Erik is eleven when he first hears the story.
‘I’m going to read you a story,’ Erik’s Mama tells him after she’s had enough of his tossing and turning, wandering around the hallway like some sort of 1920’s heroine, looking for her lost love.
He gives her an indignant look. ‘I’m too old for a story.’
‘Yes, but you’ll like this one,’ she says patiently, trying to tuck him into bed again, which is more like her tackling him into the covers.
Erik knows what this means and he can’t quite stop the suspicious look he shoots at her. He’s fallen for this before - oh Erik, it’s just a little story, you’ll love it- and instead he’d sat there for an hour listening to her sniffle and weep while she forced him to listen to The Little Mermaid.
God, it was mortifying.
Most of all, Erik wishes he hadn’t cried along with her. This is the sort of material his mother will hold over his head for the rest of Erik’s life.
‘If you’re going to trick me again, I don’t want to hear it,’ he tells her.
‘Really, Erik, it was only one time.’ She fluffs his pillows and tucks the duvet around his body like a cocoon, before taking a seat at the edge of the bed. She pulls out a red book, tucked away all this time at the end of the bed and gives him a pensive look. ‘Are you ready for this, Erik?’
He folds his arms and looks at the ceiling. Good God, only his mother could make story time so dramatic. ‘Yes, Mama, I’m ready. Wait, there’ll be action in this, won’t there? I don’t want to read anything, you know,’ he shudders, ‘romantic.’
Smirking, she answers,'Yes, there will be lots of action.'
She flips open the book and it’s the first time Erik notices how old it is. The spine looks creased and the pages are faded and yellow. Her fingertips ghost across the dry parchment and he wonders, not for the first time, why Mama loves to read so much? Why is it that she spends so much time scouring book shops and libraries for history that probably ought to be forgotten.
She begins, in a clear and sharp voice, “Long ago on an island at the northern edge of the world, there lived a fisherman. He lived all alone in a stone croft where the moorland meets the shore, with nothing but the guillemots for company and the stirring of the sand among the shingle for song-”
He’s a good fifteen-minutes into the story when he catches the next bit. “She stared at him with great dark eyes that held the depths of the sea. Then slowly she held out her hand, and said, in a voice that trembled, won’t you kis-”
‘Wait a minute,’ he cuts her off, because she’s getting that wistful look in her eyes which could only mean danger. ‘Are you trying to trick me again? Where’s the action? Oh my God, is this a kissing book?’ He looks at her, horrified.
She gives him a sharp smile. Somewhere in the background Erik can here the theme to Jaws playing. ‘Of course not, Erik, what do you take me for? And stop interrupting me, you’re ruining the flow of the story. I can’t keep getting in and out of character for you.’
So Erik shuts up, feeling chastised because she’s his mother and of course he should trust her. Look at all the effort she’s putting in with her breathless voice and misty eyed expressions. This shit isn’t easy.
Two-minutes later while Mama is dramatically re-enacting the scene where Neil is declaring his undying love for some sort of selkie thingy being, Erik just wants to roll under the covers and die. Just die. Of course, this is nothing compared to when she starts making kissing noises.
Holy crap, not again.
Erik learns a lot about selkie’s from his Mama.
She tells him depressing tales about these beings that are seals, yet they can become human by shedding their skin. They are stories of how a selkie’s skin is stolen so that she’s kept bound to the man who possesses it, because a selkie can’t return to the sea, not unless it’s in seal form.
Erik can’t help but pity them, because no matter how great the life they’ve built here may be, the moment their skin is discovered they will return home, leaving everything behind.
Of course Mama finds it all tragically romantic. She spends a good portion of three-days reading everything and anything under the sun about selkie’s. The only thing that really ever sticks in Erik’s mind is the fact that all selkie’s leave in the end, how no selkie willingly stays. Instead they’re forced because someone has most likely stolen their skin. Erik doesn’t think there’ll ever be a selkie who’d actually want to stay.
Well, if they existed, that is.
Erik doesn’t think much about selkie’s after those three-days.
It’s a bitterly windy day when Erik’s mother comes to visit.
Erik lives in West Cork, near the coastline. It is technically a popular tourist destination, but Erik doesn’t necessarily mind that. This is probably because he lives in a more reclusive area, his house standing near the cliffs, which gives him a frustratingly picturesque view of the sea.
The thing is, when you have writers block and a manuscript deadline looming in the horizon, everything seems frustrating. Including the fact that Mama is visiting.
It’s pitch black and the wind is howling when he opens the door, at seven in the morning, to find Edie Lehnsherr staring back at him.
