This poem came out of the September 16, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from lynnoconnacht, the_vulture, and Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "Character transformed into an animal" square in my 9-1-14 card for the genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series P.I.E.
"Born of Land and Sea"
Brenda stared at the young woman
with her cute dark-haired baby
and said, "I'm not sure how I can help."
Eva sighed. "Sean isn't even a month old,
and he keeps doing things that
babies this age just don't do," she said.
"Last week he managed to dive off the couch,
so now my only babysitter is in trouble
and child services won't leave me alone.
I need corroboration that Sean isn't normal
but it's not like he does this stuff on command."
"So ... you want a video or something?"
Brenda said. The kid looked normal to her.
"I'm not really a baby photographer."
"Well, we have webcams. We can try,"
Darrel said. "Eva, put Sean on the floor.
Brenda, see if you can find a lullaby or
something in a foreign language."
Eva put her son on the floor.
Darrel aimed the cameras at him.
Brenda ran a quick search,
then played a Czech song.
Sean lifted his head to look at the speakers.
"See, he's been doing that since he was born!"
Eva said. "Normal babies can't do that
until they're older; their necks aren't strong enough.
How did you get him to do it when we wanted?"
"I just figured if he's precocious with moving,
he might be with language too," Darrel said.
"Babies really like new sounds. It's strongest
when the reach the babbling stage, but
I thought it was worth a try, and it worked.
It's the best way to make my sister's kids stop crying."
Brenda flicked through pages on baby development.
"Sean is ... what, creeping? crawling?
earlier than expected," she guessed.
"Not exactly," Eva said. "It's more like ...
he does this inchworm thing.
Who expects a month-old baby
to move himself around?
You're supposed to be able to
put them on a changing table.
I have to change him on the floor,
and nobody believes me."
"Does he have a favorite toy or anything?"
Darrel asked, watching Sean.
"He likes his plush puppy," Eva said,
producing a blue dog that rattled.
Sean turned his head again.
"Try holding it in front of him.
That might get him to move forward
or reach for it," Darrel suggested.
"He doesn't reach for things," Eva said.
"It's weird, you know? I looked at the
list of milestones when he started
moving around, but it's just ... he's
all over the map. It doesn't make sense."
She shook the toy in front of Sean, though,
and after a minute he began to move.
"I see why you said inchworm," Brenda observed.
She searched for videos of babies creeping
and noticed that they used their arms
to pull and to reach for things, while Sean
let his trail at his side and simply humped along.
"Did anyone else in your family do this as a baby?"
"Not that I know of," Eva said.
"Father's side of the family?" Brenda tried.
She might not be all that familiar with babies,
but her detective skills were much better.
"I don't know," Eva said. "We're not together.
Last spring break I went to Prince Edward Island,
where I met this really hot guy on the beach,
and after that Sean came along as a surprise.
It's kind of a handful trying to finish college
with a baby on board, but I don't regret it."
"Do you have a picture of him?" Brenda asked.
"Do you know if he was local or another tourist?"
"Sure," Eva said, holding out her smartphone.
"I think he was local, but he didn't talk much."
"Wow," Brenda said softly.
The man was beyond handsome,
his fair skin mottled with freckles,
dark bedroom eyes and floppy brown hair,
muscles thick under a layer of cuddly padding.
"I know, right? I got so lucky,
and he was sweet too," Eva said.
"Sean looks just like him."
"With that picture and Sean in tow,
we might be able to find him
and get some family background,
if we go back to the beach," Brenda said.
"Can you do that?" Eva said,
looking at Brenda's wheelchair.
"It's all sand and rock there,
not what I'd call accessible."
"I have beach wheels," Brenda said.
So they went to Prince Edward Island,
Eva carrying Sean in a baby sling,
Darrel wearing sturdy hiking shoes
because Brenda said that beach rocks
would eat sandaled feet for breakfast,
and Brenda herself in a lightweight chair
decked out with wide off-road tires.
It was still a nuisance to navigate
because the place was so crowded.
Romping people bounced off each other
and towels lay close together.
