A reimagining of the old Celtic tale of the seal folk.
Our city is a magical, mythical place where people still believe in angels, and demons.
The city can be a cold, harsh, hard landscape. Coldness of the city, hard city, urban meanness. Competitive; artists scrabbling around in the dirt for the scraps fallen from the rich ones.
And then there are the places between people, where you find softness, and love.
The snow doesn’t come anymore. There is just rain, and heat, too much heat.
Here, the people have forgotten how to live with Gaia. The tempestuous Eros has gripped, with rampant urges of desire, but we have forgotten love. Chaos thrives, the GrandFather.
A sad and lonely man, Jeremy, spends his days in his bedsit in Canton. He has been left behind by progress, in some ways. He puts on a smile for the world, he is one of those people who has a better life online, active and thriving in his digital persona. But lost in his heart, yearning to find the love of another.
He would walk, on quiet days, down the trail into the Bay, and he would sit and watch the water. His grandfather had been a docker, his family from Newtown, gone now. He wasn’t sure where they were from before, but you know how it is with families and stories. He knew from uncaptured tales told over a lifetime of Sunday dinners that somewhere in his blood he was Irish. Although today, he very much considered himself to be Welsh.
Some days, as he sat peering, wondering about the lives of the people he saw, and how they might know love, he would spot a glint of something. He could never work out if the two, deep, loving, wise and wild eyes he saw were a deep and dark manifestation of his imagination, a telling of his broken mind, or…a real creature.
What he thought he saw was a seal. But that wasn’t really possible, was it? A seal in Cardiff Bay? Where could a seal have come from?
As he walked home, he told himself, it was impossible. But, there was some feeling resonating with him that made him wonder.
Now, Jeremy is not a spiritual person. He likes to think of himself as grounded and rational, if a little flighty and capricious. He does not believe in fairy tales. He does, however, believe in the wonders of nature. Particularly the moon. He notices that whenever there is a full moon he feels especially alive. Energy courses through his body.
It was June, and the evenings were light. Jeremy had been looking at Facebook, one of his friends had shared an event that he hadn’t noticed before – Full Moon Feast, described as a meeting of artists and community, and, it was in his favorite spot in the Bay.
Jeremy didn’t really like going to events where he thought he might not know anyone. He had this sort of social fear, of not being enough. He saw that one of the women from his activist circle, Melody, had said she was going on the event page, which bolstered his courage.
On the night, Jeremy arrived to find a circle of people gathered in the late evening sunshine on the grass where the Lightship used to be, Britannia Park. The people were all discussing the mean developers who wanted to take the park and build on it. He couldn’t see Melody in the group. He sucked up his courage with a big breath and walked towards them. A young women turned to him as he approached and said “Hello, I’m Suki Gill”. Jeremy enjoyed the evening socialising.
The moon was very bright that night. When all the people had gone back to their respective places and spaces in the city, Jeremy, uplifted by his usual surge of energy of full moon shine time, and not quite ready to go home to his empty bedsit, took a wander towards the barrage.
The moon was casting a strong and vibrant reflection on the water, he wanted to get closer so he walked all the way to the skate park and onto the little beach by the jetty. He was feeling good after his evening connecting with others and felt bursting! He climbed up onto that great lump of coal and stood, arms wide open, breathing deeply, looking out over the water.
From this vantage point, atop the rock, he could see movement, just behind the jetty. As he attuned his senses, shapes and sounds began to emerge. He saw a small group of women, swimming, larking, playing. He’d often seen groups of young people jumping off the sides of the jetty in the heat of the midday sun, but after some big accident in which a boy died from a jump in over by the basin, the authorities had clamped down and you didn’t see them so much anymore, for good reason. He sat down, so as not to draw attention to himself, and for a while, he watched. He felt the loneliness in his heart lift as he drank in their laughter.
He noticed a pile of clothes, which must have belonged to the women, just on the edge of the jetty close to the waters edge. Without thinking he jumped down and keeping his body low moved quickly to the pile. He picked up the fur coat, without knowing why, he felt a strange attraction to it, put it around his shoulders and sloped off back along the path, onto the trail and finally got home.
