LONG WALK TO GLASGOW

He's been away from Scotland a long time.

 

Wandering the crowded and carnival markets of Asia, where the turbulent colours, the bright neon, the shouts and scents all combine to lose a man forever, and so many have been lost. He is eternal, and it does not phase him; he can read all languages, all signs, and the women in the luxury bars available for lonely men and conversation for the overpriced bottle of the water of life from his own home country do not appeal. There is such an emptiness here, so many attractions, so many vices and desires fulfilled until only a shell is left. There is nothing in this wild world for him, and no vice pulls at his soul.

 

Only her. Always her.

 

The thin, sweet-faced young man pushed the glass door of the corner shop open, and a bell sounded. He regarded the array of bottles in the cooler and made his choice. He brought a can of soda to the register. As the cashier was ringing up the purchase, she noticed him go very still. He was handsome, she thought; and indescribably dangerous, but she had no idea why she felt that way. He stared, away from her, through her, towards nothingness.

 

“Sir?” she asked, in her language.

 

The young man did not reply. He turned and walked out the door. She saw he had left his money on the counter, and when she ran into the street to return it to him, he had vanished. She never forgot him, or his beauty, and he visited her in dreams for the rest of her life, when she had a bad day and needed comfort – there he was. She never saw him outside of dreams, but loved him from that moment and for the rest of her life.

 

***

 

“We're out of milk,” called the dark-haired man, peering into the refrigerator.

 

“I'll get some at the store,” came a male voice in reply; his husband, upstairs, looking for a tie.

 

The man at the refrigerator turned and smiled, as his son looked up at him. The little boy's face was smeared with spaghetti sauce and he giggled, displaying tiny white teeth. The proud father could already see it there, the magic in those eyes. The large brown eyes of his son, who he would one day take to the sea, to teach the ways of his other family.

 

There was a crash, the plates fell from his hands and shattered across the kitchen floor.

 

His son looked up into his father's staring eyes, and watched as he walked out of the room, to the front door, opened and then shut it behind him.

 

“Are you going to get the milk then?” called his husband, as the tiny selkie in his high chair giggled and threw his spoon into the mess on the kitchen floor.

 

***

He was beautiful. Beautiful, and always young.

 

They all were.

 

Marion had asked, before. Why he still looked so handsome, and young, like the day they had met at Coney Island in 1934 and he'd already bought her an ice cream cone. She had brushed tears from her cheek. Those tears, the tears that had called him. All she knew was that there was a handsome young man in a flatcap offering her a melting ice cream cone, grinning at her in the hot summer sunlight. She thought him overdressed then; she thinks him overdressed now. She says so, when he visits. They won't let him stay, not overnight; the hospital has rules.

 

He has never told her, but he suspects Marion knows. She was always very clever.

 

The sigh of the respirator fills the room. She opens her eyes, and there he is, so handsome, like that day on the pier, dark eyes dancing.

 

She sighs; she knows her face is no longer that of the young girl crying over a foolish lost love, smooth and flawless. Her skin has wrinkled, and her hands feel like cool paper; the skeleton evident beneath them now, the folds of age apparent.

 

And he looks down and sees only radiant beauty, only the face of the gorgeous girl who he was to belong to forever, that day he brought her ice cream. He smiles, and takes her hand.

 

“How do you feel about chocolate?” he whispers, and she closes her eyes with a smile.

 

“I never liked it one bit,” she sighs, and he feels the tiny cracks that will break him, as she goes.

 

Today he will not feel it, not till the cracks spread and consume him, but he is lucky. Many selkies do not accomplish last breath which binds forever, and holds the seal-folk safe from the darkness. His tears are real, and hot, and splash onto her hand, which he holds to his cheek.

 

Suddenly he stands, his dark eyes bright. He fights it, fights against it for all he is worth, but he cannot resist. He reaches out for her, though he knows she is no longer there, and he manages to whisper my love, I am sorry before the wave of magic sweeps his independence from beneath his feet. He walks out into the ward, and down the white hospital hallway without mentioning to the nurse that she is gone.

 

***

 

In the cold depths, in the darkness, they emerge from the sea. The sand is fine and white beneath the roll of their bellies, and the gory, wet sounds of fingers pulling through seal-flesh are punctuated by the waves. Slick-skinned, the young men unfold from their seal-bodies, and stand white and slender under a cold and cursed moon. The sea, endless green beyond into the darkness, where death awaits those who ventured too far. The men turn as one body, a compass-point, and walk together in the darkness. The lonely roads are filled with those eyes, haunted and haunting; anyone who happens upon them remembers times long past, when the people's hearts beat in fear to meet the Fair Folk on the roadways. So many years have passed, and yet the terror remains the same, beating in time with human blood and heartbeat. Those pale and hollow faces of indescribable beauty tell anyone with sense to step aside, to go back, and to replace their grandparents' iron horseshoe above their doors.

 

The walk is long, and uneventful. The selkie-men find clothes along the way, leaving the sea, or abandon hearth and home, in answer to the spell. In this, a cantrip of pain and grief, every seal answers the call, and the pull of the magic in a place behind their navels, guiding them onwards in the darkness to the orange sea of light that is Glasgow. They do not tire, nor eat or drink. They have one purpose.

 

They find him, after days and nights of walking. They find him in the city, just as the sun is going down. The first of the seals begin to surround him, a single man standing beneath the statue of St. George, and focus their eyes on his soul.