The Island of Seals

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The island of Inish Mor lies in a pool of brilliant blue ocean, a few miles from the mainland and the Galway Bay. To the left of where the little ferry docks, a small country road bordered with tall stones twines and twirls up towards a pink farmhouse and a white hotel with a picket fence. If you follow that road you will eventually find the remains of an old monastery and a burial ground looking towards the sea. After that there is nothing more than green fields and rock. But if you instead make a left turn and head towards the horizon where the sun sets, you will find the lagoon. My lagoon. And a house, a white washed house with a red door and a grassy roof. Carts and horses will pass you by, perhaps a small van, but nothing else. You can circle the island on foot in perhaps an hour if you walk briskly. I did once. And I never tire of listening to the sea, roaring, gushing, singing. Sometimes I believe it is all for me. The wind sings too. But it is for the rocks. Those eroded passages between cliffs, tall and steep, love that song so much they bend and shape to its every demand. The old folk call it the mermaid song . There is a lighthouse too, not far from the bay. And a beach with yellow sand, and it was in that sand I wrote: “I’ll be back. “But I was just a little girl.

The Island of Insih Mor was an ideal retreat for me. Isolated as it is, it is safe, but exciting, offering solitude, but not loneliness. I had always wanted to go back. And now, I craved it, to lick my smarting wounds and renew my vows to myself and my craft. But I found myself in a position of doubt, hesitant, unsure. Then one day after aimlessly browsing the World Wide Web for images of exotic locations and retreats, my eyes caught an image of her, my island lover, she shone in all her photoshopped glory, enticing me, calling me. I clicked the image and found myself stranded on a website of a band. A musical band offering drumming classes on the island. I had never felt interested in drumming, but this was an opportunity, maybe even a sign. I clicked on the email address given on the site and a new window opened. I typed the mail quickly and hit send. Ten minutes later the reply came. It was a man. He announced that there were no new classes starting at the moment, but that he could give me private lessons if I wanted. I hesiated. This was exactly the kind of situations the media warned you about. The Internet was a scary place full of predators. But I ignored the warnings, and replied the mail, making further inquiries. The man, whose name was Angus, lived on the island from spring to autumn, giving drumming lessons to groups of tourists, the rest of the year was spent touring Europe with his band.
The next few days, or rather nights as he seemed to be quite the nocturnal kind, Angus and I mailed back and forth. He was sweet and courteous, and I found myself drawn to him. The first mails were all about drumming and practical details, but after a while we ventured into discussions about music, creativity and eventually discovered our mutual interest in folklore and mythology. I started looking forward to his mails with a surprised enthusiasm. I had already booked the tickets. My flight was in just two weeks and I was bursting with excitement. Not just to see my beloved Inish Mor again, but to finally meet the mysterious Angus. A couple of days before my departure was due Angus surprised me with an invitation to stay in his cottage for the duration of my drumming class. Of course, he added, I was to sleep in his guest room. Again I hesitated. I had never even met the man! He was a total stranger! But he didn’t feel like a stranger. Ignoring all common sense and media warnings I accepted the invitation with a racing heart. I hit send. It was done. I was going to stay with him. With Angus! Was I in love? How could I be? I had never even seen Angus; I didn’t know how he looked like! What if he was an old balding man? I shrugged. My thoughts had taken me too far; I was after all just going to learn how to drum.

