“Hey, what you think? Negro, I’m talking to you.”
Lloyd Baker, the Basket Maker, is shaking my shoulder, leaning into my face with his one-hundred and one proof rum breath jolting me out of my thoughts.
Mildred, aka Millie, Miller Light, and Mildew, the bartender, laughs as I lurch back from Lloyd’s toxic assault. Mildred tries to get me back in the conversation. “Monroe, Planet Earth to Monroe Collins. Are you still with us, brother?”
I turn a complete circle on my bar stool to confirm that I’m at the Player’s Bar & Grill, in East San Juan, California with my friends Lloyd, White Rock Road, and Mildred Rover-Smith-Watkins.
White Rock on the other bar stool next to me stops my spinning. “Monroe, we asked you about the Loving Supreme Court Case it’s fifty years old now. Loving gave folks the right to marry across the color lines. It let us color outside the lines, fucking blurred the lines. Now, we lining up to jump the broom across vague borders.”
Lloyd motions for another round. “Shit, man you the resident expert. You married Brigid what? Six-seven-years ago? I mean Millie done been married three times and going on four. Right, Millie?”
“Forget you, Lloyd. This time I’m getting it right. See, I see how cool it is with Monroe and Brigid. He married white and got it right. This time I’m changing my luck. I’m hooking up with an Asian Indian. This time next month I will be Mildred Rover-Smith-Watkins-Saund. You all invited, of course, as always.”
“White Rock’s suddenly serious, “Are you ok, man? You don’t look so good, Collins.”
I shake his hand off my shoulder. “I’m fine. I got no opinion. I’ve stopped thinking. I give up on thinking. I turn to drinking. The hell with thinking and feeling. They both traps, dead ends, a waste of time.”
Lloyd, snorts, “Oh, yeah, and alcohol will set you free? What the hell’s wrong with you? You working, got a good woman, two kids, and good friends. What more you want?”
Mildred points her meaty finger at me. “Hey, you sure you ok? You been down the last few months, kinda drained and pale— “
White Rock chimes in. “Oh, that’s natural. Shit, he married the whitest woman in the world. That shit’s rubbing off on him. That’s all.”
“Yeah, you right about that. Brigid makes Casper the Friendly Ghost look like Obama.” Lloyd chokes on his drink laughing at his own joke.
“She ain’t white. How many times I got to tell you fools that?” I slam my fists down on the bar; the drinks tremble, Mildred steps back away from me, Lloyd stops choking and laughing. White Rock looks perplexed. There’s silence for a moment.
Finally, White Rock asks me for maybe the hundredth time. “Chill, man. You keep saying she ain’t white, but you never tell us what she is. We listening. What the hell is she if she ain’t white?”
I look into Lloyd’s bloodshot eyes, Mildred’s concerned eyes, and White Rock’s blank expression.
I take a deep breath, “Her people ain’t white. She didn’t grow up around white people. She never got infected with whiteness. She don’t even know how to act white.”
Mildred shakes her head in confusion. “I get it. I kinda do, I think. Don’t take offense now, but she’s strange like real, real different, but if she ain’t white what the hell is she?”
Lloyd rubs his chin, spins to face me. “The first time you brought her in here and Willie Brown tried to feel her up, you all remember that? She broke his arm, ‘SNAP.’ Damn, I never will forget that. Just the way she stood there, not mad or nothing. She scared the shit out of me.”
White Rock stands and moves a few feet from the bar. “Right here. This is the spot. I believe to my soul if you weren’t here, Collins, she would have ripped him to pieces and never broke a sweat. Cold, cold bitch.” White Rock looks at me. “No offense, man.”
Mildred’s back to her question. “So, who are her people? She sure wasn’t raised by black folks. Who are her folks?”
“Wait, wait she from Iceland, right? I mean that’s what I heard.”
White Rock turns to Lloyd, “No Negro, Ireland or, or Scotland.”
Mildred tries to school them. “You niggers got it all wrong. She didn’t speak English, remember? They speak English in all them places.”
My friends sit there thinking and trying to make sense of the little they know of Brigid.
Finally, White Rock sums up the discussion. “You right, you’re right, Collins. She ain’t like no white person I have ever seen. I’ve never seen anyone like her. Never.”
“Do she still go skinny dipping down in the Port in the dead of winter?”
I look at Lloyd as I respond to his question. “Sometimes. Listen, she has always treated you, all of us, with kindness and respect, right?”
Mildred puts a hand on my shoulder, “Willie Brown might disagree with that.”