He took the coat off. The fur felt so soft, he touched it, smelt it, he was enraptured. He had lost himself in a crazed moment. When he realised what had happened, he panicked. For the next two days he didn’t leave the house. He didn’t know what to do, he had stolen a woman’s coat! And, he didn’t know why! He was overcome with anxiety. He reasoned that the best thing to do was to put it back where he had found it. It would be weird, but that’s all he could think to do.
That evening, late because it was midsummer and he wanted the cover of darkness, he made his way back down the trail on to the path, and down to the beach. As he got closer he could see the shadow of a woman sat on the jetty. He froze, coat in his hand. The last thing he expected was to find a woman sat there. He didn’t know what to do. If he went to talk to her she would probably be scared, a man walking around here in the late night wasn’t a usual thing, he didn’t want to frighten her. He stood for a few moments. He took a few breaths, time in which to consider what to do. And he noticed something strange happening in his body, his blood felt warm, he could feel his heart beat within. He felt more alive than he ever had, he felt something solid, deep and universal. He felt his soul.
He looked up then, and noticed that the woman was looking directly at him! He blushed. He could do nothing but wave. He felt a big smile on his face, he felt a thrill at this small moment of connection with this women sat on the jetty. He walked towards her, as he got closer he could see that she was cold.
As he walked towards me I was uneasy, this man had taken my coat and I was unable to return to the life I knew without it. He drew close and I could see his breath hit the air. “Can I sit here next to you?” he said.
“Yes, if you like”. I said. He must have got a sense immediately that I was not happy with him.
“My name is Seltzer Markie, you stole my coat, I can’t go home without it.”
“Oh.” Jeremy said, a little taken aback. But he didn’t hand me the coat he was holding.
There was a long pause, we just sat, neither of us knowing what to do.
“Who are you?” Jeremy asked
“I am everyone, and no one. I am you, you are me.” Seltzer Markie replied.
And with the sound of her voice, soft and silken, like the wind, in the flash of a moment, Jeremy knew he was in love.
“My name is Jeremy” he said, “I am a lonely man”, will you keep me company?
Knowing that she couldn’t go home without her coat, and knowing that this man had it, Seltzer Markie thought to herself, “well, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, I could do with a change, I’m fed up of my grandmother telling me what to do and my sisters getting all the luck.”
Jeremy was surprised when Seltzer said that he would keep her company. It made him wonder if magic really was real. Then, Seltzer offered her deal.
“I will stay with you for seven summers” she said. Then you will give me back my coat, and I will go home.
He didn’t really know what that meant, but Jeremy agreed. He invited her to walk back to his bedsit with him. As they walked, he wondered what was happening, he was walking with the woman of his dreams in the middle of the night, she said yes. Would he be in trouble? What was he doing!
Over time, Jeremy and Seltzer settled into their new life, together. They made up whimsical tales of their meeting to tease their friends. No one ever came to know how they had really met. It was like a dark secret that sat between them. They rarely talked of it. For many many months Jeremy was like a lovesick teenager, doing everything he could do to please his love.
One day, Selzer said she wanted to move from the bedsit in Canton, down to the Bay, so she could be closer to home. Jeremy was earning a reasonable wage now, Selzer was working as well, and it seemed like the right thing to do, to grow their love, to deepen their relationship.
As Selzer was packing up their belongings, she came upon a brown paper package, she knew what it was immediately. It was her fur coat. She cried as she held it in her hand.
Seltzer Markie is not a woman of this world. She belongs to another place. As she cried, she remembered her grandmother. She missed her. She also missed dancing in the moonlight with her sisters, especially at the time of the potent full moon. There was much more that she missed too, but she had found ways to repress those things, because even though it was hard, she had offered to keep Jeremy company for seven summers, she didn’t want to go back on her word.
To the outside world, Seltzer and Jeremy looked like any other couple. They settled into their flat in the Bay. Seltzer was pleased to have a view of the water. She would often watch, and wonder. In time, they had a baby. His was named Ren, and he grew to be nimble and happy.