Near the water, though,
the towels petered out and
the firmer damp sand made it
easier to trundle along the beach.
Darrel and Eva looped through the crowd
showing pictures -- and Sean --
to everyone they passed.
People who might know something useful
were then sent to Brenda, who recorded
what they had to say and correlated
the information with a timeline
and a map of the area.
An interesting pattern emerged,
and Brenda waved the others over.
"Look at this," she said, pointing to
clusters on the map. "He moves around.
People recognize him, but not always
from this particular beach, and he
changes jobs too -- towel boy,
lifeguard, wildlife management."
"Jobs that let him interact with people,
but don't encourage lasting ties," Darrel noted.
"When we met, Craig was a safety monitor,"
Eva said. "He had grant money for sunscreen
that he handed out to people who didn't have any,
so they wouldn't get sunburned. It was great.
He put some on my back, and well,
one thing led to another."
It took time, and Brenda's skill
at tracking down people,
and excursions to several beaches,
but eventually they managed to find Craig.
He wore long black swim trunks
that clung to him like a second skin,
tough sand shoes with corrugated treads,
and a plastic card on a lanyard around his neck.
"Eva," Craig said happily,
walking right past Brenda and Darrel.
"Hello, Craig," she said.
"I'd like you to meet our son Sean."
Craig grinned even wider
and gave a sort of chuckling noise
that made Sean squeak and look up at him.
"I'm thrilled to have him, but he's ..."
Eva said, trailing off.
"Sean has some developmental issues,
and we're wondering if you might
know anything about that," Darrel said.
"He moves better than most babies
at his age, and people don't understand that,
so they're being hard on Eva."
"Was he born late?" Craig asked.
"Yes," Eva said, narrowing her eyes,
"and you weren't there, so how
would you know that?"
"Family thing," Craig said.
"I would really like to hear an explanation
for all this," Eva said to him.
"Easier to show you," Craig said,
waving for them to follow him
as he headed down the beach.
Eva looked at Brenda for guidance.
"Let's go see," Brenda said,
rolling her chair forward.
Craig, to his credit, kept glancing back
to make sure they kept up, and he
didn't walk anywhere they couldn't follow.
The crowd thinned as they went along,
eventually coming to the end of the public beach
where a metal gate blocked the narrow stretch
of sand between cliff and water.
Craig used his card to unlock the gate
so they could all go through,
and then latched it behind them.
"Reserve beach," he said,
gesturing to the beautiful spread
of green dune grass, red cliff,
and distinctly pink sand
where seabirds twittered.
Brenda looked down at her rugged wheels
and asked, "Are these tires going to tear up
anything fragile and endangered?"
"Not there," Craig said, pointing
to the firm damp sand she was driving on.
Then he winked at her. "Keep off the grass."
Brenda had no intention of trying to shove her way
through the luxurious tufts of greenery
that studded the cliffs and the broadening sand.
Then Craig held out his hands for the baby.
Darrel turned his phone camera on.
Eva lifted Sean out of his sling.
Craig put him down on the sand.
Sean promptly turned into a seal pup
and lumbered into the waves.
"What the fuck just happened?"
Darrel replayed the clip, then shook his head.
"I've seen it twice and I still don't know."
"Selkie pups swim," Craig said.
Then he transformed into a harbor seal
and hustled after his son.
"Well, that explains the way Sean moves,"
Brenda said. "He doesn't creep like a human baby,
he's doing that hump-shuffle that seals use."
A quick search on her smartphone found
a video of seals moving along a beach. "See?"
"So my son is a seal," Eva said flatly.
"Craig said selkie," Darrel pointed out.
Brenda did another search and found
plenty of legends about girls with selkie lovers
and fishermen kidnapping selkie women,
most of which ended badly.
Well, that was depressing.
"There's oral tradition on this topic,"
Brenda summarized. "It looks like you
should be careful of cultural differences."
Minutes later, the seal and his pup
emerged from the water. Craig shifted
back to human form, picked up Sean,
and handed him to his mother.
