BIRTH OF A STRANGER
Sarah had always loved the sea, in all its moods: wild, violent, torpid, acquiescent. And in all its colours too: azure, black, the white horses dancing. She was afraid of it though, especially on those nights when it could be heard crashing over the walls of the little village. One day, perhaps, it might engulf them all. She had a fear of being overwhelmed, but also a fear of not living fully, and her life swung between those twin terrors.
Well, one quiet day she ventured out into the deeps. She managed to stay on tiptoe for awhile, and then kicked up her legs and floated with the tide. The sea felt oddly warm for the time of year. And something else strange: the water seemed to swirl round her but inside her too. She felt full somehow. She felt like an inlet when the tide rushes in.
After a few weeks, she realised that something odd had happened. Her belly began to swell, her breasts began to ache. She could not be with child though, as nothing had happened out of the ordinary. The local doctor said, with a severe expression: “Sarah, exactly when did this happen? So that we can prepare.” He did not believe her protestations, but said he would come when called. He wondered to himself how long it would take for people to realise what had really happened. Generally speaking, women did not get impregnated by the ocean.
On night at full moon he was sent for. Sarah felt as though her whole body was vacillating between a neap and a spring tide. Suddenly torrents of salty water came out of her, splashing the floor, and with it slithered out a creature. Fish, shark, dolphin, baby. Its eyes fixed on her with wrath. And it had teeth. “Ah” the doctor said falteringly: “I’ve never seen one like that before.” Sarah wanted to laugh, but dare not.
The sea-child changed shape before their very eyes. As they watched, the flippers changed into arms, the tail was absorbed, two legs descended and the sharp teeth fell out, clattering as they went. It bore a passable resemblance to a human child now. “Come, Sarah” the doctor said, “try to love your baby. She doesn’t look too bad.”
And indeed Sarah did try. But the baby would not take her milk, sucking instead on the skeins of seaweed that hung around the door. Sarah tried to give her a name: Oceania, Seagull, Riptide. But she would answer to none of them. She stood for hours looking out to the horizon. A few years passed, and it was clear that the child had not improved. She only ever spoke once, looking Sarah full in the face, and saying: “you are not my kin”.
One day Sarah walked with her child to the water’s edge. The little one plunged in, rolling and sporting in the brine. She caught a mackerel basking close to the shore, bit its head off, and swallowed the rest whole. Sarah called her back, as the wind was rising. But she would not come, and laughed as she was borne away in the current. The wind started to howl. I will not be a hypocrite, thought Sarah: I will be glad. And so she was. But she took good care not to go into the sea again. Being dry was safer.