A Rising Tide
The council moved Seal Mama and her daughter from the beach to a third-floor flat in town. ‘We don’t accept that your child is a marine mammal,’ they told her. But the girl’s round eyes shone like obsidian.
Mama’s new neighbours did not care for the thwacking and thudding her daughter made moving between rooms. They complained to Environmental Health every time she hauled-out onto the balcony, fired off frenzied emails that moored their leaden thoughts as absolutely as the ocean’s ebb and flow would lift them.
Seal Daughter’s school rejected Mama’s request; they would not add calamari to the lunch options. The Headteacher was rigid in his approach to energy that needed to be spent. ‘Encouraging classmates to scoop sand from the sandpit and fling it into the air, lying on your back while slapping your bare belly, does not make a solid foundation for learning,’ he said. He introduced Mama to the Pause Place, a room specially built for pupils who refused to focus, who talked incessantly about what treasures could be discovered on the seabed. Seal Daughter did not pause. She wore holes in the carpet, rolling on the floor pretending to rub barnacles from her back.
There were emergency meetings. ‘Ms Sinclair,’ Educational Specialists said, ‘It is negligent, this insistence that you are parenting a seal. A child requires an effective education. It is imperative you work with us, commit to harnessing your daughter’s true potential.’
Seal Mama invested in friendship. Dolphin Mum said ‘fuck those meetings.’ She revived drop-offs with clicks and squeaks, turned up with Tupperware packed with fresh sardines and squid. She hosted playdates, let the kids bounce on her bed and watch cartoons. She taught them nicknames for thoughtless grown-ups; stale bread, mathmortician, foghorn. She said, ‘Sports day can get in the bin’.
Instead of relay races and other obstacle courses, Seal Daughter and Dolphin Kid helped their mums pack sandwiches and cake and pop for a picnic.
The four of them skipped through town, past broad-shouldered bronzes and slick posters for high schools. They played their favourite game, the one where they pretended their bellies were sore from slapping against the hot board-black tarmac, and their flippers were stuck with cigarette butts. Dolphin Kid flared his nostrils as they got close to the beach, let them fill with the comforting smell of sun-warmed seaweed and salt-dry crabs.
The two kids rolled in the sand, got their hair tangled as washed-up fishing wire, built elaborate castles with shells for windows, transformed themselves into giants and trampled them flat. Their mothers threw unwanted crusts to the gulls, swapped stories of lovers who’d kept them landlocked, and shared dreams of falling asleep to the lullaby of a calm sea. Aired and sun-kissed, they shed their well-worn expressions, their grown-thick skin, left them to convalesce among gutweed and driftwood. Told the kids, no, they didn’t have to write this day up in their reflective journals, or use wave-worn pebbles to practise number bonds. Took their outstretched hands and rushed headlong at the wide, open sea.
lives and works in Brighton, UK. Her stories have been published by Ellipsis Zine, The Molotov Cocktail, Reflex Fiction, Fictive Dream, Janus Literary
and others, and have been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Prize and the Bridport Prize. You can find her on Twitter at @stillsquirrel
. Her website is https://www.anikacarpenter.com/