"Little fins get tired quick," Craig said.
"You're not human," Eva said
as she tucked Sean into the sling.
"Selkie," Craig said, spreading a hand
over his freckled chest. "Human, and ..."
he waved at the water. "... seal too."
Brenda looked up from a page about
the harbor seal life cycle. "So this
rapid development is typical of selkies?
Seal pups can swim shortly after birth,
but human infants are helpless for months."
Craig nodded. "Pups grow fast."
Darrel was still watching the video
of Sean and Craig transforming into seals.
"Yeah, this clip is amazing."
"I don't think we'll be showing that video
to child protective services," Brenda said dryly.
"We have the one of Sean lifting his head,
rolling over, and inching along the floor.
Craig's assertion of these as family traits
should help get people off your case.
But you'll need to be more careful
about keeping Sean contained, especially
with sitters used to human infants."
"Family can help," Craig offered,
looking at Eva.
"Aren't selkies, like, British or something?"
Eva asked. "I don't want to move there."
"Irish," Craig said with a flip of his hand,
"but modern selkies go everywhere.
I could follow you."
"That was supposed to be
a one-night stand," Eva muttered.
"More now," Craig said
as he tickled Sean.
The baby gurgled.
"Why don't you try talking
with the social workers together
about Sean's development.
Show them the earlier video
and tell them your safety plans,"
Brenda said. "Then you can
figure out if you both want to
continue any personal involvement."
"Okay, I can try that," Eva said.
"Yes," Craig agreed.
"So what about the rest of our day?" Darrel said.
"I don't know about you,
but that water looks fine to me,"
Brenda said. She had worn
her long swimwear in hopes
that they'd have time for recreation.
"But the first person to make a seal joke
is buying supper tonight."
"Deal," Darrel said, peeling off
his beach pants to reveal trunks.
Brenda rolled out of her wheelchair
onto the warm, damp sand.
Tough driving gloves and nylon leggings
protected her skin as she used her arms
to propel herself into the water,
doubtless looking very much like a sea lion.
She swam with strong, graceful strokes
and looked back to see Darrel
running to dive into the waves.
Eva waded through the shallows
with Sean in her arms and
Craig tagging shyly behind her.
They made a hopeful little trio.
Brenda turned her attention
back to the water, reveling
in the freedom of motion it gave her.
* * *
Baby safety recommends never taking your hands off a baby who is above the floor, unless they are strapped in. The problem is that it's almost impossible to accomplish anything that way, such as a diaper change, so most people will let go briefly with infants too young to roll or creep. While this tends to work with most human infants, some babies have ulterior resources and that can lead to accidents.
Head control and rolling over are physical milestones. Babbling happens in stages and is part of language development. Babies really do respond strongly to novel sounds; it works to stop them from fussing sometimes. "My Little Angel" is a Czech lullaby.
Prince Edward Island has many beautiful beaches.
Beach wheelchairs have several varieties, such as this balloon wheel model which requires a pusher and this electric model with tractor tires. The Hippocampe is an all-terrain trike with wheels akin to those of a mountain bike and can be ridden right into the water. Prince Edward Island and California both have beaches where you can rent or freely borrow a beach wheelchair, sometimes even electric ones. So if you or someone you know uses a wheelchair, ask if you're going to the beach -- they may have one.
Long swim trunks provide more coverage and protection, and less chance of snagging.
Selkies appear in folklore throughout the British Islands.
Harbor seals or common seals are the most widespread of the true seals. They move with a humping motion, like this. Human gestation runs nine months, with harbor seals variously cited as nine to eleven months. For the purposes of this series, consider eleven months the standard for seals, and a selkie-human pregnancy averages ten.
Long swimwear such as this colorful set protects against sun and rough surfaces.
Sea lions move with the aid of their front flippers, what is sometimes called seal-walking. A mobility-impaired person has several options on the beach: ride a water-compatible wheelchair into the waves, ask a walkie friend to carry them, or use alternative locomotion like seal-walking. Brenda prefers the latter and has dressed accordingly.