He woke when the sun was already shining on the mountain and the birds had settled into more pressing deeds than announcing their position. He felt himself, as he worked out of unconsciousness, to discover that his chest hurt like his lungs had been strained. But he was dry and, real as his dreaming felt, he should have been wearing damp clothes if he’d dived to the bottom of the inlet in the night. He smiled to himself and rubbed his chest.
Outside his doorway lay three herring on a flat slab of stone, lined neatly head to tail.
He understood. He took his violin from its case and restrung the instrument. For a little while he tuned it, loosening and tightening the pegs and turning the brass screws at the bridge until he could bow a passable octave. Then he played Rights of Man over and over by the shore until she appeared, snorting with delight. He fiddled and she rolled about in the water, soaking the morning warmth into her glossy pelt.
The bull seal swept over the water in a series of angry, focussed leaps until it reached her and rounded on her, trying to force her away from the rocks. It happened so fast that the man was taken unaware until there were two brawling seals in front of him. They fought like big dogs, quick and violent, huge canines bared, barking and growling, their bodies twined and then separating to clash together again. Her teeth flashed and she went for the bull’s neck. Then she gave a pitched yelp and withdrew, scurfing away on her back from the male, watching him with rolling black eyes. He stalked around her, growling, wiry hackles raised along the back of his thick neck. Finally she disappeared beneath the water and when he next saw her, she was twenty or thirty yards away and heading for the channel.
The bull seal looked at him and he wondered if there was even a challenge lurking in its eyes. He walked away, shaking his head. A seal fight. How lonely and crazed with desire was he that he considered a seal to be a rival in an affair of the heart!
He set about rekindling the fire in his hut. When the thin plume of smoke curled up from the leaves he remembered – the smell of her hair. It was more than some horny dream about sirens and shipwrecks, he knew.
He went back outside to the flat stone where she’d left the fish and there was only a wet mark. He looked out to the water and saw the bull seal jawing one of his fish, glaring indolently at him.
A red spot in his head began to burn. He felt the same anger as when his father hit him across the head when he was a kid. He stalked in a small circle with clenched fists, cursing this new arrival, this bane of his happiness, this filthy, glaring scum sucking bottom dweller, a lowly belligerent beast who thought himself better than a man. He assuaged his rage by throwing stones at the seal until he hit it. The seal slid into the water but he did not see it leave the area. He walked around the rocks, his stomach growling, until he found some sea celery and a few periwinkles. He ate them all raw, trying to mash the celery weed into the little coils of periwinkle flesh with his teeth.
That night he was unsure whether he was awake or asleep when she came to him. It was a brighter night; the clouds pulled away from the moon but in the gloom of his little hut all he could see was her lithe figure in the doorway, a naked silhouette with the silver water behind her. She stood there for a moment framed by the sea-worn edges of the stone and then she crept into his bed. He felt the breath seep out of his body.
“He doesn’t belong to my people,” she silently explained.
He smiled in the dark. Later he took out his fiddle and played her a sad, quiet song about a territorial war that raged over a grassy knoll between two faerie clans.
In the morning he didn’t see the bull seal but fires burned around the horizon. The day seemed ready for a happening. He got the fire going and cooked the cuttlefish and herring that she’d left him. It was a good feed, the cuttlefish spongy and wholesome. He felt good. He took the fiddle down to the rocks and played an eastern gypsy lament that began sedately, gaining speed. She didn’t appear.
He heard voices. He turned to look behind him and the women slid out of the trees. Both parties stared at each other in surprise and shock. Then he dropped his fiddle into a deep crevice and ran along the rocks. He kept going, not looking back, sure they would go shrieking to their men. When he’d worked his way to the other side of the inlet, he found a small grove of trees and slid down a bank where he could watch and not be seen.