her touch.

There was nothing.

Aveny concocted various schemes to mend it. She tried stitching it together, but the attempt only resulted in pin cushion fingertips and a Frankensteinian repair. The roughly-bound gash remained inanimate. She tried coating it with invisible stitches. The glue connected the severed flesh but she doubted it would hold in the sea. And what good would it do if she couldn’t transform? Even if she could, the water might seep in through the hole and drown her in her own flesh.

Every night, when the clock was nearer to morning than dusk, she tucked the skin secretly beneath her pillow and dreamed of freedom punctuated by horrific nightmares. She could almost taste the saltiness lingering in her breath.

Sometimes, after a volunteer beach cleanup, she’d wander the shore and stare out at the horizon, her eyes savoring the tantalizing sparkle of the waves. She buried the yearning by driving herself relentlessly toward her impossible goal.

Slowly, bit by bit, day by day, the gash in her own arm healed. Two months later, the scar running down her forearm felt soft and flat. To celebrate, she allowed herself one small treat – a kayak trip to Hope Island with Brand.

It was a bastardized homecoming, but a homecoming nonetheless. Bald eagles soared overhead and harbor seals followed in their wake. Brand paddled ahead while Aveny explored the coast, searching for familiar sights.

The shoreline was populated with healthy growth, each tree wielding a bounteous emerald spray. Their fallen compatriots littered the shore, their bulk extending out into the sound like strange dead-end bridges.

One fallen tree caught Aveny’s attention. It would have been regal in its day. But now, it had left its post and succumbed to the sea. Its barnacle encrusted hull danced with eerily drifting seaweed. Its branches extended out like spindly hunks of coral, waving submerged banners of aquatic undergrowth. The only hint it had ever dwelt on land was the short section of trunk still stretched across the beach, eroding more with each passing day.

That’s it, Aveny thought. Land or sea – you can’t have it both ways.

The idea filled her with sadness. But she quickly shoved it aside. It was what it was. There was no sense dwelling on it. She felt foolish for ever thinking she could have both. And now that she finally understood, it was time to let go. 

She needed to bring the skin home – here, to the water’s edge – to relinquish its empty form back to the sea. It was over. Lifeless as the skin was, this was the one thing she could do – should do – to honor it. It was time to let go.

Click here to read chapter 21

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