Selkie’s Bones

by Marisca Pichette

This story originally appeared in Room Magazine in December, 2020


Dear Mada— 

How are you? How’s Idaho? Spring has found me here, turning the yard to cork, spongy and full of the season’s name. I don’t know how long it’s been since you saw my gingko, but it’s adapted well to the shift in temperature. Better than me. But I guess it’s been at it many thousands of years longer than old women like us, hasn’t it? Millions, maybe. 

The storms have me hiding inside, but when I look through the window there it is, blowing this way and that and shaping its trunk to hug the wind. 

When it rains here, it’s like sky and ocean have traded places, and we live in an inverted world. 

~

Mada, 

I’ve started collecting plastic. Do they have you doing that, too? It might be an initiative only in the eastern communities. Our council is hosting a drive to turn old plastic into housing to withstand the storms. It’s easy to get; it washes up right on my beach, seeking haven in between the rocks. I find it among the shells and hermit crabs, fellow squatters tossed together by the waves and left coated with sand when the tide ebbs. 

I walked down to the shore this past weekend, a basket on my hip, and retrieved zip ties, shopping bags, saran wrap and a dragon fruit Vitaminwater bottle. I must tell you, Mada, there was too much for my basket to hold. I had to put together a neon cairn with what I couldn’t carry. I set it high enough for the waves to leave it be till I get back. 

I brought the saran wrap, zip ties, and shopping bags to the town hall, but I kept the Vitaminwater bottle. I don’t know why. The label looks so nice when the light comes through. 

~

Oh Mada, 

The storms are rolling through again, driving the drones off course. Some rations end up in the sea, and the waves lash my little shoreline with brine and disembodied drone blades. Even standing on my porch I can taste the sharpness of the sea. When I was at the town hall people were talking about hurricanes in the next few weeks. They get stronger every year.

I’m glad that my little house is nestled in the slope, safe from the wind and rain. I’m like a little hermit crab holed up on the shore. The waves scare me, though. They’re getting bolder.

After last night’s storm I ventured down to the beach, looking for more pieces for my project. Did I tell you in my last postcard? I’ve decided what to do with that Vitaminwater bottle. I’m going to make something.

My cairn is gone, though. Washed away. Where it stood just yesterday, I found the beached disc of a jellyfish.

~

Dear Mada,

I’ve hardly begun, and already I’m out of my depth with this project. Do you remember Tetris? It feels like playing that, with some Jenga thrown in to challenge my sense of balance. Every day confronts me with a daunting mass of geometry. My fingers shake and rattle my creation from toe to tip. It’s growing, despite my constant cock-ups. I hope you can come see it, Mada, before it surpasses my home.

~

Dear Mada,

I went down to the beach this morning, taking advantage of a window of calm between storms. At least the violence of the sea has been helpful in throwing all manner of debris onto my little patch of sand. I brought my basket—though it’s much too small. Today, I collected some nylon netting, a bright red cup, a wonderful turquoise condom wrapper, and several different plastic chips and scraps. These I’m using for scales. Oh, I do hope you are able to come visit. Did you get a pass for travel through the Unoccupied Zone? 

When you do come, I don’t know where you’ll stay. My creation has completely taken over the house. Its tail stretches to the front door, glittering with shreds of tinsel from the boughs of an artificial Christmas tree that found its way to my shore. The main body fills the living room, rigid linoleum tiles fastened to a skeleton I pieced together from bits of lawn chairs and one almost perfect kayak the storms brought in. 

When I started this thing, I was still taking the boring stuff—plastic bags, bottle caps, credit cards—to the town hall. Last time I went, there were hardly any people left. All the sleeping mats were rolled up and stacked in a corner against the wall. Everyone had homes made from the recycled plastic. They got so much I thought they wouldn’t miss what little bits I could carry from here. My body is old and tired. I haven’t been to the town hall in weeks. 