‘Ah, so you’re awake then,’ she says, before shoving him out the way and walking into the foyer. ‘I thought you might have drowned in your bowl of cereal, wallowing over your sad life.’ She tucks her hands in her coat pockets and scans him from head to toe, the I’m-your-mother-and-I-know-everything-including-what-underwear-you-wear-my-dear-boy look. It’s honestly quite disconcerting. ‘So, come on then, you need to get ready.’
Erik is still standing in the doorway wondering what the hell is going on. This is too stupidly early for any sane person to be functioning. Then again, he reminds himself, this is the woman who forced him to watch a Brideshead Revisited marathon at four in the morning.
‘What are you talking about, Mama?’ he asks, slamming the door shut and taking note of the scarf and wellington boots she’s got on. It takes a while for him to register the manic glee in her eyes and the way she’s tapping her feet against the floor, like she’s Gene Kelly and she’s about to burst out into a Singin’ in the Rain routine. God, not again.
‘Well, Erik, it’s your birthday, have you forgotten?’
She shakes her head reproachfully. ‘Honestly Erik, you need to get out of here more often. Mind you, the place is lovely,’ she says, looking around, before sniffing disdainfully at the couch. ‘Well, at least on the outside, anyway.’
‘I’ll bet it is,’ he mutters dryly.
‘I thought we could do something fun. A mother and son bonding experience. So we’re going whale watching,’ she says brightly, like it's the best thing since sliced bread.
Erik is quietly counting to ten in his head and wondering if he can get away with throttling Mother. It’s a quiet area, it could quite possibly work, though she does scream like a banshee.
‘Oh it’ll be so much fun,’ she continues on blithely, heading towards the closet under the stairs for his coat, it appears. ‘We’ll need to be on the ferry for eight, and it’s a long hike all the way down there.’ Her voice comes out muffled. She’s probably got her face pressed against a coat, checking if he’s been keeping himself clean in regards to hygiene. ‘But it’ll be brilliant.’ She comes out with a scarf and his leather jacket, while Erik staggers towards the couch, questioning his sanity.
'What do you think then?' she asks, though it is evidently clear that should he answer negatively there will be repercussions.
Ten-minutes later, Erik is reluctantly trudging behind Mama and wondering how it is that he always gets stuck in these situation.
Turning over her shoulder, giving his little cottage a wistful look, Mama says, ‘Oh, it really is romantic, Erik. It’s like Love Actually and that lake scene with Colin Firth and the housekeeper.' She gives him a thorough look while Erik scowls. 'Except you’re not as dashing as he is,’ she finishes with a frown.
Erik shoots her a dirty look. ‘Thanks for the vote of confidence. Your opinion is, as always, appreciated.’
She carries on walking ahead. ‘No problem, it’s what I’m here for.’ And then she adds in as an after thought, ‘I hope we get to see some of those grey seals, I heard they’re common around these areas.’
Sometimes Erik will look back at it all, particularly at this moment, and wonder exactly why didn’t he realise that this was really the start of it all.
Shaw is in charge of their boat.
The row of boats that are lined up are all yellow, and on the side they read: ‘Shaw’s Safari - A Magical Adventure’ in bright red.
For a moment, Erik thinks he’s somehow fallen into that scene from Jurassic Park and any minute now, Jeff Goldblum is going to come streaking past, screaming, “must run faster” while a T-Rex chases the fuck out of him. He has to remind himself that, no, no, this is reality. When Shaw attempts to climb into their boat, looking awfully sinister for a man taking them all on a magical adventure, Erik knows for certain that this isn’t a dream; he hasn’t got the imagination to conjure something so nauseating.
Mother’s got her life-jacket on and she’s already talking to some ginger-haired kid. Shaw wobbles a little as he tries to throw his other leg over the edge, which is just bullshit because Erik knows he takes Salsa classes considering how footloose he is with life sometimes. Erik has to help the sad bastard because this is just Godawful. Plus Mama’s giving him nasty looks. Shaw’s the last one on, and it’s already taken him two-minutes just to get one leg over.
Shaw throws Erik a dirty look, though he still takes his hand.
Shaw’s voice is droning on and on, and Erik is considering how he can shove him over the edge, into the cold sea, without getting caught.
‘You must keep your hands and feet to yourself at all time,’ Shaw says looking disgustingly excited. ‘Inappropriate behaviour will result in immediate removal.’ He gives a pointed look to a blond kid. ‘We are being recorded, so unless you want to become our resident porn stars, I suggest you keep it to yourself. Although, God knows, we could do with some new faces.’ The blond blushes a tomato red.