The day arrived eventually. I was going to Inish Mor. It was a gray rainy day. October days often are in this desolate part of the world. I carried nothing but a backpack and an umbrella. But I had to leave the umbrella with the security at the airport. It was too sharp, too pointed, too metallic, it could be used as a weapon. The flight was long and tedious with two stopovers. I didn’t eat much, but had a fair share of expensive red wine to steady my nerves. Or maybe it was just because it was free. Dublin was as grey and rainy as where I had come from. But the friendly smiling people made up for it. The bus driver greeted me cheerfully and turned up the volume of his radio tuned in to a folk music channel. I recognized the familiar sound of the flute and the violin. The music was skipping and keening in intervals, as if it was not sure whether it was a lament or a drinking song. I caught my foot bobbing silently along to the beat of the haunting music. “So you’re going to Galway, are you?” asked the friendly bus driver. I nodded, then added: “Yes, but I am travelling on to Insih Mor from there.” The bus driver looked up at me with a mischievous look in his eyes. “Ooooo, the island of the seals, is it? Well, you know what the legends say. Better be careful, you’re a pretty young thing.” He chuckled. I wanted to ask him exactly what the legend said, and why it was called the island of seals, but just then a new passenger boarded the bus. It was middle aged man with a bald head and a round red face wet from the rain. It looked as though he knew the bus driver for they commenced an animated discussion with peals of laughter and grunts of disagreement or perhaps disgust in something. The language they spoke was the old Irish, the Celtic language, so I sat back reluctantly and gave up my attempt to get the bus driver’s attention. I fished my iPhone out of my backpack and popped the small pink head phones into my ears, and to the sound of Enya’s soothing voice I fell asleep.

I woke up to the sound of the exhausted engine exhaling noisily. I looked out of the window and discovered to my surprise that I was looking at a rather familiar sight. It was the Galway Market! I got up quickly and climbed down the steps onto the sidewalk. The bus driver was busy helping a woman with a pram disembark the bus. I hurried away, half running through the busy shopping street of the little town; afraid I was going to miss my next bus and the ferry to Inish Mor. I stopped at a little Spar kiosk to buy a sandwich and some crisps.

The next bus ride was a short one. The landscape outside the window was that of Galway bay and the majestic Atlantic Ocean hurling itself with full force unto the rocky coves and little sandy piers. As the bus left the urban coastal landscape behind forests rose to block the view of the bay. Tall evergreens reaching for a graying sky gave way to grassy knolls and little rivers heading for unknown destinations. Small scattered cottages in pale colors bore witness to human habitat, but without the need to tame the outlawed wilderness. Soon the sea came back into view and I spotted the little ferry waiting for the bus. All the passengers were headed for the same destination and the ferry filled up fast. There was a drizzle outside and the seats inside the shelter of the ferry’s belly were soon occupied. I didn’t mind, I wanted to, I needed to sit outside feeling the rain and wind beating my face into submission. There was nothing to see but the sea. White peaked waves, like wild cantering horses, broke against the side of the boat, making it rock uncontrollably. I rocked with it and smiled. Gulls alerted me to the expanding dot on the horizon. Inish Mor. My Inish Mor. I was back.

There was no one waiting for me as I disembarked the ferry. I scanned the dock, but everyone seemed to know what they were doing or where they were going. Then I remembered, I had given Angus the arrival time of my flight, but not the ferry. I hadn’t known. But Angus had given me direction to his cottage, and I decided to see if I could find my way on foot. The early October day was descending into the soft amber glow of afternoon, the rain had stopped and the roads were drying in the dying sun’s surprise visit. The sea was keeping an evening tryst with the little beloved island, and she seemed to be whispering lovers’ secrets to him coaxing his mighty manhood into calm surrender. I felt like a ghost revisiting an old childhood world. These roads were made of a girl’s homespun dreams. I had walked them before, and today those dreams had given me a map to the familiar geography of a rediscovered home. The sea, whose murmur was never out of my ears, was my companion as I climbed the sloping hills heading for a cottage and a man I was not yet sure were real.

