The lightning flashed above a black and angry sea. From the safety of her kitchen, Siobhan cradled her infant son in her arms, staring out past the breakers to where the sea melted into the sky. Eoin hadn’t returned with his catch yet. His boat was still out there being tossed from side to side. Her body rocked in a gentler manner, as her hand traced worried lines into the fabric of Killian’s blanket.
Siobhan pulled him closer to her heart. The one that beat in time with the wind in the waves. The one that pulled her towards her true home even as her son acted as an anchor on land. Siobhan had been born of saltwater and sand, kelp and shark’s purses. The day she saw Eoin, everything changed. She’d hidden her seal pelt under the house. Eoin saw her as a human and they hadn’t been apart -- save for his ventures into the sea to earn a living -- since.
She kissed Killian’s smooth forehead. He didn’t stir from sleep. She inhaled deeply, waiting to memorize his smell forever. Thunder rumbled above the small fisherman’s cottage, and though she watched him curl and uncurl his tiny little fists, he didn’t wake.
“Born of earth and clay,” she began the song. Even though the words were a binding to earth, the words fell into the rhythm of tidal waters. She forgot, for the briefest of seconds, who she was and what she must do. In her mind, she had already abandoned Killian and Eoin for a life of play in the surf.
Another crack of thunder broke above the house. Instantly, she knew where she was and what she must do. The boy she placed in his bassinet. His long eyelashes fluttered once, twice, but remained closed. Siobhan ran a finger along his face. If she could cry, a tear would have followed the curve of his cheek.
Wrapping a wool shawl around her shoulders, she pried the door open, turned back to the bassinet and scooped the child into her arms. Together they stepped out into the storm. It raged fiercely on land, and she knew it would be twice as bad at sea. Quickly, as if she would walk this path a thousand times from now, she ran to Aoife’s house. The candles in the window stood out as a beacon as night truly fell.
“Aoife, are you home?” Siobhan pounded on the front door twice more.
The heavy oak door swung open. A rush of wind and raindrops followed. “Are you hurt? Is it the baby?” Aoife stared at the bundle in Siobhan’s arms.
“No. Killian’s fine,” she said. Rain and tears ran down her face. They tasted of saltwater and loss. “But Eoin hasn’t returned. Can you look after Killian? I have to go find him.”
Aoife’s husband, Curren, stepped into the hallway behind his wife. “You can’t be serious? No boat can fight this storm long enough to get past the docks, let alone find another boat in the dark!”
But Siobhan wasn’t listening. She placed Killian in Aoife’s arms. She glanced at Curren only once. Her sadness mirrored in the way his mouth fell into a frown. Turning to leave, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Expecting a fight, she inhaled sharply.
“If you return to the sea,” Aoife whispered, “you know you can’t return?”
“Yes.” Siobhan breathed the word. “A son shouldn’t have to grow up without a father.”
Aoife lowered her eyes to look at Killian. “A son shouldn’t have to grow up without a mother’s love.”
“I will always love him.” She choked on the last word. Swallowing down her desire to take him back in her arms and return to their home. Return to a home that Eoin might never grace with his warmth and love if she didn’t find him.
Siobhan’s eyes met Aoife’s and in that look both women knew what they’d have to endure from the repercussions of this night. In Aoife’s small smile was hope laden with grief. Siobhan leaned in to kiss Killian’s forehead one last time. Then she squeezed Aoife’s shoulder and left without turning back.
Her pelt had been pushed far beneath the stones of the house. When she pulled it out, it was covered in dirt and spider webs. Neither would matter when she put it on and returned to the sea for the last time. She placed her dress in its place beneath the house. It was a silly thing to do. Eoin would never think to look for it there.
He wouldn’t know that she was not a real human woman at all. Aoife would never tell him why she disappeared. The storm and her intentions would lead him to the conclusion that she drowned trying to find him. He’d never believe that she was the creature that found him, saved him, and brought him back to an empty home.
Naked and shivering, she ran down towards where the sea continued to pound on the shore. The wind stirred up sand that bit into her bare skin. The water seemed colder than she could remember it when it splashed against her ankles. She pulled the pelt over herself. The last human thoughts she had slowly slipped away as her whiskered head slipped beneath the cresting waves.
Eoin would never know that she’d given up every happiness on land to rescue him. In turn, if she saved him, she’d never have to find out what kind of misery would grow in the space shaped like Eoin.