Erik’s bullshit radar is going off, and he can’t quite believe what he’s hearing. What sort of health and safety check is this? He looks disbelievingly at his mother, but she’s too busy watching Shaw with a serene look, listening to each and every word rapturously.
‘It’s important that you keep away from the edge of the boat,’ Shaw continues on blithely. ‘You don’t want to fall and die, unless of course, this is what you desire. If so, I suggest you wait until we reach Kilkoe Castle, the waters are much more deeper there. Our itinerary includes stops at the Harbour, and after this we will pass Heir Island.’ Mother makes a oooh sound. ‘After this we will enter into Roarina Water Bay and observe the mussel fish farms. Finally we will conclude our trip with a stop at the local seal colony.’
‘Will we only see one castle?’ the ginger-haired kid asks.
‘Yes, just the one,’ Shaw says. ‘Any other questions?’ He looks around at everyone. Nobody puts their hands up. ‘Well, brilliant, let’s get on with it then.’ He claps his hands together and starts humming the tune to Happy Days, and that’s when Erik knows he’s doomed.
He’ll never make it alive without keeling over.
The thing is, Erik isn’t a people person. There’s only so much interaction he can take with other humans. It’s why he prefers the solitary life compared to the one his mother lives. Sitting in a boat, admiring the wonders of ancient castles, surrounded by eight lunatics isn’t his idea of enjoying his birthday. Frankly, he’d have been perfectly fine rolling under the covers and passing out for the next twelve-hours. Is that too much to ask for?
Clearly it is for Mama as she tries to molest a grey seal that’s making a bid for freedom.
‘Erik, get your ass down here,’ she hollers from the front of the boat. ‘I bought you out here to pet things, not to sulk around like an old hag.’
The blond, who Erik learns is called Alex, snickers at him.
Great. Just fucking great. Reluctantly he moves forward and looks down at the murky water. Some of them are lounging in the shade by the rocks, but one or two are still in the water.
‘I think that one is coming near you,’ a dark-haired girl tell him. ‘I’m Angel, by the way.’
‘Erik,’ he grunts out. She’s got a camera hanging from her neck and doesn’t look like she’s been smoking joints like the rest of them, which clearly includes Mother.
‘Well, go on, touch it, it’s coming by,’ she says.
Erik manfully resists the urge to roll his eyes and looks at the seals lazing around, before he spots one sneaking around the boat. They shouldn’t really be so close, but maybe it’s because Shaw’s cut off the engine, that there are a few trailing near by, almost hesitant. They look just as curious as the humans in this boat.
‘Quick, quick,’ his mother whispers furiously from the other side, ‘it’s coming your way.’ And sure enough, there is something peeking out from the water. He gives her a dirty look. This is what his life’s come to, thanks to her, and then he dips his hand into the water, running his fingers along the seals skin.
‘There, you happy?’ he asks, looking over his shoulder.
‘Splendid,’ Shaw says. ‘Make sure you get that for the memories, Angel.'
Erik realises he is still stroking the seal. It clearly hasn’t moved away yet, so he looks at Alex and says, ‘Here, you can take your turn.’
Alex dips his hand in just as Erik moves away, except this is right about the time that the seal swims into the bit under the boat.
‘Oh, well, maybe another time,’ Shaw says, sympathetically, though he doesn’t look all that sad.
Alex gives him a pathetic look, and because Erik is clearly an idiot, he feels sorry for the wombat, so he tries to see if he can coax it out.
The minute Erik sticks his hand in, the seal comes back. He touches it hesitantly once more. Privately Erik can’t help but wonder exactly why people find them so fascinating. They’re not exactly the best looking things out there, poor sods.
‘Alright, you can try again,’ he tells Alex, and moves away to let him have a go. There’s no point though, it’s gone again.
Alex stares pathetically at the water.
‘I think,’ Angel says, slowly, ‘that he or she might have a bit of a crush on you.’ She gives him a shit-eating grin before snapping a picture as he scowls at her and Shaw cackles in the background.
Wonderful. He’s being courted by a seal.
It’s not as windy as it was in the morning on their way back. Turns out only Erik was able to touch that particular seal. He'd spent another ten-minutes trying to lure the seal in, only for it to scamper away the minute another came near it. Mother took great delight in reminding him of his ‘wooing’ skills.
Shaw'd said, in a dry voice, 'Fascinating, Lehnsherr. If only you could succeed with women, now wouldn't that be something.'
He sends his mother off on her way two-hours later, slamming the door behind her harder than strictly necessary. He’s just grateful that life will finally get back to its quiet and normal self.
Two-days later, he finds a man butt-naked and utterly dead to the world on his porch.