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By Samir Sirk Morató

Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, suicidal ideation, gaslighting, grief, implied sexual abuse of a minor.

Finlay doesn’t stop believing in fairy tales when he turns nineteen, or when both of his parents – strangers he loved dearly – drown that same year, or when his mind begins echoing the town’s opinion that he’s darkly untrustworthy. If anything, those events make him believe. Why shouldn’t strange things be real? Finlay asks himself. He knows everyone here; no one is familiar. He’s rotting; he’s walking. The place that fed his family killed them. These true contradictions are no more nonsensical than mermaids, sea serpents or selkies. If anything, the fantastical must exist: if it doesn’t, if tortuous mundanity is all there is, why live?

It’s that question that has Finlay Muir quivering on the lighthouse landing as Caleb MacCallan, a colossus of scars and brusque comments, stares at his unexpected visitor.

‘Mr MacCallan,’ Finlay says, ‘I have a question for you.’

Caleb squints. Finlay grips the railing to steady himself. With Caleb’s abalone earring shining in his ear, it’s as if the hermit has three eyes, all of them studying Finlay. Both men are the same shade of brilliant, mermaid-purse black. They’re both scarred from the cannery’s teeth. Both hate formalities. But wiry, tired Finlay is young; husky, tired Caleb is old. While Caleb has nothing to lose, Finlay has lost everything. Whatever goodwill the Muirs gathered before their annihilation may not withstand what that reality entails.

Thirteen storeys of spiral staircase groan beneath them. The lantern pane, imprisoned behind a lattice of bars, stays vacant of light or strange faces. A glint of pity softens Caleb’s glare. Finlay knows it’s a cousin to condolence.

‘Shoot,’ Caleb says.

Finlay exhales. ‘How did you catch a selkie?’ 

Caleb stills. Far below, beyond the cliffs, Glenport’s weave of dilapidated roads and houses continues its decades-long sink into the ocean. The cannery that consumes them all squats on the horizon, a mausoleum spitting smoke at bloodthirsty seabirds; behind it, mast lines and nets web out from the harbour in unmade nooses. Finlay’s house, a cube downhill from the lighthouse, shimmers miserably in the sun.

Finlay doesn’t breathe until Caleb pinches his temple.

‘Let’s set one thing straight: I’ve never stolen a selkie’s skin.’ Caleb lashes his words against the air. ‘I’ve never made a marriage out of chains, for one. I ain’t ever planning on it. I have no seal children romping around the beach. If you’re searching for someone to help you with a cruelty, I ain’t it.’

‘It’s not a cruelty!’ Finlay protests even as a piece of toast, his first meal in days, threatens to come up. Selkies are real. If Caleb speaks about them this way, they’re real. Caleb has unwittingly delivered Finlay to salvation. ‘I wouldn’t ever hurt a selkie for her skin. I just want some company. The selkies live on the intertidal, don’t they? On Sea Glass Beach. I’ve heard them singing there… and here. Your wife’s voice is beautiful.’

Caleb steps back into the lighthouse. His fingers curl into trembling claws.

‘That’s who she is, isn’t she?’ Finlay says. ‘Your wife.’

Terns scream around the lighthouse. Goosebumps prick Caleb’s arms, then Finlay’s.

‘Finlay, pay attention.’ Caleb, ashen, crams his hands in his pockets. ‘Not a hundred years back, folks like us didn’t receive a whit of freedom. You oughta not forget that. Everyone under God’s sun deserves the right to themselves. Including the selkies.’ He jabs at Finlay’s sternum. ‘If you weren’t orphaned, I’d hurl you down these damn stairs. Stay away from Sea Glass Beach. You’ll get yourself hurt.’

Caleb slams the door closed. Finlay walks several circles on the landing, pulse hitching, unable to bear looking at the lighthouse or the wretched hope kindling inside him. For once, the idea of jumping is unappealing.


Finlay hasn’t visited Sea Glass Beach since he was five when his mother broke her arm at the cannery and used her recovery time to whisk him beneath the cliffs. Today, he returns.

Saltgrass brushes Finlay’s shins as he steps onto the beach. It’s a gorgeous snarl of dichotomies: sand against intertidal, cliff against sea, rot against life. Gulls litter the rocks, some slumbering, others screaming at the thunderhead-studded horizon. Festering kelp cushions tidal pools lush with starfish, sea slugs and anemones. Unseen, in the black, eternal spread of ocean, a riptide sucks at the shore and begs another Muir to enter its mouth. Finlay hunches into his coat. He doesn’t heed its call.

He remembers this beach better than he remembers his mother.

Finlay steps past an ancient folding chair. He shudders at a scrap of dead sea lion. Do selkies mind witnessing pieces of cousin wash up? Finlay trawls his treacherous brain for answers, hoping he doesn’t catch any. Thinking is his enemy.

He tells himself that the selkies will understand. The selkies here must have seen the sea claim countless cannery ships. According to his father, with every drowning, they gain another selkie. The grievers onshore get nothing. So two parents for a companion is fair. Caleb MacCallan’s heart morally points north, but he can’t see Finlay’s collapsing towers of unwashed dishes, or hidden photo albums, or reams of grief. If Finlay doesn’t have someone who stays – for once – then soon, he’ll depart. He knows it. He feels it. Instead of letting death creep closer, Finlay clings to what he knows: selkie spouses stay. No matter what.