The cottage was easily spotted, situated on top of a green grassy hill, individualized by the oddity of its small shape and red inviting door. There was a gate marking the beginning of a path leading up to the cottage. I hoped it was not locked. But just as I was about to find out I heard a noise. Or a cry of sorts, I turned around to see who or what had made the sound and found my eyes staring into the eyes of the sea. But this was not the wild unkempt sea, this was a tamer friendlier version of the same entity. It was a lagoon. A silvery body trapped inside a rocky embrace, holding it fast, forcing it to stay still, and on the rocks seals were lazing about. I had never seen seals like that before. They were big and almost black glistening with salty sunbathed droplets. One of the seals made the cry again. He had lifted his head and was looking straight at me. I did not remember ever seeing seals on the island before. But then it occurred to me that I had never before been here this time of year. It had been early November that time, when I wrote my promise in the sand. Maybe the seals went elsewhere for the harsh winter season. I stood for a while admiring the beautiful creatures basking in the sun, now resting low on the horizon. I smiled at their magnificence. But it was time to face the music; it was time to meet Angus. I turned around and tried the handle of the gate. It opened with a high pitched moan. My legs shook as I slowly climbed the hill. I approached the red door and knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Again there was no response. Maybe he was outside. I walked around the eaves towards the back of the cottage, but there was no one there either. The light was fading fast now and I needed to find somewhere to spend the night. Should I head back and look for the hotel? Perhaps that was best. But something in me was reluctant, hesitating, holding me back…Maybe Angus would be back soon from wherever he was. He knew I was coming today, just not exactly when. If I didn’t show up he would be disappointed. Maybe I could at least check whether or not the door was locked. I had heard that many people living in the countryside never locked their doors. I made up my mind quickly and went back around to the front of the house. I tried the handle. It yielded and the door opened.

The inside of the cottage was dark in the dimming light. The windows were small and few, too small to let in the light. But there were candles and matches on the table. I struck a match and lit one of the candles. The cottage was small and primitive. The floor was nothing but earth tucked densely together, and there was a hearth, a wooden chair and a table. That was it. There was driftwood piled up together in readiness of a fire, and I lit another match and touched the flame to the dry wood, it flared up immediately, helped by a scattering of torn and crumpled newspapers. He was expecting me after all! The glow from the hearth gave the cottage a cozy and welcoming homeliness. I smiled and put my backpack on the floor. I soon found the two bedrooms. Both had iron beds made ready with clean sheets and thick blankets. Another sign that he was after all aware of my arrival. I found a bottle of red wine on a cardboard box fashioned into a little table and a covered plate of food. It smelled delicious! I opened the wine poured a glass and dug into the food. I was hungry after the long journey.

The sea stirred up again outside at the coming of twilight and the continuous roars and wild howls of the tide mixed with the gusts of the autumnal winds flying about the eaves made me feel as though I had gone back in time. To a simpler life, blessed or cursed by the moods of the mighty Mother Nature. I closed my eyes dreamily. The shadows created by the candle flickered before me and penetrated even the curtains of my eyelids, and I sighed in contentment.

After finishing half the bottle of wine I started to feel drowsy. Stars had climbed up on the bluish black sky and the wind had increased; wailing now, like a ghost looking for a way back home. I shivered. Where was Angus? Why had he not come home? Worried as I was I could stay up no longer. I climbed under the covers of the soft blankets and was immediately lulled to sleep by the keening wind songs. I don’t know how long I had slept when I suddenly sprung out of the bed wide awake. Someone or something had touched me! I had felt a caress, a hand or something that had felt like a hand, had slipped up my leg and caressed my bare thigh! I tore the blanket aside and shook it. I hurried to light a candle, but there was no one there. I lit up every darkened corner, ventured into the other bedroom and looked into the bed. But there was no one there. Perhaps it had been a mouse. It was quite likely that there were mice in a cottage like this. I looked under the beds, examined the sheets, but found nothing. But the thought of a mouse, however disconcerting it was to think of a mouse sharing my bed, eased me a little. A mouse wasn’t dangerous after all. And it was probably gone now. I went back to bed and tucked the blankets around me. I closed my eyes, but couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay awake listening to the sea outside the window. The tide was beating against the rocky lagoon; the rhythm was that of a pulse, steady and musical, almost like…..like the beat of a drum. My thoughts went back to Angus. Where was he? Why hadn’t he come? I closed my eyes tight trying to think of something else. Then suddenly I felt it again! The hand caressing my thigh, only this time it continued higher towards my stomach. I bolted out of bed, stifling a scream. The candle was still burning on the night stand and I flickered it around frantically. “Who is there?” I cried out. There was no answer. My heart was beating fast now; fear had finally taken me over. But I couldn’t see anyone. “Show yourself!” I tried to sound angry, demanding, self-assured, but I could hear the fear in my own voice. Again, the only answer I got was that of the sea. It sounded menacing now, threatening. Tears sprung to me eyes. All of a sudden I felt alone, foolish and frightened. Someone, or something was out there, or perhaps even inside the cottage, something that meant to…what? Harm me? Or…or…have its way with me? I shivered again and felt the hairs in the back of my neck stand. One thing was certain; I would not go back to that bed.

