Writing is a strange business sometimes. We think we’re writing for readers, and then it turns out we’re writing for ourselves. We think we’re writing for our present selves, and then it turns out we’re writing for the children-we-were or the adults-we-will be.
Or both. Today I came upon ”Seal Story,” a selkie short I wrote more than a decade ago. Selkie stories are by their nature about the pull between two worlds, and when I wrote this one, I was thinking about my fears around one day becoming a mother, about the tensions between the world I already inhabited and the world of parenting, which are often presented as two very different, irreconcilable things.
But when I reread the story today, I found myself thinking instead about losing my own mother, and my struggles with being her adult child — about reconciling her need to be so many things to so many people with figuring out my own place in her life.
I don’t know whether Mom and I ever got to the final version of this story. I do know there are things I need to think about here, though, and that this was a story I needed to reread today.
In case it’s a story you need — or even just want — right now as well, I’m sharing it below.
You know this story.
Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea. On bright days she swam through the warm water, while waves crested with foam and salt scented the air. Yet she also loved the land, so on dark nights she shed her skin, took on human form, and danced, not through waves, but on cool, wet sand.
One night a young man caught sight of her, and when he crouched behind the rocks to watch her dance, he also caught sight of her gray skin shining in the moonlight. The young man couldn’t believe his good fortune. He stole the skin, and he hid it like the treasure it was.
The seal woman had no choice. She could not turn back to a seal; she could not return to the ocean. Instead she made her way to the young man’s home, and if the road that led there cut her bare feet, this story does not tell of it. It tells only that the man and the seal woman were soon married, and that they lived together in his house near the sea. Whether…