A gull, hobbled by botulism, hurries away on its ankles.

Finlay is no beast. He intends on giving the selkie options. It will almost be like she’s free. Almost. Acid splashes Finlay’s throat. He creeps across the intertidal. The shore stays vacant. Finlay is a plover combing the sand: delicate. Powerless.

When he first sees the skin, he mistakes it for another carcass. A harbour seal pelt sprawls on the rocks above the tideline. It’s so grey it shines blue. Dazzling cream spots and rings fleck its surface. It’s someone’s home, someone’s robe. Their channel between worlds.

Before he loses his nerve, Finlay seizes the pelt. It’s heavier and oilier than a promise. He clutches it to his chest. Dawn slashes the shoreline. Finlay crams the skin into his bag before he faces the faceless ocean. Minutes pass. Gulls cry out; the tide cries in. No pleading selkie plunges out of the surf. No pinniped shapes look from the rocks. Whenever the waves ripple, Finlay flinches. Where is anyone? Where is he? Whispers swirl in the ocean. Wind whistles away the cliffs.

The selkie climbs out of a tidal pool.

She is plump, short and curvy. A furry abstraction of a woman. Her eyes – blackened by humungous pupils – almost overflow her face. A cleft splits her lips. A sheet of seaweed obscures her hip. Silt, seashell pieces and fishing line clutter her waves of hair; whiskers dot her tawny face. She looks like a peach, with denser, greasier fuzz. Finlay stares at her. She stares back. 

‘I have your skin,’ Finlay says.

‘I know.’ 

The selkie barks more than speaks. Sharp, tiny black nails crown her fingers. Specks of mussel shell stud her breasts. Below them perk a second, smaller pair of teats. Finlay inhales.

‘My name is Finlay. What’s yours?’

‘Finlay. That’s a nice name,’ the selkie says. ‘Could be a monster’s. Could be a man’s.’

‘Really.’ Finlay splutters. ‘What’s your name?’

They know the script. The selkie considers him. Her eyes glitter: due to saltwater or tears, Finlay isn’t sure. She wades ashore, exposing scar-knotted feet and knees. Her feet are slick, her toes almost fused into flippers.

‘My name is Hispi,’ the selkie says. ‘Like the sound sea glass makes when it washes ashore.’ She accepts Finlay’s hand with a quiver. ‘You had better take me away now.’

Finlay walks his limping prize home.


Hispi arrives with her bridal train of seaweed on her hip and her groom-capture on her arm. She halts on the threshold. ‘Is this it?’ Crabs, iridescent worms and starfish froth in her gown. Fishbones pearl the gaps.

‘Yes. Hold on. Wait here.’ 

Finlay rushes inside as Hispi untangles a fetal shark from her train. He folds the seal skin away in a cupboard, then sprints back to the door, feverish, his mother’s clothes spilling from his arms. Hispi rips a skirt from his grip.

‘I’ll wear this, but I don’t wear shirts,’ she says. ‘I don’t wear underwear. I’m not landlocked. Don’t order me to wear them.’

‘I won’t.’

Hispi crams the shark carcass into his hands. 

‘I’m changing outside.’

She slams the door shut. Finlay laughs in disbelief until he pukes.

Though he buries Hispi’s kelp train in the garden that evening, shark included, he can’t hide the other dowries Hispi brings with her. By day two, seal smell permeates the cottage. Hispi’s brazen voice, long whiskers and inquisitive hands explore everything but Finlay. By day three, Hispi’s tears christen the cottage too: Finlay wakes to her sobbing in the kitchen. He hides in bed until her crying fades. Then he cooks breakfast, all his limbs heavier than lead. Hispi keeps her head lowered until it’s time to eat.

‘You’re here a lot.’ She decapitates a roasted anchovy. ‘Don’t you work?’

‘No.’ Finlay avoids meeting her puffy eyes. ‘I used to. After my parents passed away, I quit. We’re using their savings. I’ll have to start working at the cannery again soon.’

‘I’m surprised they hired you. You look younger than nineteen.’

‘Everyone says I look older,’ Finlay says.

Hispi eats the rest of the anchovy. Rows of serrated teeth glimmer in her mouth. So does discontentment. Some quicksilver struggle is missing from her and her meal – some rapt, adrenaline-snarled crunch of life.

Finlay fidgets. ‘Do you want to see the beach?’

Hispi grips another anchovy before saying, ‘No. I don’t want to go. I couldn’t bear seeing it again.’ 

‘Okay.’ Finlay feels brutish.

‘I hate those cliffs anyway.’ Hispi tears the anchovy in half. ‘If you want to do something for me, buy me more fish.’

‘Consider it done.’

While Finlay finishes eating, Hispi roams the cottage again. She wrinkles her nose at dirty clothes, snatches Finlay’s comb off a chair, and yanks open the blinds. Sunlight contours her curves in oily rings. Finlay pretends not to study her.

Hispi lets the blinds fall shut. ‘When I pictured getting my skin stolen, I didn’t picture someone like you.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Do you want a description of yourself?’

‘Go ahead,’ Finlay says.

Hispi huffs. ‘You’re a pup with patchy whiskers, a soft face, and big, low-tide eyes. You’re not exactly a grizzled sailor.’

‘Stop calling me a pup.’

‘Or what? You’ll destroy my skin?’

Finlay groans. It’s an inadequate response. He can’t summon a more solemn one.