I lit the fire in the hearth and sat as close to it as I could, seeking shelter in its comforting light. Dawn came at last. It was slow and reluctant, took its time, but it came. I got my things together, beat the fire until it died and blew out the candles. I was not planning to stay here any longer than I had to. I didn’t care about Angus anymore; he was probably not even real.

Even the island had lost its charm. I just wanted to go home. I slammed the red door shot behind me and left the hill with a brisk walk. When I closed the gate, my eyes fell once more on the peaceful lagoon that had charmed me so utterly yesterday. But it was empty. The seals had gone. Maybe the night storm had encouraged them to look for warmer pasture. Maybe it was their time of year to leave. I wasn’t sure, but I frankly didn’t care anymore.

The little ferry was waiting for me at the dock. The morning was not a popular time to leave the island and very few people joined me on the overcrossing. I decided to sit outside again. I needed the fresh air. My nerves were still unsettled and the coldness of the wind soothed me. I kept my eyes on the horizon keenly awaiting the dark shadow of the mainland to be silhouetted against the endless blue. And it was then I saw it; the small black curve of a head bobbing in the waves. A seal. One solitary seal swimming gracefully ahead of the boat, occasionally turning around and staring with black liquid eyes directly into mine.

I was inspired to publish this story by this post:

https://toffeefee.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/seals-and-more/

Please check it out to see beautiful pictures of adorable seals!

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Boat on land

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Easter is for me stories. All kind of stories really, but mostly magical tales of ghosts and fantastical creatures. So I have given myself a challenge this easter, to write and share as many stories as I can. This is the first. I hope you will enjoy it.

By the willowed banks of a black lake, between a grove of old cashew nut trees and a thick bramble hedge, someone has pulled a boat on land. The green paint is scaling off the keel and white prickly splinters poke up from the dried up wooden surface of the stern. A name tag on the side of the boat reads: Memory. I should know, I put it there, and yet, I have never seen the boat anywhere but on land. It is not my boat.

I first noticed her on a rainy day in April. I know what you are going to say, there is no such thing as a mermaid, and you are probably right. I never really saw a fish tail. Just a girl with long black hair and a blue dress sitting on a rock beside the boat crying.

I was a student, just months away from graduation. Life seemed like a broad pathway with opening doors on each side, every door revealing some new and exciting opportunity. I loved walking, especially by any body of water. I took immense pleasure in the play of light on expanding ripples, willows swaying against the blue surface, and the quiet pathways with tiny round pebbles crunching under my feet. I walked by that particular lake often, breathing the scent of the wind beaten lake, sweet and fresh. It was always quiet. People prefer treadmills in front of TV’s to cold and humid nature, vulnerable to shifting weather, these days. But that particular day there was one exception: the girl in the blue dress.