Lloyd comes to Brigid’s defense. “Naugh, Willie okay with her. He knew he was wrong.”
I try again. “Look you all been to our house. Has she ever disrespected you or made you feel unwelcome?”
They nod their heads in agreement with my claims.
“Do you think she’s a good mother? Do you?”
Mildred crosses her arms and looks directly into my eyes, “What the hell you trying to say? You just need to come out and say it.”
I don’t know how to say it. I have never said it before to anyone. I take a deep breath. “She’s a Selkie. That’s what she is.”
“A Selkie – S-e-l-k-i-e. Look it up on your phone, Lloyd.”
“A harness race driver?”
No, White Rock, that’s a sulky driver.”
“Moody? She sulks a lot?”
“Mildred, she’s in here every Friday night. You ever seen her sulk?”
“Well, she has long hair like a Saluki— “
“Damn, White Rock, she not related to hounds.”
Lloyd jumps off his stool reading from his phone. “Shit! Bullshit! She’s a seal! No, I mean, a woman who changes into a seal or, or a seal who changes into a woman – It don’t matter. Selkies are, are a myth, legend; they don’t exist. Fuck you to hell, Collins. You need to quit fucking with people. Asshole.” Lloyd punches me in the shoulder. “Millie, another round. Shit make them doubles.”
Mildred’s already pouring. “Oh, no. This rounds on the house. Shame on you Monroe Collins to say something like that about your wife. Boy, you sure surprise and disappoint me.”
White Rock spins me around on my stool, places both large black hands on my shoulders and is nose to nose with me. “You ain’t drunk. You ain’t crazy. You love your wife and kids, so, why you say shit like that? Why?”
Again, I don’t know what to say or how to respond. My tears start. A flood. “She’s going to leave us, going home to the sea. Her seven years are up. She’s going to be free. Free of us at last.”
I stand. I toss some money on the bar. I stumble out into the chilly night.
Six years and ten months ago I was fishing for catfish in the Deep-Water channel about two in the morning. She was swimming up the channel. I saw her. I couldn’t believe it. It was December. The water had to be freezing.
She saw me. Swam to me. Waded out of the water, nude, glowing in the moon light. She stood in front of me. Locked eyes. Searched my soul. Touched my heart. Changed my life.
She learned fast, English, our culture, me, my wants and needs. She laid it out clear; she was here, banished for seven years. She would stay with me if I wanted her to. She would be my friend and sex partner, bear me children if we wanted.
I wanted her more than anything in the world. She needed an island shelter for her imprisonment. She said she could only love her own water kin, but she would be kind and helpful.
She was a lot more. She was fun to sex, talk to and flirt with and learn from. She was a loving, and serious mother. She was also cruel as the sea, as relentless as the tides, and at times as comforting as the womb, but sometimes as threatening as a tsunami.
Early December finds Brigid and I throwing a party at the Player’s Bar & Grill. She has embraces and gifts for my three friends. A pair of Ivory rings for Mildred for her next marriage, a forty-five-word poem for White Rock Road, our resident poet. One word for each year of his life. The Basket Weaver receives a basket filled with seaweeds suitable for weaving.
Dozens help us celebrate, including Willie Brown. I think all the partiers know it’s a goodbye party without anyone ever calling it that.
White Rock Road, finally, asks the question on many of their minds.
“Brigid, could you ease our minds and free your husband from suspicion if we should never see you again. Are you a Selkie?”
She looks shocked. Turns to me in consternation. She turns back to them with a huge smile. She laughs so loud and so long that we all laugh with her until we’re crying.
When we are weak with laughter she stands, speaks with the voice of massive waves crashing against stone cliffs. “Take good care of each other. When our children turn seven, they will choose this life or the sea. Remember me as best you can.”
The crowd’s storm blasted, weather-beaten, exhausted, and terrified by the power of her voice.
The next night just minutes after midnight, on the Deep-Water Channel where I first saw Brigid, she hugs and kisses me and our girls’ goodbye. She waves at Mildred, White Rock, and Lloyd standing higher up on the bank.
She slips off her thin white robe. Her skin reflects the moon light as she hurries to enter the cold currents. In three powerful strokes, she’s thirty yards away. She dives and is under for nearly five minutes. A seal breaks the surface, near to where she disappeared, barks like a dying train whistle and dives.
Brigid is gone.
Since 2014 Frederick has published over hundred-fifty stories and poems including literary, science fiction, fables, and horror genres. Frederick has published two short story collections, For the Sake of Soul, (2015) and, Crossroads Encounters, (2016).