‘I wouldn’t ever do that,’ he says. ‘Alright?’

‘Sure.’ Contempt bubbles in Hispi’s first comb stroke. ‘I bet you’re already destroying it by leaving it folded like some sheet. I bet it’s getting creased. Skinless men are all the same.’

Finlay wants to say, I’ll unfold and keep it the way you like. If my mind lets me remember to do that. I care. The idea of Hispi dashing into the ocean muzzles him. Hispi scowls as her tangles catch in the comb. Finlay frowns.

‘What now?’ Hispi says.

‘Do you want help brushing your hair?’

Hispi slows her combing. ‘Is this a joke?’


Neither of them moves. Hispi glares. She thrusts the comb at Finlay before sitting on the floor. Finlay gingerly takes it and kneels behind her. Hispi’s mane is coarse. Wavy. Finlay marvels at a blob of sunshine on Hispi’s collar. A lump clogs his throat. Does he deserve happiness at the cost of her freedom? 

‘You’re not bad at this.’

Hispi speaks with softened surprise.

‘Thanks.’ Finlay ensures his hands don’t brush Hispi’s skin lest the contact stings them. He soothes her waves of hair into a braid. Time slips by. Hispi basks in slivers of sunshine. Her eyes close. Their teardrop shapes prime Hispi’s expressions to appear suspicious or melancholy. Right now, Finlay can’t place her expression.

‘I suppose I don’t mind being your prettier half,’ Hispi says.

Finlay laughs, astonishing himself. With braided hair, Hispi’s ears show, small, round and smooth.

‘Besides,’ she says, ‘your sad eyes are cute.’

Finlay flushes.


Over the next three weeks, boy and selkie exist in elated misery. Sometimes, they wake to each other’s sobbing, then pass the day in separate weepy realms. Their attempts to cohabitate manifest through muttered compliments and awkward meals. Neither Hispi nor Finlay seem certain of themselves. Other times, Finlay wakes to mad, unprompted housekeeping. Hispi oozes self-assurance, then. She slaps laundry on midnight clotheslines, laughs at her own jests, and scrubs every available surface. She’s sleepless; she’s ceaseless. Hispi’s housewife highs always dissolve within days. Finlay cannot say she’s feigning enthusiasm, but whatever intense elevations seize her aren’t contentment. 

‘You’re lucky to have me,’ Hispi tells Finlay one Friday. ‘You need me.’

‘I know,’ Finlay says.

Hispi resumes cleaning with a smile. Finlay’s gratefulness trips on his unease.

Maybe her sporadic initiative is necessary. Despite everything, nihilism engulfs Finlay at random moments. Flashes of apathy torment him. Rage, too. Why isn’t he better? He has company. Soon, he will work again. It’s time to be whole. If he isn’t, the cannery will finish rearranging his exposed innards.

This isn’t fair. Not to him or to Hispi. Finlay simmers. Disgust occasionally warps Hispi’s face when she looks at him. Finlay can’t fault her for that. He imagines his parents with identical repulsed expressions. Maybe they hated isolation too. Besides necessity, it would explain why they abandoned Finlay on the hillside for days while they sailed out to sell their sweat and blood. Any child capable of bearing that didn’t need their guidance. Since Finlay wasn’t at risk of joining the selkie choir, it was the smallest sacrifice he could make.

Years later, he’s still making it.


A month into Hispi’s stay, Finlay wakes to the squeal of hinges. Then a tempest: the thunder of objects falling, the lightning of glass shattering, the rain of shards hitting hardwood.

‘Hispi?’ He stumbles into the living room. Grogginess clouds his brain.

Pictures and slivers of wallpaper litter the floor. Hispi lies next to an upturned chair. Her hair drips into her face. Finlay doesn’t know what scares him more: Hispi or the scattered family photos. The cupboard hiding Hispi’s skin sits untouched.

‘Hispi! Are you okay?’ Finlay edges closer, blood cold.

‘I’m fine. Just tide-blessed.’

‘What happened?’

‘What do you think?’ Hispi rears, raking wallpaper from beneath her nails. ‘I want my skin back! I want to go home! This place is hell, and I’m the only one trying to improve it.’

‘That’s untrue.’ Finlay fights the scathing whispers in his subconscious.

‘Yes, it is! If you were trying, you’d let me go to town.’

‘You can’t go into town. People won’t be kind to you, Hispi.’

‘Like this is kindness! Who’ll stop me from going?’ Hispi stands in her wreckage. ‘You? You’re always sleeping or crying!’

Mortification floods Finlay. The past week’s perpetual exhaustion tears at him. ‘If you want to leave so badly, then leave,’ he grinds out. ‘Skin or no skin.’

Hispi barks in rage. ‘Maybe I will! Look at how generous man is. You stole me from the water, and you won’t even let me go to the beach!’

‘Hold on.’ Alarm bells ring in Finlay’s head. ‘I never said that.’

‘You did!’

‘I asked if you wanted to go. You said no! You’re delusional.’

Hispi stomps on a framed photograph of Finlay’s parents. They crunch. Cracks web the glass. Hispi looks satiated, then horrified.

‘Get out.’ It’s worse than seeing the empty coffins lowered. Finlay kicks the remains of a lamp, catapulting it into the wall. It explodes. ‘Get out!’

‘I hate you!’ Hispi wails. ‘You’re worthless! All of this is your fault!’