~

Mada— 

I think we might be coming into the dry season at last. Blue and yellow beach pails dot my floor to catch all the leaks. I normally have to empty them four times a day. Now they’ve slowed to a drip, I can focus on my work. 

The head is coming along. I’m making the eyes out of the skins of mylar balloons, folded and melted against Tupperware to give them depth. Do you know what? I had the most exciting find the other day. As the rain lessened I went down to the beach and there, half buried in the sand, was a sealed package of shining stickers! They depicted extinct animals: elephants, zebras, giraffes, and all manner of birds. I’m using them to decorate the fins. 

I still haven’t found something suitable for the teeth. 

~

Mada, 

The rain has stopped. All the other plants in the garden have necrotic spots, but not my gingko. Its green fans shake in the breeze. I’m starting to think it will outlast me. 

Are they really not allowing travel passes anymore? I wish I could send you a picture of my creation, but it won’t fit in a single image, undulating through the curves of my house as it is. Here is one of the fins. It’s almost as big as I am. 

~

Dear Mada, 

I think I’m almost there. Luck and the sea brought a paddle onto the beach today, and I broke it in two to use for horns. The waves are thick with salt, coating the beach white. I’m still on the hunt for teeth. 

~

Mada— 

Lightning struck close the other night. One of the new plastic homes was hit, and you could smell the melted stink for hours. I think the owner wasn’t home. I haven’t seen 

anyone around for a long time. I flit from my beach to the house and back, and your postcards have piled up on my table. I’m sorry; I’ll get around to sending them soon. I just have to finish my work first. 

~

Dear Mada,

Can I break my own rules? This sculpture was meant to be a monument to memory, to all those lovely bright and enduring details of our childhood. Plastic serving no real purpose except for enjoyment, a luxury that’s prohibited now. I wanted colour, Mada. That’s what started this thing. Colour and something that would never die.

But I couldn’t find teeth—not proper teeth. Until today. I combed the beach and found the perfect thing. But it’s not plastic. It’s bone.

I think it’s from a seal. Part—or most of—a ribcage. The ribs, Mada. I’ve found my teeth. 

~

Mada,

I know you said you couldn’t travel, but I miss you still. The sea has been especially loud the past few nights, and it’s so hard to move around the house with the sculpture filling every room. The metallic pieces glitter in the moonlight, and I see their reflections in the window when I look out at the waves. They look almost like clusters of eyes staring back. 

~

Mada,

The rations have stopped coming, and I haven’t heard a drone in days. There’s no way to send this, but I like to think that you know that I’m writing you. At one time I thought I would spend my last days with you. But the storms did their work there.

The sea is louder than ever. Sometimes the wind sounds like seals singing.

~

Mada—

I want to get my sculpture down to the beach. It’s where it belongs; I can feel it. Does that sound silly? It’s supposed to swim; that’s why I made fins. I wonder if I can move it on my own. Maybe if my house fell down around the pair of us, we would be free to seek the waves. 

~

Mada 

There hasn’t been rain in weeks. Everything has died in the yard except the gingko. I’m almost out of water jugs. No drones. I hope you are not thirsty there. 

~

Mada, 

I’m as dry as my sculpture. We are both creatures of water, beached and gasping. At night I sleep under its teeth. The ocean calls us. 

~

Dearest Mada, 

The gingko was struck today. It burned and burned as I watched from the window. When it was blackened and bare, I walked down to the beach. Someone has been there. I found footprints in the sand, a mix of feet and fins. The seals have come at last. I’m ready to follow them. 

If you manage to get a travel pass, I’m leaving these letters in the sculpture’s mouth. They should be safe when the waves come. I made the body from the sea, for the sea.


© Copyright Marisca Pichette


Marisca Pichette is a bisexual author of speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has been published in PseudoPod, Daily Science Fiction, Apparition Lit, Room, Grimdark, and The NoSleep Podcast, among others. Her debut novel, Broken, is forthcoming in Spring 2022 with Heroic Books. A lover of moss and monsters, she lives in Western Massachusetts.


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