DONALD AND THE SELKIE
This is my more modern take on a story I have known since childhood
THE LONDON PARTY
"Sorry I didn't shake your hand when Ann introduced us earlier," apologised the slightly drunk Donald McComber.
I shrugged and poured us
yet another Scotch, still wondering why he had both not done so and come to that hot mid-July London party wearing a pair of leather mittens.
With our mutual friends' house party finally breaking up in the early hours , the two of us sat facing each other across their kitchen table.
"It's just my way of avoiding embarrassment when I meet someone for the first time," he continued. Then realising that I deserved a fuller explanation he began his strange tale.
THE OUTER HEBRIDES
"My family originates from a small island in the Outer Hebrides. My first known ancestor, also a Donald McComber, like the rest of the island menfolk was a fisherman but unlike the rest of them was unmarried. To reduce his lonely hours he was ever the first to put to sea in the morning and the last to tie up at night.
"One evening he was particularly late. As he approached the shore he could see lights already winking through the peaty dusk from everyone else's croft windows.
"Having landed his boat and about to again curse his loneliness, Donald's attention was suddenly caught by the sound of beautiful singing blown towards him from the far end of the beach.
"He had to investigate. Creeping from rock to rock he edged ever closer to the source of the sound.
"Suddenly the full moon appeared - to illuminate twelve beautiful, naked girls, dancing as they sang on that otherwise deserted beach. Donald was entranced, but not so carried away that he failed to notice the pile of skins neatly piled on a nearby rock. The girls were selkies! Coming ashore at night they would take on human form before at each dawn returning to the open sea as seals.
Donald, eying the pile of seal skins, crept towards it and took one. He then returned to behind his rock and waited.
As first light appeared in the east, the girls ran for their sealskins only for one to scream in panic and then with fear as she watched her sisters slide under the waves. Her skin was missing.
DONALD AND MORAG
At this point Donald appeared with it under his arm, told its owner to follow him to his croft and indue course of time they were wed-but only long after he had hidden it up in the roof.
In fact the marriage between Donald and Morag, as she became known, was far from unhappy. Donald was kind and hardworking and in return Morag madeg him a good home. They produced a son, named Donald after his father and a daughter named after her mother.
Yet inspire of it all, Morag's thoughts were never far away from the sea. One day with Donald senior away with the fishing, she confided her story for the first time to her children.
At the mention of the sealskin young Donald gave a start.
"That old thing? I found that ages ago while I was playing about in the roof! I'll away and fetch it."
Good as his word, the lad reappeared with the sealskin.
Morag took it from him, eying it hungrily. As soon as she could, she was away to the beach. No sooner had she replaced her clothes with the skin than she was under the waves never to be seen again. So Donald was left to bring up the two children on his own.
The 1977 Donald McComber lent back in his chair, sipped his Scotch and looked at me clearly anticipating my response.
"Good story," I said, not believing a word of it, " but how does that explain..."
"...my embarassment in shaking someone's hand?" offered Donald. He continued,
" Well, you see, we McCombers have inherited two things from that first Donald and Morag...all first born sons have been Donald's and all first born daughters, Morag's. And then of course there are these..."
With that he held out his hands and slowly removed his mittens. His fingers were joined by thick folds of skin for all the world like the front flippers of a grey seal.
The Seal, (or was it a Selkie) I photographed as a fellow user on Waxham Beach)