She flees into the kitchen. Finlay runs outside to curse at the hillside.


At dusk, long after sandflies have feasted on every bare iota of his body, Finlay re-enters the house. 

Debris spots the hardwood, artificial abalone peering from sand. Several pictures adorn the wall again. The Muir family portrait is among them. Finlay’s parents smile at him from behind a prison of cracks. Finlay almost bawls when he sees them. Their absence makes him aware of every familial fault he holds and the inherited integrity he lacks. What will become of them if they return as selkies and meet someone like Finlay? He dry heaves until that thought passes.

This is his fault. Finlay kneads his cramping abdomen. He subdues his self-doubt. Real men are supposed to right wrongs. Finlay knows what his father would have him do. He trudges towards the kitchen.

After a waver, he raps his knuckles on the wall. The curtain sways.

‘Hey.’ Finlay looks at the floor to avoid his own cowardice. ‘I’m sorry I hurt you... I shouldn’t have said those things. You were right. This is my fault.’

‘I appreciate the apology.’ 

Hispi sounds venomless. Finlay leans against the doorframe. He wants to ask why she accused him of something he’s never said. He lacks the faith in himself to do so.

‘Do you want to be alone?’ he says.

‘No,’ Hispi says. ‘Do you want to be alone?’


‘You should come in, then.’

Finlay does.

Hispi hunkers on her makeshift bed. Exhaustion rims her eyes. Finlay hovers until Hispi pats a spot next to her. He sits. They stare at the wall together.

‘I’m sorry,’ Finlay says after the silence stretches. How worthless words are!

‘We both are, one way or another.’ Hispi rubs her nose. ‘I put the photos back.’

‘I saw. Thank you.’

The breeze coming through the window is a third participant in their conversation, breathing pauses and collecting their secrets. The lighthouse singer’s crooning drifts above the hill. Hispi cocks her head.

‘How pretty,’ she says. ‘How empty. That’s me too. I say a lot of things I don’t mean.’ 

Finlay crosses the abyss between them to place his hand on hers. Hispi doesn’t recoil. The webbing between her fingers resembles sail canvas. Finlay’s coherency dissipates. 

Hispi shakes her head. ‘I don’t understand you. Most men show off their selkie. Am I not good enough?’

‘No, no. That’s not it.’ A scream suspends itself in Finlay’s lungs. ‘I’m terrified of being by myself again. I’m so lonely, even with you. I don’t want to imagine how it would be if Glenport took you away. If you left, it’d be fine. But I couldn’t live with myself if the townspeople sold you to a circus or something. I don’t want us to both be imprisoned alone.’

‘You don’t have friends,’ Hispi says.


Hispi tugs on one of his curls. Finlay arches his eyebrows, then shyly offers her his back. Hispi twins his hesitation before she begins braiding his hair.

‘I don’t have anyone either,’ she says. ‘I miss the rookery. I can’t ever go back. There’s nothing for me there. Just bottles with no notes. Every time I think it’ll get better, it doesn’t. That hurts more than hating it. Maybe now I’ll escape.’

‘I hope you do,’ Finlay says quietly. ‘You deserve to be in a better place. Emptiness isn’t good company.’

He isn’t good company. Finlay aches. Hispi releases his half-braided hair. Finlay’s mane covers his other eye. He peeps out at her.

‘Hello,’ he says.

‘Hello.’ Hispi smiles. ‘You look stupid. Turn around so I can even this out.’

‘What do you mean?’ Finlay poses. ‘I look great.’

Hispi laughs, clapping her hands, her canines flashing. She braids Finlay’s hair again. They touch.


In the next month, squid season starts. At night, glimmering spirals of spotlights and nets flood the water. Finlay and Hispi watch them from the hillside. Ships – artificial constellations – glide everywhere, seducing squid from the depths. Finlay reluctantly reapplies to the cannery. Hispi grins when he turns his papers in.

‘All it took was some badgering from your prettier half, huh?’ she says.

No tussling this time. It’s pathetic. Finlay is grateful anyway. When Hispi begs to go beyond the garden, he lets her. She wears his coat as she somersaults and laughs along the cliffside. Finlay admires her flying hair. Hispi bests Caleb’s unseen selkie in all ways. Finlay decided that a long time ago. He doesn’t love Hispi. This is close enough.

Yet a storm front shadows Hispi. Her laughs are shrieks. Her maniacal cavorting overwrites her limp. Whenever Hispi stills, pain consumes her expression, then frenetic uncaring. Finlay leaves the window when she begins crawling and laugh-sobbing into the grass. She must stop sometime. He prays she will.

Hispi raves until sunset.

When day strips its golden shine from the cliffs, she trudges inside. Finlay hides his relief. Twilight drenches the sky in hazy regalia. The ocean turns to an obsidian flat. Finlay guts squids for dinner outside as terns skim the water. Hispi’s singing drifts through the open windows. Her melody wavers alone. 

Caleb’s selkie ceased singing a month ago. Did he make her stop? Finlay’s spirits fall again. He throws the squid offal into a bucket before retreating inside.

‘We have mushrooms, squash, and fish for stuffing,’ he says, pushing through the kitchen curtain. ‘Whatever you want.’

Hispi starts, clasping her hitched skirt; a tea kettle falls. It smashes onto the hardwood floor. Finlay gawks at the immense loop of scar tissue fracturing her hip. Hispi’s side needles together in a flesh overbite, echoing the shark mouth that broke it. Her crooked thigh twitches.