At bedtimes, Seltzer would tell Ren stories of creatures that lived in the water. She would lift his small body up to the window and point and say to him, “one day we will go home”.
As time went on, Selzer started to feel isolated, spending her days in their flat with Ren, while Jeremy went out to his work. Everyone was so busy it seemed. Her friends, even those who had children too were all so far away in other places in the city. She felt like it was hard to stay connected. She hadn’t got to grips with the internet, she didn’t understand it. She liked to be with people, in real time, in real space, close enough to feel skin. She saw how Jeremy stayed in contact with people on Facebook, but she hated it, she thought they were nothing but a company wanting to exploit the riches of communication for the purpose of profit. But because of this, she suffered, at home, alone.
She got sick. Her body went pale, her flesh lose on her bones. Her vitality lost. Jeremy did all he could, but nothing he did could help her it seemed. One evening, when the seventh summer was coming to a close, Seltzer said to Jeremy, “It is time for you to give me back my fur coat”.
Jeremy was surprised. “And what will happen?”. He feared she would leave him. He could see how desperately unhappy she was. But he loved her, and didn’t want her to go, and there was Ren.
“I will go home” Seltzer said.
Jeremy got angry. This wasn’t something he did, it was born out of fear. He shouted this and that to her. She cried. She whaled. She screamed, “I will go home”.
And in the silence of the flat, Ren sleeping, Jeremy gone, Seltzer looked deep into the back of Jeremy’s wardrobe, where she knew he had put the coat all those summers ago when they had moved.
Ren wasn’t sleeping. He was a boisterous seven year old. And he had heard the commotion. He woke up. He put on his dressing gown. He hid, and in a moment, a flash, he nipped through the door, just behind his unknowing father, out into the corridor. He knew his way down to the water’s edge. He went there most days with his mother, to walk along, and look. There he was, a boy in his dressing gown, outside, late, dark. But he felt no fear.
He sat down, hanging his small lean legs over the side. He saw a movement, a sleek, slipping motion in the water. And then a pair of deep, loving, wise and wild eyes. It was a seal. He was delighted. He spoke to her, asking how she was, she looked at him. That look stirred something terribly deep inside himself. He remembered his mother, who he loved so much. He said goodbye to the seal, who seemed to wave, and made his way back up the lift, along the corridor.
He saw his mother in the living room, holding her fur coat, crying, wailing.
“Mummy, you can’t leave me?”
“Darling boy, I am dying here, I have to go home. You will come to understand. I will see you soon.”
And with that, she picked up her fur coat, the one Jeremy had taken all those years ago. She finally had back that which was hers. She ran down the corridor, down the stairs, for the lift took too long. When she was at the water’s edge, she swung the coat around herself, her arms deep into the sleeves. It felt so good. And she jumped.
Seven days passed. It was late, Jeremy was sleeping. Seltzer crept into the flat, into Ren’s room, and whispered quietly to him “Come”. He got up, knowingly, and together they made their way back to the water. They dove in. Ren was surprised at how easily he could breathe. He turned to look at his mother, but didn’t see her human form, she had transformed into a seal. He realised that he had too! They swam deep into the water and into a cave where another, clearly older, wiser seal was. Ren recognised the eyes, it was the seal had had seen that night when his mother had left. “Welcome, dear Grandchild”, the old seal said. “This is your grandmother” Seltzer said.
When it came to it, everyone knew that Ren needed to go back to his father, he had growing up to do. Ren was sad when his mother said she wouldn’t be coming back too. Seltzer was so sorry that she had hurt Jeremy, but she couldn’t go back because she felt like a prisoner in her own life. She wanted to try to explain this to Jeremy, but she knew she couldn’t.
Seltzer promised that Ren could come swim with her anytime he wanted too. Ren went back to his father. He grew up to be an artist. He told tales of the nights spent swimming with his mother, the seal who lived in the Bay. No one believed him of course. Except his father.
Next time you find yourself close to the water, down the Bay. Take a moment to take a second look. You might just catch a glimpse of the beautiful Seltzer Markie and she swims. You might even see that look in her deep, loving, wise and wild eyes.