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The Pelt

Shades of green

By Lori LamothePublished 3 years ago 9 min read
The Pelt
Photo by Amir Esrafili on Unsplash

When Jack woke the next morning, he felt Claire’s absence in the cottage immediately. Had that been the plan all along, to leave that night? There was no reason to wait, really. It didn’t matter when she left as long as she had the sealskin pelt.

Still, he wondered whether she might be hidden somewhere close by while she waited for night to fall. No doubt she was already gone. He knew it as clearly and as thoroughly as he knew he would proceed to brew himself his morning coffee, shower, dress, take Luna for a quick walk and drive the back road to the lab at the university.

He couldn’t stop himself from asking one final question: had she thought of him even once as she slipped back into the sea to reunite with her selkie pod? Or had everything she’d told him the night before been an elaborate fiction — was it possible that after seven years spent living alongside him, the madwoman he’d rescued from the sea had finally decided to abandon him? But where would she go? Would she miss him at all?

He had no idea.

Jack could never know and he found he didn’t want to contemplate the matter. As he tied his robe around him and padded downstairs, he considered the power of a mother’s love and wondered how it compared to romantic love.

Was love a feeling one could calibrate if one had the proper methods and equipment? Could he place his feelings for Claire alongside the unadulterated purity of a daughter’s love? Spin both in some kind of emotional centrifuge and study the relative weights of passion?

Luna trailed along behind him as he reached the bottom of the stairs. The first floor of the cottage was exactly as it had been the night before, except that June sunlight flooded through the windows and the fire had gone out. On the chaise lay Claire’s knitting needles.

Even now, from the depths of his misery, it struck him as strange, the way she had taken up knitting during their final year together. She wasn’t very good at it. In fact, she could only knit scarves and the only scarves she knitted were shades of green.

By Margarida Afonso on Unsplash

The basket on the floor was overflowing with yarn — balls of forest green and emerald, chartreuse and teal and seafoam. They smelled of the sea and were cool, like her skin, her eyes. Their green light danced in the morning sun.

He lifted one of the balls out of the basket, then another, holding them close and inhaling their scent, almost as if he were a desolate character in one of Claire’s romance novels. He might as well start reading them. Maybe he’d even start that night.

At the bottom of the basket was a single ball of red yarn. He’d never noticed it before. He’d certainly never seen her knitting anything red. He had a surge of hope that she might have knitted him a scarf, a red scarf. That she might have left him that one thing. That she wanted him to stay warm on his expeditions to the shore. It would be enough.

He looked up and scanned the room. He didn’t see any scarf. He didn’t see anything red. Everything looked as it had the night before.

Jack turned his attention back to the basket. He lifted the red ball of yarn from its spot and it was warm in the same way he had always imagined Claire’s hair would be.

He saw the note then. It was scrawled across a piece of paper at the bottom of the basket. Partly crumpled. He smoothed it out and stared at her looped handwriting.

It read: “I waited three weeks.”

Had Claire meant him to see it? Was it supposed to be some type of comfort, the fact that she hadn’t immediately left after she got the pelt she needed? That she had waited all of 21 days after seven years with him.

He had no idea.

By Nikolay Hristov on Unsplash

By the time he got to the beach, the clouds were massing darkly to the west. He’d worn a jacket but the wind cut through it and chilled him to the core. He was still managing to stick to a schedule, though he was a couple of hours behind.

In an effort to make up for lost time, he’d decided to combine Luna’s walk with his daily trip to the shore. Granted, he normally went into campus first and saved his search for specimens until late afternoon. He didn’t like to rush, partly because it was his favorite time of the day and partly because it had given him more time with Claire.

So much for that.

It would rain soon, which was another reason he had come early. No telling when the storm would break. Jack shrugged off his backpack and set it down where he knew it wouldn’t get wet. Luna shot ahead of him, taking care to avoid the icy cold water.

The waves were immense and they crashed onto the sand with a ferocity he hadn’t seen in a long time. Normally there were a few hardy retirees out walking or a runner streaking toward the jetty at the end of the beach. But today the beach was deserted.

With a glance over his shoulder at the clouds, he pushed forward against the wind. A few yards ahead an object glittered against the wet sand.