‘What are you gawking at?’ Hispi says.

‘Sorry. Sorry.’ Finlay shoves his plate onto a counter. It crashes into a salt shaker. Oven heat scorches the kitchen.

‘You’re not pretty either!’

‘Hispi, calm down.’ Finlay gropes for the door. Hispi hunches, one scarred calf exposed to the world, a growl rumbling in her chest that promises shoreside violence. The kettle bleeds behind her.

‘Why?’ she spits. ‘I know what you’ll do! You all want a perfect, pretty, obedient wife. Instead, you get me, then punish me for it!’

‘I’m not going to punish you!’


‘I mean it! They’re just scars, Hispi.’

The rumble fades. Hispi licks her lips, shrinking. Finlay no longer feels like a mackerel about to be beaten against rocks. Sweat beads on his brow. He steps forward, tentative first, then unafraid.

‘Leave me alone,’ Hispi says.

‘No. I’m staying here as long as you sound upset, whether you like it or not.’

‘Isn’t controlling everything I do enough? Fin. I’m begging you.’ 

Hispi huddles into the corner as he draws closer. When Finlay braces a hand onto the counter next to her, Hispi shuts her eyes. She clutches her skirt. Her whiskers prick Finlay’s chin. Hispi lurches when Finlay cups her face.

‘Don’t do this,’ she said. ‘Please. Please.’

‘Hispi, look at me. This is for your own good,’ Finlay murmurs. Hispi looks retch-ready. ‘What do you need?’

Hispi draws a rattling breath. ‘I need dinner.’

‘Okay,’ Finlay says. 

He withdraws. Terror and gratitude saturate Hispi in a way he doesn’t understand. They mop up the kettle water and cook in silence. Dinner passes wordlessly. Hispi eats her stuffed squid without looking at Finlay once. Finlay can’t make himself speak. Something delicate wobbles in the air between them.

Hispi finishes first. ‘I’m going to bed.’

‘Goodnight,’ Finlay says. ‘Sleep well.’

‘Aren’t you going to carry me there? My room is far away.’

Finlay starts. His fork clangs against his plate. ‘Of course.’ He stumbles out of his chair. ‘I’ll help you.’

‘Hurry up, then.’ 

Hispi offers Finlay her unscarred side.

It takes effort to carry her. He almost can’t. Hispi is heavy, warm ballast: blubber and muscle. As Finlay steers towards the kitchen, Hispi’s musky breath tickles his cheek. He sets Hispi in her bed. Her arms don’t unwind from his neck.

‘You should stay,’ she says.

‘If you want me to.’

‘I do.’

The squid boats race across the choppy surf. Hispi whistles an imitation of wind threading fishing pole eyelets. The two lay in the dark, listening. Imagining the ocean.

‘I should have knocked earlier,’ Finlay says.

‘You should have.’

Finlay stills when claws trace his Adam’s apple. Does Hispi want an apology? He did right – though he does right so little now – by sticking close to her. Why apologise for that? When the silence continues, Hispi sighs. She drapes herself across Finlay’s chest. Her density crushes him. A wheeze leaks away in his throat.

‘I don’t know how you survived being bitten,’ Finlay speaks when he can. ‘I wouldn’t have.’

‘It was agony.’ Hispi shivers. ‘That shark crippled me. Whenever the rookery travelled, I couldn’t keep up. My few friends always outswam me. I became the slowest on the beach, too. As a pup, that was awful. Do you ever feel like everyone is leaving you?’


Hispi sniffles.

‘Hey, hey. It’s okay.’ Finlay fumbles to wipe her face.

‘The first time a man stole my skin, I was twelve,’ Hispi says. ‘Can you believe that? I couldn’t outrun him or anyone after him either. Every time, the rookery and the sailors left me. They took what they wanted, then threw me back. It’s been a decade since that first sailor, and he’s stealing me still. Finlay, I can’t be alone.’

‘I won’t leave you. I promise.’

‘You can’t. You’re alone, too.’

Finlay sobs a laugh. Hispi hides in his chest.

‘You’re not ever going to release me,’ she whispers, ‘are you?’

‘No.’ Finlay caresses her. ‘I’m sorry. You deserve better. I can’t offer you anything.’

‘That’s not true.’ Hispi is luminous with tears and moon-shimmer. ‘You make me feel less low-tide. You’re gentle. That’s remarkable.’

‘I guess.’

Their breasts kiss. Hispi’s heartbeat suckers to his own. Finlay drowns in a tide of hair. Hispi pecks his temple. ‘See? Now you know your virtues.’

‘I’m lucky to have you.’

‘Of course you are. No one else wants you.’

Finlay licks his lips. Hispi sounds so, so sure.

‘Do you believe that?’ he says.

‘Yes. Look at you.’ Hispi smiles, then sobs.

Finlay startles. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘I hate being like this. I hate it!’

‘Hate being like what, Hispi?’ Finlay leans into her, unsure of anything but the squid boats outside. Maybe they’re comets instead. Maybe the world is ending. It’s ended before. ‘Being – scarred? Stuck?’

Captured. Trapped. Sick. Hispi sobs again, sealish and harsh. Finlay hugs her. He nearly elbows her in the cheek when she drags him onto her as if his body shields her from everything. Finlay wipes her tear tracts away until her sobbing ceases. Only the night is listening when Hispi wraps around Finlay. Gravity settles them together.

