by Abi Hynes
It must have been the sea that made him.
She found him in a rock pool after the storm. He lay like harmless sludge at the bottom of her net, and she might have cast him off, had it not been for the sparkling shard of oil-green glass that had lodged itself in his belly, catching the light.
She shook his little body into the palm of her hand. Turning him gently with her finger, she picked out first the wiggling fruits of the ocean that squirmed inside him, and then the shard itself. He sighed with relief, and a tiny bubble of air rose from his small silt mouth. She was so amazed, she laughed. It was the first human sound he ever heard.
She took him home with her, and he grew. For a month she hand-reared him, this little silt creature that was neither fish nor fowl. He needed a womb, but she was afraid of him disintegrating in too much water. So she kept him in just a few clear inches, moving him from windowsill to windowsill to give him the best of the sun. She fed him fresh sand that she sifted for shells, in pinches, then handfuls. When he got too big for the washing up bowl, he opened his eyes.
His senses sharpened. He recognized the difference between her voice and those of visitors, and for a while he would curl himself up and tremble when there was a stranger in the house. She kept him out of sight, and after a few weeks he seemed to grow in confidence; she would hear him splashing from the other room, as if attempting to join in the conversation. Once he’d graduated to the bath, it became much harder to keep him secret. A friend, stopping by for tea one afternoon, asked to use the bathroom, and was given a stilted tale of faulty plumbing, only interrupted by the unmistakeable sound of somebody pulling the plug out of a full bath. Visitors were not admitted after that.
She found him standing over the toilet, experimenting with the flush. He was an inch or so taller than her at full height, and proportionally—definitely—male. The fine grit of his skin sparkled where it was still wet, and he left faint traces of himself on everything he touched. Looking around, she saw evidence of his investigations: the sink, the toothpaste, her box of sanitary towels. The final drops of bathwater gurgled in the plughole and were gone.
He turned his mother-of-pearl eyes towards her, and she reached out to touch the firm, damp flats of his chest. He felt like fluid sandstone; like rock with a current beneath it. When she took her hand away, a thin layer of him came with it.
She said: “What will we do?”
He pulled her head towards the place her hand had been, inviting her to listen. Inside him, she heard the drag and push of the tide.