He stood on the shore and watched her black, her back, her dress darkening, heavier, sodden with water. Retraced the sandy footprints that the sea had stolen, swallowed whole with his third finger left hand vow and heart. The wind rattled the door behind him, making the peeling window panes shudder, and ran a sandy hand through his hair. He’d glimpsed her silhouette hours ago, quietly illuminated by the swirling lighthouse warning light. He whispered her name on the wind and turned back to his dark house, his empty bed.
The sun woke him the next morning and he blinked dry eyes against it. Treading softly down the splintered stairs, he blew out the lamp still burning uselessly at his wide open back door. He drank tea from her favourite mug without switching on the telly or radio – it’d been three years since they’d stopped acting as a distraction. Six years since he’d kissed her goodbye. After he finished the tea, he rinsed the mug under the hot tap, stood it upside down on the draining board and set out for work.
He came home as the sky was paling, stripped off his salty overalls and relit Sadie’s candle. After warming some soup on the old gas hob he sat in the arm chair by the back window and watched the waves tear at the tiny lighthouse island. He hummed their song to himself, and remembered their first dance in the damp sand. The house had been lit up with multi-coloured fairy lights, twinkling against the inky sky, his family gathered around a roaring fire, perched on drift wood and spread out dancing and dithering along the shore that had taken her in. She leant against the porch, her white dress billowing gently in the breeze. As the water crept back down his garden path, he walked the edge of the shore. The sea twinkled black, sending icy glistening shards across his path, spiking back and forth as if aching for a companion to follow her path.
The people in town, old friends and nosey faces, would smile sadly when he walked into shops. He filled a basket with bread, eggs, milk and kept his head down, placed his money on the counter and muttered his goodbyes. Slinging the plastic bag onto the passenger seat of his van, the flashing neon ‘Open’ sign of the local pub caught his eye. The day she’d walked in he’d been sat with a stale pint, Nigel nudged him, spilling froth on his work overalls, and nodded towards her. His face was black with sweat and oil and his finger nails were caked with fish scales. She wore a blue sun dress showing her red shoulders, burnt from the sun. She ordered a drink, he couldn’t hear what but watched the way her lips moved and curled into a smile, then she walked over and sat at the table next to them, pulling a hard-bound book from her satchel and making Rowan suddenly aware of the rank smell of rotting fish and his own sweat. Eight months later they were married.
His phone rang and he answered his mother’s worried greeting.
“Are you alright, son?”
“I’m fine, ma”
“It’s not her, Rowan.”
“Sadie’s with the water now, son.”
The sun had gone over the horizon four times, spreading a thick black mist across the water and Rowan still sat watching the fog swell over the island and a slim black frame lower herself back into the water. The fog that covered the island was like a grey gunge, he remembered it from the day she’d walked into the water. It was later than usual when they’d woken up; the sun hadn’t coaxed them out of bed. Rowan had almost missed the tide. He’d dug in the eaves of the attic for the torches he’d stored there in the spring before. Reaching his arms deep into the dark recess; he’d pulled out an unfamiliar wooden box full of seaweed and shells, some keepsake of Sadie’s. But the torches were nowhere to be found. Sadie was leant over the kettle when he rushed down the stairs. She walked over to him and kissed his cheek before turning and gazing out of the door towards the fog covered sea.
She hadn’t said goodbye. There was no warning, no tears or hastily scribble notes, the sea had even taken her last steps. Just a pair of battered baseball shoes left by the rocks and her heavy winter coat floating out by the caves. The first time he’d seen her, sat on the island he’d ran out calling her name, he’d rang an ambulance, the police, his ma and brother, all came rushing around. Impossible, that’s what they’d said. His ma had tried to take him home with her but he wouldn’t go.
The fog rose as the inky night sky drifted over the sea, who threw her hands out, grabbing at the land and screaming towards the stars. He unlaced his work shoes, one by one and dropped them onto the damp sand; he lifted his jumper above his head and dropped it at his feet. Sadie was by the lighthouse, he saw her hand raise and wave towards him. The tide inched to his toes as he walked calmly into the churning waves, the biting ice dragged at his jeans and clawed at his chest as he walked deeper and deeper until it touched his chin, soaked the tips of his uncut hair. The salt water burned his green eyes as he let himself float against the waves. Stroking faster and faster against the racing tide, the sea pulled his head under with her claws. It was pitch black, Sadie’s light at their door was dull against the blanket of stars. The sea crashed down on him, knocking him off course, he could no longer see the lighthouse. His lungs ached with the weight of the water as he gasped and spluttered against the salty air, he let the sea drag him under.
Rowan opened his eyes, saw the moon above the dark waves and then Sadie’s eyes, blinking bright. Her hand grasped his. Gills wrinkled her soft skin like knife wounds and her naked flesh glittered against the moonlight with scales.
“The water has her now, son.”
His ma’s words repeated softly in his head as she dragged and tugged at his face.
“The Selkies will be sewing her a dress of seaweed and shells.”
A gust of wind rattled their door by the sea front and Sadie’s flame flickered and died as the tide crept up and stole Rowan’s footprints from the sand.