‘You should finish making me your wife.’ 

Hispi’s whiskers tickle Finlay’s ear more than her words. He swallows.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’ Hispi falters, then tugs at his pants. ‘We should consummate our union.’

Some older stranger, some ghost, speaks through her. Finlay turns sickeningly hot. He cannot tell if he’s on the precipice of crying or fury. Hispi cringes as he shoves her away.

‘We’re not married. I’m not one of your sailors,’ Finlay says. ‘Not one of your–’

Whatever word he’s searching for, it isn’t ‘husbands.’ Hispi sits up. The desire lacing her motions makes Finley’s body throb. It’s more akin to a migraine’s pulsing than arousal. Finlay wants to escape.

‘Fin.’ Hispi sounds devastatingly fragile. ‘I’m asking because you aren’t.’

Finlay hesitates too long. He tumbles backwards when Hispi throws herself onto him the way seals throw themselves onto jagged rocks that need surmounting. The terror in Hispi’s clinging mates with his.

‘Hispi,’ he rasps, ‘I can’t make love to you.’

Hispi’s disappointment matches her relief. The fact she’s disappointed at all wrenches at Finlay’s chest in a way he doesn’t understand.

‘Okay.’ Her cleft lips tremble.

‘I’m sorry. Since my mind started rotting–’

‘No, I understand.’

Finlay is unsure if he wants to become a pacifist or if he wants to hunt Hispi’s past jailors and kill them with an oar. ‘Hispi, hold on. Please.’

Hispi halts her escape when Finlay’s fingers slip between her legs. She gasps. Clings to him again. Finlay chastely mouths the rings along her collar, too afraid to do more. Hispi’s claws tangle into his hair.

‘Hurt me,’ she begs. ‘Make it right.’


Hispi’s breath hitches. ‘Finlay, I’m terrible. I’m ruining you. Don’t be kind to me. Hurt me. I deserve it.’

She twists his hair. Finlay’s scalp screams. Hispi hails from deepwater dungeons and harsh currents. She can wrench his head off if she chooses to.

‘No.’ Finlay’s watering eyes spill. ‘You don’t.’

Hispi collapses into his lap again. The importance of protecting her almost paralyzes Finlay. He curls his fingers, careful, ashamed. This is evil. He already has Hispi’s skin. Why must he enter her too? Constellations of pain shoot through his vision. His ragged panting weds Hispi’s. When she moans, Finlay nearly weeps. Thank god! He isn’t hurting her. Terror wracks him. Tears continue dripping into his lap. Hispi merges their mouths.

‘Tell me I don’t deserve to be hurt,’ she pleads.

‘You don’t,’ Finlay says. ‘You deserve kindness.’ 


‘Yes. Yes.’

Hispi’s gasp wavers between agony and delight.

Finlay pursues Hispi’s keens until she collapses against him, shuddering. Her nails gore his lower back. They limpet to each other. Hispi cries until Finlay rocks her to sleep. His own slumber comes in with the squid boats hours later.


They wake together in the morning, a weave of limbs in yesterday’s clothes.

Finlay scrambles to ready himself for work while Hispi languishes in bed. Morning gnaws at the shoreline. What if he’s late the first day back at the cannery? What if they fire him? Finlay trips out the front door. Last night burns in his mind. He feels transformed; he feels no elation.

‘Finlay.’ Hispi rushes into the doorway behind him.

‘What?’ Finlay turns.

Hispi’s lips catch his. Finlay freezes in the predawn dark. The distant ocean laps at his back. Nothing cries above.

‘What?’ Hispi says. Her defensiveness verges on aggression. Finlay palms her waist. To his relief, she preens.

‘You surprised me,’ he says.

They embrace. Hispi shudders when Finlay rubs her back. She leans into him. All at once, Finlay’s lungs empty. Joy cracks him.

‘I love you,’ Hispi says. ‘Have a good day at work.’

‘I love you too.’ Finlay wants to cry. ‘I’ll see you later. Be careful, okay?’

Hispi reluctantly withdraws. Finlay’s pulse splutters to see the resentful longing in her gaze. He waves goodbye to Hispi as he departs, once, then twice, even as he thinks I’m dirty. It’s wrong to touch her. I’m dirty, and I’ll never be clean. 


The cannery entombs people and fish alike.

Finlay, before returning, forgets that sixteen-hour shifts there last an eternity. Nothing exists beyond offal-oiled cogs, dripping wicker baskets, and the conveyor belt labyrinth. Brined bodies crush against each other in the murk – fish on fish, men on men – all slick with fluid, all stinking. Finlay beheads anchovies until his wrists scream. The waste basket, an orgy of gawking fish heads, flows so deep that Finlay could dive into it. Sometimes he considers that. What is he selling his body for? A fistful of dollars? Weeks in, Finlay’s back hurts so greatly that he blacks out. The cannery continues grinding his nose into the scale-slimed rollers and railing him. Finlay cannot escape violation: at home, he caresses Hispi; at work, he bathes in filth.

He’s trying not to break in the packing room that Wednesday when Jolie, a co-worker not much older than him, foists condolences and zucchini bread onto him. Finlay is so starved for good fortune that he doesn’t care that she condescends to him. That she eyes him like an animal. He thanks Jolie a pathetic amount before taking the bread. Its presence is the sole reason Finlay finishes the hillside slog home without collapsing.

