We met at a beach out West Auckland way a week ago, and I can’t stop thinking about you. Not that writing this will have much effect; I can’t imagine there are letter boxes in the ocean. I never thought my life would change on a Thursday, of all days. It was overcast, almost misty when you approached – appropriately mysterious.
The romantic in me wants to say: even from afar, you recognised a spirit similarly longing for something other. The narcissist in me wants to say: even at a distance, you could still see something unique in me, an intangible charm that inspired you to crawl landward for the first time in fifty years. More likely, it was the fact that I was swimming daily in a sea unheated by temperamental spring sunshine. You ascertained that I was easy prey, and acted accordingly.
Before I had to go, work calling like it always is, you started to sketch out a mutually beneficial bargain. Your spiel was so smooth that I couldn’t help but wonder about other humans you’ve given the hard sell to. I’m not jealous! Besides, I know enough to watch out for fae subterfuge. I would expect nothing less, Aedan. I’m intrigued and I can’t wait to see you again.
Yours, or soon-to-be,
Where does this sticky summer find you? I’m not sure if seals have sweat glands, and I’m even less sure what that means for a creature like you. And me? I am drowning in salinity produced by my own pores. I languish where I can, avoiding the sun and embracing shade. And still: I am sticky, I am sweaty. I am tied to the bizarre pageantry that is December, and you? I imagine you are in an ocean still cool. Peripherally, I know that it is warming but I wonder: have you felt the heat seeping in gradually or, like every Aucklander come summer, are you amazed when feverish warmth inevitably sweeps in? When I next see you, I will ask (provided I find fair barter to trade for answers): how does time feel stretched so thin over the years?
Constructs though they are, I long for laws defining our exchanges, or maybe a menu with set prices: one for everyday questions, another for existential ones. Our agreement exists on bare bones, skeletonised and fleshless. Until given life by our transaction, I remain in the dark. I was raised in a prudish (patriarchal, Pākehā) culture, so despite how pragmatic I imagine myself to be, I can’t bring myself to ask you the barest details of relationships among your kind. Aedan, I’m happy going in blind, but I do wonder. I can wonder on, writing all these banalities down, safe in the knowledge you’ll never read them. Idle questions play no part in our relationship, our compact, and I will honour that.
When I see you again, I still know I will say: yes, take my skin and I’ll take yours. I can’t wait.
You’ve resurfaced and my decision is made. Now, I’m just waiting indoors, sheltered, sweating. I should make the most of human limbs while I can. Instead, I idle my days away. I made a pact with myself to stay away from the beach. I’ll be there soon, long enough for several lifetimes. So, I am reacquainting myself with uniquely human pleasures: lying in bed, reading books, sweating.
January is as much an in-between space as December. Among all the joys you will come to savour Aedan, I don’t think the Gregorian calendar will be among them. Still, you must have something to gain from this – I can’t see why else you’d want to trade spaces. Is this your escape hatch, as my world forecloses on yours? Have you considered the evidence and concluded that you will better escape the encroaching warming on dry land?
More to the point, my selfish wonderings: how do you think it will feel, to peel off the skin you’ve worn since you’ve entered this world? What is the risk that you will change your mind? Or, do you think you’ll enter the grand human tradition of repressing your emotions, simmering in regret as you see me stitch on your pelt and slip into the ocean? All these questions build and, with no other outlet, linger brackish in my mouth. But this isn’t a medical practice. There is no informed consent here. You’re fae, for all intents and purposes. I know the risks I’m taking and, in time, I’ll also know the consequences of my actions.
The first time I entered the ocean in a new body, it felt like I’d traversed galaxies, ended up on another planet—and yet, I was no longer a tourist. I was, I am, ensconced in cool blue; perfect, in a skin not my own, but more home than any rental ever felt to be.
I fluctuate in tidal rhythms now, my mood dictated by currents. I have less time for absent thought when I am busy hunting. I tell myself, who can be sad surrounded by so much water? I try to let my emotions become alien, and dive deeper.
I wonder to myself, in lieu of hands that can write letters: how does life on land find you? Do your legs pain you now, are your wrists inflamed in their infancy of usage? The joys of human bodies, the palpable sense of decay! Did I sufficiently warn you of their tendencies to ache and complain? I want to tell you that I am doing well: that I have found a home in this ocean that is not mine. I am happy, but it appears that seawater cannot carve curiosity out of my bones as easily as I slipped out of my skin. I monologue to myself in absence of company and: I look to the future.
I look to autumn. As the humidity of Tāmaki Makaurau turns steadily to rain, will you miss the moisture that circulates in summer air? Does it feel a bit like home to swim through the streets, in air so thick you could drink it? I wonder how you occupy your time, as I learn to occupy mine. I wonder if you think of me like I think of you.
I think I might venture out to farther seas.
Yours in every body, every ocean.
Dear Aedan, dearest Aedan,
I think I’ve been two months in the water now, and I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking about the before times, before the turn of spring and that fateful Thursday. I remember reading about the sea, how it would rise, how it was already rising. I read about how, as the icebergs melt, the ocean will come to reclaim the land like a long-absent lover come lately from war. In this impending battle, what are you planning to do? When you find yourself a decade on dry land, will you stand your ground as the soil recedes into sand? Or will you come and find me?
You seemed sure that you’d shrugged off your seal skin for good. But, in increments: the time is coming. As the months and years bleed into another, and you relish your newfound comforts, your plains of asphalt and concrete: the time is coming.
I extend an invitation: that when that time comes, we might suffer together in an ocean consuming, an ocean blue.
Featured image by Sloane Hong.