It was an aphrodite. A perfect specimen, really. It was larger than usual and the ridges were perfectly shaped. The color — a deep rust — seemed brighter as well. Not that he could trust his perceptions. Everything struck him as a little too Kodachrome, though he wasn’t sure why. Shouldn’t the world look flatter without Claire there beside him, walking in step as they talked about their finds?

Maybe it was the grayness of the day that made the few colored objects seem somehow richer. Even though it was still morning, the clouds had turned the sky almost black. Jack pocketed the bright scallop shell and hurried after Luna, who was almost out of sight.

He stopped, a little out of breath, and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Luna!” he called out.

Luna kept running as if she hadn’t heard him. She was nothing but a black dot now.

Typical, he thought bitterly.

Then his pulse sped up. What if the dog ran too close to the wild water? He couldn’t lose Luna too. Not possible.

He started to jog down the beach. Sand-filled his sneakers and the wind moaned forlornly. He felt a raindrop on his face.

He stopped and called Luna again. The horizon was empty but for the churning sea and blackened sky. She had disappeared.

He forced himself to run. His heart slammed against his rib cage. He felt like he was going to die. Maybe he would have a heart attack right there.

Still no sign of Luna.

He ran faster.

His lungs burned as it began to rain harder. Just a few drops, nothing major yet. Everything would be all right.

Into the icy blue

He bent double and gulped air. He had to find Luna. There was no question of stopping. The sound of the waves and the wind was deafening. No point in calling now. There was no way Luna would hear him even if he screamed for her at the top of his lungs. He scanned the beach, then looked down at his hand. It was shaking.

By Matt Hardy on Unsplash

He pressed his palm against his side and ran on. It wasn’t really running anymore, more like galloping, but it didn’t matter. The thing was to keep moving, to keep closing the gap between him and Luna. He could rest afterward.

Jack forced himself to scan the ocean. The sea was raging. Probably a good thing that Claire had left the night before. Not that selkies had issues with storms. They dove into the ocean and descended far below the turmoil, deep into the calm, icy blue.

Jack clamped one hand around his forearm to stop it from shaking. He wasn’t even galloping anymore, just limping lopsidedly like a broken toy. He could feel his grip on optimism loosening. He could feel his mood slipping away and braced himself for the plunge to the bottom of despair.

He went on.

He had almost reached the end of the beach. It was just large rocks thrown up out of the ocean, strewn across the sand. He tried to call out against the wind but his voice died in his mouth.

The rain picked up. He slowed down. His whole body ached. He sank to the ground and let the rain flow over him.

Luna appeared on top of an especially large boulder. She barked at him.

“Come,” Jack said weakly.

The dog didn’t move.

He began limping toward her. When he finally reached her, he saw what she’d been barking about.

The pelt was wedged in between two boulders. It was slick with rain and its gray sealskin glistened in the pearly light. He lifted it and ran his fingers over it. Still warm.

Jack couldn’t be certain but he thought the pelt must have been the one that belonged to Mrs. Bennett. The one Claire had wanted so she could get away from land. From him.

So where was Claire? He knew selkies never, ever left their skins behind. Not willingly. They would freeze in the ocean without them. That was the whole point of why Claire had to endure living with him for seven years. He wondered if he, too, would end up with the same Jackname she’d given man #1. That lying sex-crazed bastard.

His chest tightened. Maybe he was going to have a heart attack, after all.

Luna trotted over to him. She came as close as she could get and nuzzled his cheek. He guessed it was because she didn’t like the drizzling rain.

Jack dropped the pelt. He scooped Luna up and held her to him. They were both shivering hard. He pressed his face against her dark fur then turned his gaze back to the pelt.

He turned in a circle and scanned the beach. Nothing. Claire was gone. She was fine. Happy without him. Carefree.


Jack squeezed his eyes shut. He needed to get Luna back to the house and dry her off. Thank God he’d taken the car. Holding the dog close against him, he turned and started back to where he’d left his backpack. It was a little easier because now the gale was behind him, propelling him forward.

Afterward, he would say he never knew why he turned to look back. He would tell people he only understood that he had to. How dramatic.

Claire stood about fifty yards from him, just in front of the last of the boulders. Her wool coat was buttoned all the way up and a dark cap covered her hair. She had tied a knitted red scarf around her neck and its ends fluttered in the wind.

She lifted a hand and waved.


About the Creator

Lori Lamothe

Poet, Writer, Mom. Owner of two rescue huskies. Former baker who writes on books, true crime, culture and fiction.

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