That day, Hispi – the subject of Finlay’s daydreams and dreads – reeks of exhaustion. She slumps across the table from him, festering. Neither she nor Finlay cook that evening. They descend on the zucchini bread, ripping fistfuls out of it and cramming it into their mouths, feeding with grim, wet urgency.

When only crumbs remain, Hispi speaks. ‘Where did you get the bread?’ 

‘A co-worker,’ Finlay replies.

Hispi’s nose wrinkles as if she’s detecting the faint electricity of fish schooling a current away. ‘I didn’t know that any of those cannery men baked.’

‘They don’t. Jolie isn’t a man.’


Finlay hears Hispi’s fangs clack. It’s a plink, a tiny addition to the aftershocks reverberating through him from a day at the cannery. Everything stills.

‘You didn’t tell me,’ Hispi says, ‘that a girl likes you.’

‘She doesn’t. She’s convinced I’m twenty-five and useless.’

‘She wouldn’t give you anything if she didn’t like you.’

‘You don’t know Jolie.’

Hispi flies to her feet. ‘Oh, but you do?’

The tsunami hits. Hispi circles the table, ranting, tearing at her hair, a whirlwind of directionless loathing. Finlay, confused, already eviscerated, covers his head. Hispi’s voice is a boot to his mouth. He pleads for her to shut up until he hits some hairpin turn. Then he’s screaming too.

‘Leave!’ he yells. ‘Leave, Hispi!’

‘I might!’ Hispi hurls a chair aside. ‘It’s not like I’m satisfied! Some beach master you are.’

Recollections of Hispi’s hungry whispers for him set Finlay aflame with rage and the longing to hang himself.

‘You don’t want any sort of satisfaction,’ he says. ‘It terrifies you. You’re insane.’

‘Don’t tell your better half,’ Hispi spits, ‘what I do or don’t want. You’re nothing without me. No girl in Glenport wants what you offer. Including Jolie.’

‘Good thing you’re not used to choosing.’

Hispi looks at him as if he’s plunged a knife into her thigh.

‘Hey, Finlay,’ she says. ‘Have you considered killing yourself?’

Finlay lurches to his feet. All urges to be well or to pretend it dissipate. He hears himself say, ‘If I killed myself, at least you’d be gone.’

Hispi reels back. ‘Don’t say that!’

‘Fuck you.’

Hispi babbles pleas as she trails him to his room. They don’t matter. Finlay slams the door. Hispi wails. He wraps a pillow around his head. If Caleb’s selkie still lives in the lighthouse, she hears them, then turns away. Evening melts into night as time creeps on, as meaningless as rot overtaking a corpse on the beach, as ungraspable as the stringy intestines that flee everything putrefying beneath the sun, Hispi’s weeping the cries of gulls coming to feed. 


Past the witching hour, Hispi creeps in.

She spoons into Finlay. They diminish together. For an eternity, they say nothing. Half-folded piles of clothes crowd them.

‘I know that was unforgivable,’ Hispi whispers. ‘I’m sorry.’

Devastation colours her voice. Finlay strokes Hispi’s disfigured hip, fearing he’ll break her.

‘I forgive you.’

Hispi unsteadily pauses. ‘Fin, you don’t have to forgive me.’

‘But I do. I’m sorry too.’

Hispi wraps an arm around him. Finlay knows her musky smell now, warm and coppery, feathered in fish blood. He knows her taste. They’re two insignificant, conjoined dots in the night. Hispi takes his hand.

‘I’m scared that you’ll leave me for a landlocked girl. Someone wholer and prettier.’ Hispi wavers. ‘It’s not fair. You’re the closest I’ll ever get to choosing. They can pick anything or anyone they want. Why should they get to have you? Don’t go. Please don’t go.’

They embrace, crying themselves into a knot, emptying themselves of apologies and pet names and caresses and vows to try again until there’s nothing left.


They make it a week before a broken casserole pan reduces them to quarrelling.


When his body barely works, when their shared estuary of unwellness becomes unbearable, Finlay considers surrender.

Hispi weeds their fruitless garden as Finlay ties his laces, quivering. Dread cramps his fingers. Someone else’s hands are securing his boots. He doesn’t know where he’s going, just that he must go. Stop now, and he’ll cease functioning. Like a flipped shark. Or a half-wound toy. Hispi hurls another unsatisfactory tomato downhill. Finlay shrugs on his coat. Noon oppresses them. Their handful of crops sway; a lonesome frigate bird soars above.

‘Are you going out?’ Hispi overflows from Muir senior’s shirt. Her seal features look unnatural within domesticity’s stranglehold. The dark eye circles fit.

‘Yeah. Not for long. I’ll be back before lunch.’

‘I might take a walk while you’re gone.’

‘Alright.’ Finlay hesitates. ‘I love you.’

Hispi grimaces before forcing a smile. Her resentment puts Finlay a thousand miles outside of his body. There’s no starting over; there’s no making this right. Maybe the MacCallans can help her. He cannot. This is all his fault.

‘Love you too,’ Hispi says.

Finlay flees into the cliffs’ awaiting teeth.


This time, three unskinned selkies float in Sea Glass Beach’s shallows. 

