In Deep Water || Avery Timmons



Credit: Saatchi Art

In Deep Water

by Avery Timmons

They met on a Wednesday.

The beach was quiet when she emerged from the sea; at first, he thought he must be imagining things, that the midday sun reflecting off the choppy waves was playing a trick on his eyes. But no—there she was, her long, damp, dark hair sticking to the bare skin of her human torso, her shed seal’s skin bunched around her waist in slopes of gray blubber. He stopped across the beach, entranced by the way her wet skin glistened in the sunlight. She was beautiful, more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before, though he imagined she would be even more beautiful without that seal skin.

That was when she saw him.

She started, her hands braced against the sand as if she were ready to dive back into the water. He raised his hands in surrender, calling to her.

“Hello!” he shouted. “I’m Alastair. It’s alright, I’m not going to hurt you!”

The selkie continued to stare, her skepticism clear on her face, but she did not move, even as he slowly began to make his way over to her.

“It’s nice to meet you.” He squatted down beside her. “I imagine we have much in common. You see, I’m a fisherman. Might I invite you to my cottage for a bite to eat? I live just ‘round the corner.” He pointed down the beach, watching her dark eyes slowly slide in the direction of his finger.

“Okay,” she finally said. Her voice fit her perfectly: light and soft, like a ringing bell. “But what of my skin? I do not want some other fisherman to come take it while I’m gone.”

Alastair smiled gently at her. “Of course not. I wouldn’t want any other fisherman to take it, either. We’ll bring it with us.”

He took it upon himself to help her slide out of her seal skin so she could walk. He slung the skin over his shoulder, knees buckling momentarily under the weight, but he barely felt it as he allowed his gaze to roam over her. He had been right: she was marvelous, with her long legs and rounded hips. She was a bit unsteady on her feet, so he snaked an arm around her, her skin warm and rough with sand under his touch.

“I just caught a new batch yesterday,” he told her as they walked. “I’m sure I’ll have something you’ll like.”

As soon as they stepped through the rickety wooden door, he took the opportunity of the distraction as she looked around the cottage in wonder to slip the seal skin into the nearest closet; he would have to move it later, of course, because if she found it, she could leave him—and he already made that mistake once.

He fed her fish and wine, which she devoured without hesitation, and provided her a dress to wear, one of his former lover’s. When she finally fell asleep, he hid the seal skin in the chimney, and then smiled to himself as he watched her, curled up on the couch, her now-dry hair a curtain over her face. Yes, she would do perfectly, he thought. He would no longer come home to an empty, cold cottage after a long day at sea.

When she awoke in the morning, she said to him,

“Thank you for the meal and the company, Alastair, but I think I would like to return home, now. May I have my skin back?”

“So soon?” he asked. “Stay for just a while longer, please. It has been so long since I have had a guest. I’ll show you my shell collection.”

As the days passed, the selkie grew increasingly more reserved, the curious light in her eyes fading into a confused sadness. Alastair knew this was simply the adjustment period; once she got used to life on land, and once he made her his wife and gave her children, she would be much happier.

In the meantime, he was able to be happy for the both of them. He would come in each afternoon, whistling, with his catches of the day, before giving her a kiss. In the earliest of days, she would ask about the whereabouts of her skin, and he would always change the subject, ask her to stay just a while longer, tell her he wanted to show her something.

Still in the early days, he would find her in the bedroom, looking under the bed or in the closet, or in the kitchen, rifling through cabinets, searching for her skin. Each night, before joining her in the bed he had convinced her to share with him, he would peer up the chimney and smile to himself as he saw the skin still hanging there, just as it did day after day. 

But as the days passed, she seemed to have stopped looking. He would arrive home, and there she would be, waiting for his kiss on the couch. He praised her for her adjustment, promising her he would give her the best life possible. She would smile at him, her teeth gleaming like the pearl of an oyster, watching carefully over his shoulder as he prepared their meals, dining with him, asking him questions about his profession. She was attentive and complaisant and everything he had been searching for.

But one night, Alastair woke to a sharp pain in his leg.

He groaned; there must be rain soon. But as he made the attempt to roll over, he realized he was caught on something.

He opened his eyes, and as they adjusted in the dark room, he tried to move his arms again, but to no avail; the familiar feel of bound rope scratched against his wrists.

“What the hell?” he murmured, starting to sit up, but that was no use, either. His ankles were bound, too, and the realization was followed by that sharp pain again—a pain that, now that he had his bearings, felt less like his usual aches and more like when he prepped his fish and cut into his skin on accident.

That was when he saw her.

The moonlight streaming in through the cracks of the blinds glinted off the blade in her hand: one of his filet knives.

“Hey, hey, what–”

“You stole my skin.” Her voice was no longer the light, airy tone he adored; no, her tone was now as sharp as the blade, which she held at an angle, just as he did when he descaled fish for their meals. Alastair’s heartbeat quickened, his pulse climbing in his throat.

“You stole my skin,” she repeated, applying more pressure, his skin breaking, an embarrassingly vulnerable cry escaping his lips.

“And now, I will steal yours.”

Avery Timmons is an Illinois-based writer holding a BA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her short fiction can be found or is forthcoming with Querencia Press, Wild Ink Publishing, and other online and print publications.

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