This one is dedicated to Craig.
We were in a Burger King and I saw the girl behind the counter. She was kind of cute.
So I said to Craig ‘You know that a guy who works in this sort of place will never get a girl because he smells of grease. Yet the cute girls get hit on all the time.’
‘Not true. I pulled twice when I worked in McDonalds,’ he replies.
So I started to think about what I would say to this girl and what comes up in my mind but ‘She has silky eyes.’
Over the course of a Whopper I created something that resembles this story.
And then Craig said the vital words to me.
‘You really should write these things down, Jancis.’
Burger King Girl, you will probably never read this. You won’t remember me. But you were in the right place at the right time. And for that, you will have a spot in my heart.
(Also, I half dedicate this one to Niamh. She knew what the Selkie were as we hurried through the pouring rain. For what is better to hurry home through the rain then to do so with the offspring of the Sea Goddess?)
‘That woman has silky eyes’ Jancis says as we slip into the booth.
I put my tray on the table and look at him, bemused.
He nods his head to a point behind me. I turn around to look at where he is gesturing.
Behind the counter stands the server. She is about nineteen with dark hair pulled up. I can’t really judge her eyes from this distance.
Jancis raises an eyebrow at me as I turn back.
I shrug and he looks slightly putout by this.
Taking a bite of the burger, he tells me to go look.
‘And then what?’ I snort. ‘Say “Hey. Can I have your number and by the way did you know my friend thinks your eyes are like silk?”’
‘I would,’ he says finishing his mouthful.
‘Yes.’ I say sarcastically. ‘You would.’
We continue to eat our meal but soon we walk over to the side stand. I look around at the tubs of salt and sugar.
‘Where’s the ketchup?’ I ask.
Jancis gestures with his hand at the counter.
‘It’s behind the counter where it’s safe.’
‘With the shotgun?’
Jancis gets that look in his eyes. As if to say ‘you have given me something to run wild with. Good on you!’ I hate that look sometimes. Earlier that day, he had managed to talk on and off for an hour about a guy being chased by a jealous Pegasus. And THAT had come about because he had claimed that there was no such thing as a white horse the day before.
Suffice to say, when Jancis gets one of those looks, you just let him rant until he catches up with himself and stops.
‘Yeah,’ he begins. ‘If this place gets knocked over, the ketchup’s the first thing they go for. With that stuff they don’t have to buy Heinz for months. A desperate commodity.’
He stops as a woman gives him an incredulous look as she walked towards the counter.
Jancis stares after the woman and watches as she is served by Silky Eyes.
‘I’m getting some ketchup,’ I say.
‘No,’ I call over my shoulder as I walk over.
‘Hi’ I smile.
Silky just looks at me. I get a good look at her eyes. She seems sad and bored.
‘Can I have a packet of ketchup?’
Wordlessly, she ducks under the counter and deposits four sachets into my hand. We stand there for a second. The eyes seem expressive. They remind me of a puppy’s. I repress this thought and walk back to the table.
I deposit the ketchup on the table as I slip back into my seat.
‘You were right. They DO keep the ketchup behind the counter.’
He swipes in my general direction with a snort of mock annoyance.
‘Not that. The eyes, man. The eyes!’
I squeeze the sauce over my bun.
‘Sure, they were nice. The whole package was nice. But silky? I wouldn’t say so.’ I shrug and take a bite.
Jancis leans back, stroking his chin. He seems to be contemplating this final piece of info. Within in twenty seconds he’s back.
He snaps his fingers, smacks the table and then points at me.
‘Not silky’ he whispers. ‘No. Not silky. Selkie.’
He says this as if this was supposed to mean something to me.
He moves his hand in a circle gesturing me to catch up with his logic.
‘Sel…kie?’ he says slowly.
‘Saying it slower isn’t going to make me remember, Jancis.’ I say drinking my coffee.
He rolls his eyes.
‘You don’t know about Selkies?’
I slurp the warm drink.
‘I take you are going to tell me all about them?’
‘Yep.’ He cracks his knuckles and starts.
‘Many years ago, this part of England was renowned for its seals. Fishermen would marvel, as the creatures would swim right next to their boats. It was believed they brought good luck to the town and to kill a seal was akin to sinning.