All of them are older than Finlay. Piercings, hair ties, and tartan scarves streak their figures. They hiss to each other behind webbed hands as pastel dunes of sea glass crunch beneath Finlay’s heels. In the folding chair below the cliff rests Caleb MacCallan. In his lap, her pelt tied around her waist, barbells glittering in all four teats, rests an old selkie. Finlay halts ten feet away.

‘I warned you,’ Caleb says.

‘Please,’ Finlay says. ‘I need help.’

‘I’m sure you do,’ the old selkie says. ‘The girls say that you’ve fucked yourself.’

Her voice embodies the waves whisking away parts of a cliff face; her aged fisherwoman body is fuller than the moon. This selkie bears more scars than Hispi. A brand chars her collar. Even before she glares at Finlay, he recognizes her as the singer in the lighthouse. Caleb’s wife.

‘Mrs MacCallan,’ Finlay says, ‘what I did was wrong. But I need you.’

‘Darling, are you certain we shouldn’t gut him?’ The selkie looks to Caleb. ‘Once a rookery raider…’ 

‘The boy ain’t a chaser,’ Caleb says. ‘He’s just stupid. We oughta talk to him, Leoithne.’

Leoithne laughs.

‘I want to fix this,’ Finlay says. ‘I need to. Please.’

He vibrates on the cusp of coming apart. Each time waves rake planes of sea glass, they hiss. Miles of shore chant a name – Hispi, Hispi, Hispi.

‘Is this for your sake,’ Leoithne says, ‘or for Hispi’s?’


One of the selkies snorts. Finlay restrains a flinch.

‘You ruined this the instant you stole her skin,’ Caleb says.

The earring gleaming on Leoithne’s ear matches his.

‘I know.’ Finlay swallows. ‘You never stole your wife, did you?’

‘No,’ Leoithne says. ‘He saved me from the older version of a bastard like you.’

Finlay collapses among the sand-dollar pieces and glass. His eyelashes snare his tears. ‘I know I’ve infected Hispi. I know I’ve destroyed her. Tell me how to fix this.’

‘Finlay, Hispi has been like this for years,’ Leoithne says. ‘You’ve worsened what was there. You haven’t made something new.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Caleb grimaces.

‘Hispi has trapped you,’ Leoithne says, ‘nearly as much as you’ve trapped her.’

‘That can’t be.’ Even as Finlay speaks, he remembers Hispi’s skin arranged on the intertidal.

‘I told Hispi this game was ruining her,’ a selkie in the shallows says. His cool eyes match Caleb’s. ‘But she can’t fathom a life without pain or control without being controlled. Do you understand me, fish boy? You’re a knife that cuts her bonds and her wrists.’

Finlay rises, shell bits clinging to his palms, head ringing. ‘I need to leave.’

‘Finlay, let go,’ Caleb says. ‘Give Hispi her skin. It ain’t your fate to be like this, if you choose differently.’

‘Don’t be soft on him, Caleb.’ Leoithne looks into Finlay’s eyes. ‘Finlay, free Hispi or drown. Be a man instead of the childish monster you are. Tell Hispi this is not love. Force her to leave. Free her.’

The two adults sit in the folding chair, one selkie and one human, concern lining their faces, silver lining their hair. Leoithne’s skin pools into their laps. One of Caleb’s twisted hands cups Leoithne’s hip. Leoithne tenderly covers it. The MacCallan children judge Finlay from the water. The waves say, You’re nothing without me.

Finlay flees.


He runs ‘till he reaches the intersection. Then he doubles over. Finlay hyperventilates at the foot of the golden cliffs. Saltgrass smacks his legs. Pelicans glide by. Behind Finlay, up the hill, sits his and Hispi’s weathered blue cell. Below, past the cliffs, the ocean shines. Finlay swipes shell pieces from his legs. Hot tears sting his cheeks.

The MacCallans are right about him. They’re wrong about Hispi. She isn’t using him. She half loves him. If he returns her skin, Hispi will leave. He isn’t trapped. Finlay sprints to the house. Zephyrs and fairy lanterns sway in the garden. A wasp feasts on a zucchini nearby. Finlay stumbles into the house.


Nothing. A breeze eases through cracked windows. Silverware dries on the kitchen counter. The broken photograph of Finlay’s parents beams at him. Before he loses his nerve, Finlay rushes to the cupboard. Its hinges squeal as he casts it open. Hispi’s skin falls into Finlay’s hands, eternally luxurious.

It’s rolled into a bundle, bound in twine. It won’t crease now.

Finlay stares at it. His pulse thuds in his ears. The skin grows heavier. Without Hispi, he amounts to nothing. Did he roll the skin? Maybe he did. Not Hispi. She’s right: his memory always fails him. Yes. He must’ve rolled it.

Hispi hums at the bottom of the hill. Paintbrush blooms dot her locks. Finlay’s flannel hangs open on her. She chuffs at a patch of saltgrass, coppery whiskers twitching. Finlay bets she’s teasing the bees. They promised to start over a fortnight ago. Isn’t that vow enough to carry them? As Hispi climbs the hill, Finlay straightens his parents’ photograph. He hides the seal skin. Then he stands on the threshold, waiting, grateful for the terrible consistency of their relationship, almost loving, almost alive.

Samir Sirk Morató

Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist, artist, and flesh heap. Some of their work can be found in Catapult, Carmen Et Error, and Eerie River's "Water" anthology. 

They are @spicycloaca on Twitter and Instagram

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