When I first heard her crying I didn’t know what to think or do about the situation. Had she come here for privacy, should I just leave her alone? Or was it my own awkwardness around strangers that prevented me from approaching her?
“Oh, I am sorry, have I startled you?” It was the girl who spoke first. I apologized for sneaking up on her, slightly embarrassed, and turned around to leave. “It’s okay, you can come and sit with me if you like.” Her face looked so vulnerable and imploring I could not get myself to decline her offer, so I made my way through the netted brambles and sat down on a black slippery rock beside her. She smiled at me through her tears and I could see that she had green glassy eyes, like an exotic fish, I caught myself thinking, and pale gauze-like skin. She was beautiful in an ethereal way. ” I love coming here to see my boat.” She sighed and gave me a curious smile. ” He used to take me out rowing all the time, ” she continued. I assumed she was talking about a man now. ” That was when he was still in love with me. ” I nodded, feeling her loneliness deep within my own heart, like a hushed sea in a conch you’ve taken back to the city after a day on the beach. Faint, but still there if you really listen for it. Much like her story:

We met in a bar. I know, not very romantic, but that is what it was. He bought me a drink, and I accepted. He took me home with him afterwards, and I guess I just never left. Oh, those first days together were like in a fairy tale, filled with roses and talk of dreams and late night kisses. And of course the boat. He gave it to me one day by the lake. He knew how much I missed the sea. Every day that summer we went rowing. I sat at the rear with my bare feet in the lake, he lifted and lowered the oars into the water, it was like a dance, how the boat rose and fell into the water by the touch of those oars. He was red -headed with purple-green eyes. His skin was tanned and smooth. Water made him dreamy and still, even the rain, when it beat steadily on our bedroom window. He was the last thing I saw before closing my eyes to sleep, and the first thing I saw when I opened them. Sometimes I could swear I could smell the sea on his breath. Salty and wild. Gradually he took the place of the ocean in my heart.
But summer came to an end, and he had to go back to his office job. His bare feet were covered up in black leather shoes, and he cut his red hair short. Long days I spent alone. First I missed him, then I missed the sea. Our flat was far from the lake and even further from any seaside. But one day I defied the distance and walked on the gray cold concrete to our black still lake. I took off my shoes and dipped my bare feet into the cool colorless water. I sat like that for hours, until a hundred tiny fish came and nibbled at my red skin, irritated by the uncomfort of shoes. I let them remove the layers of my hardened skin, until the soft glow of the water was restored. I came back late that day, and my feet were tired. He scolded me, told me it was too far to walk by myself, and I begged him to take me out rowing again. “Tomorrow,” he said.
Tomorrow came and went, and more tomorrows came and went, but he said he was too busy.
I took to going to the lake every day, timing the journey so that I would return before him. The fish nibbled and restored my skin. For each hour I was in the water I became more and more at one with all that lived in it. I learned their ways. And they, I suspect, learned mine. I whispered my secrets to the deep dark blue. My breathing slowed, my movement slowed. The lake and its many creatures was never too busy to listen or to love me. I pretended to myself that I loved him more.
One day I again asked him to take me out rowing, but the same answer came, he was too busy. Something broke in me that day. When I dreamed back to those summer days I saw a different man, not the one standing in front of me. I missed that man. The man that smelled of the sea and made boats dance on water. He was gone, perhaps spirited away by the lake itself.
The next morning I went to the lake as usual, but this time I did not sit on my rock. I pushed the rowing boat gently off the bank and into the cold autumn water. I did not bother about the oars, I just dipped my feet into the lake like I had in those first days of summer, and let the current take me farther and farther away from land, from people and houses, roads and the shoes we must wear to walk on them. It started raining and I smiled. When the boat was as far from the banks as possible, I let myself glide into the water. It welcomed me with its silence and its softness. I was home. At last.

I don’t know what happened to the boat that day. But a year later I resurfaced and found it here, the same place it had always been: on land. I still miss him, but I was happy to return to my family, I guess my love for my home: the sea, was in the end stronger than my love for him.

As her story ended, she stopped crying and stared longingly at the old boat. I got up and stretched my legs, walking slowly over to the boat. Was it really her boat? Or was she just a sad lonely lost girl making up stories? When I turned around to look at her once more. She was gone. I never saw her again.

By the willowed banks of a black lake, between a grove of cashew nut trees and a thick bramble hedge, someone has pulled a boat on land. It is almost invisible against the greenery. No one ever comes here but me. I guess everyone is too busy to bother about the life of an old dried up rowing boat.