‘So it was that one moonlight, a fisherman named Joshua was walking along the beach when he heard the sound of female laughter. He looked around and realised it was coming from the other side of a sandy dune. So he crawled to the top to look down.’
I have to stop him.
‘Sandy? Jancis, have you SEEN the beaches around here?’
He glares at me. I put my hands up in surrender and he continues.
‘As I was saying, Joshua was hiding behind a SANDDUNE. So as he peered over the top, he was presented with a marvellous sight. Playing in the surf was a dozen naked women. Josh believed them to be the most beautiful woman he had even seen. They all have long flowing black dark hair and lithe athletic bodies. None of them looked a day over twenty-four.
‘The girls splashed in the ocean and ran about. Joshua crawled slightly higher to get a better view. In doing so, he saw that the other side of the dune was covered in large grey rugs. As he got closer, he could see that the rugs were in fact sealskins. Shocked, he grabbed one and lifted it up. He crawled slowly back down the dunes. Joshua intended to take it to the elders and report that someone had killed the city’s seals.
‘But he would have to wait for the morning when the town hall opened and so Joshua hid the skin in the attic. It was to his great shock that he was awoken from his slumber by a knocking at the door.
‘As he opened it, he saw that there was a woman at the door. She had long dark hair, smelt of seaweed and had large eyes full with sadness. She was also completely naked.
‘‘You have my skin,’ the girl said on the verge of tears.
‘Joshua blinked a few times wondering if he was dreaming.
‘‘Where have you hid it?’ the girl whimpered. ‘I want to go home.’
‘And so Joshua knew before him stood a Selkie, one of the mythical creatures able to turn from a seal to a human. He had rumours of their beauty and now there was one standing naked on his doorstep.
‘Now if you were presented with this predicament what would you do? Would you allow such a beautiful girl out of your reaches?’
He pauses and stares at me.
I am slightly startled by the intensity of the look as well as the sudden stop in the story.
‘Of course I would.’ I reply quickly.
Jancis nods. Clearly I have passed the test.
I laugh in surprise.
‘For having morals?’
‘They deserve to be rewarded.’
Our meal is finished but Jancis isn’t.
‘Anyway, Joshua was more of a son of a bitch then you are. He promised her the return of her skin if she was to do one small thing.
‘And that small thing, heh small thing. Anyway, having done the task, ha done. No, focus. Having completed the appointed task, Joshua dressed the girl. She struggled and kicked but eventually he was able to slip her into a very nice dress. That he appears to have kicking around. Like you do.
‘He named the girl Maria and the following day he took her to the local church. Because you are going to kidnap a mythical being, might as well clear it in the eyes of the Lord.
‘Every day Maria would ask ‘Please return my skin.’ And Joshua would say ‘Tomorrow. I shall do it tomorrow.’
‘For years this went on. Eventually Maria would stop asking for a skin but she would walk down to the beach and stare at the ocean. Many was the time Joshua paced the floor in worry just to have his wife return past midnight soaked to her shoes in brine.
‘The remains of her Selkie blood meant that Maria could not age. Eventually her children looked older then her and Joshua claimed she was his daughter.’
We really should be getting to our workshop and so I swallow this last amount of my coffee.
‘Let me guess.’ I say ‘She does some housework and finds the skin in the roof. So she returns to her home in the ocean?’
Jancis shakes his head slow and sadly.
‘Joshua had moved the skin to a secret hiding place the day he was married. He had been planning to tell Maria one day but he was killed tragically in a fishing accident. No matter how hard she looked she could never find that skin.’
Jancis leans back in his seat.
‘She tried for years and years and now she is stuck having to sell burgers to obese chavs.
‘Anyways, the Solent no longer has seals and the ocean is so polluted I don’t think she could return if she wanted.’
He looks up again at Silky Eyes, his own eyes looking forlorn at the girl.
Eventually he smiles a small smile and shakes his head.
‘Of course that’s my theory. Maybe she’s just a sad looking teenager getting a bit of cash?’
He gets to his feet and we head for the door.
We both nod deeply to Silky. She looks startled and manages a small wave.
We walk out into the cold January night but just before the door closes I swear I catch the smell of seaweed.