If I threw the bacteria on now, Ligeia might get hurt. Really badly hurt. Thing was, I’d only tested the plastiphage in a lab setting. I didn’t know what it would do out here in the middle of the ocean, what it might to do living flesh. Even if it didn’t hurt her, it hardly seemed responsible to leave her floating in the middle of the ocean.
I eyed the jacket and dress still drying in the sun. They were made out of the same material, a sort of faded faux-leather that had the same silky pebbled texture as the skin of a seal or dolphin.
My mother had read me enough Irish folktales for me to know what I had to do. A selkie needs her skin. It ought to provide me just the leverage I needed to get her to vacate.
An hour later, Ligeia surfaced and climbed back onto the island of trash in all her aphroditic splendor. I sat on the bow of the Lady Green, munching on my last organic mango fruit leather, doing my best not to breathe in deeply.
“You’re still here, huh?”
“I figured I’d give you a courtesy warning before I destroy the island,” I said.
She turned away from me, leaning over and digging around in the rubbish. “How chivalrous.”
“Looking for something?”
I didn’t get a response.
“Your skin, maybe?”
“Wow.” She looked up, eyes flashing. “Did you dig through my stuff while I was fishing?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.” I held up her dress and jacket. “I found these lying around, though. If you want your skin back, you can just hop aboard, and we’ll be on our way.”
Her eyes grew wide. “No!”
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to come with me.”
She looked down and nodded. “Ok. You win.”
I was struck by a strange mixture of surprise and guilt at the sudden effectiveness of my theft.
“I’ll give it back when we’ve gotten away from here, I promise.”
She smiled wanly and batted her eyes at me. “Thank you.”
I let down a ladder for her and she started climbing up, scattering little droplets of water like gemstones as she made her way up to the deck.
“It’ll get better. There are hundreds of little islands just south of here.”
She swung up and over the railing, her eyes wet. “Of course.”
I kept her clothes close to my person as I began digging around in the cooler for the sealed case of plastiphage bacteria. “This is pretty monumental, you know. People have been clamoring for governments to clean up the world’s oceans for decades. Now that dream will finally be realized.”
She cocked her head at the cooler. “Is that what you’re going to use?”
“Great.” She walked closer to me, her hips swaying, and put her arms around me slowly, pushing me away from the cooler and up against the side of the boat. The heat of her breath in my ear sent a shiver down my spine, and I felt a familiar tightening in my groin. “You,” she whispered, so softly I could hardly hear her, “are a fool.”
She kicked me right between the legs and as I dropped to my knees, she pushed me over the edge, toppling me into the filthy water.
I came up spluttering and gasping for air as I brandished her skin in the air. “Stop! What about your skin?”
“What do you think this is, some sort of fairy tale?” She laughed and pinched her arm. “This is my skin.” She pointed at the jacket and dress. “Those are some old clothes.”
Then, my heart sinking, I watched her pick up the cooler. She said nothing more as she tucked it into the crook of her arm and dove back into the water.
It was the last time I saw my babies.
A week later, I sat on a bench in Belfast, down at Donegal Quay. It was a misty morning, the sun just barely reaching me across the bay. Across from me, an elderly man with a florid complexion was chewing half-heartedly at a hamburger, grease dripping down his chin to pool in the red and yellow box holding his fries.
He looked up and I looked away.
I didn’t respond.
“Beautiful morning, innit?”
He jammed a fistful of fries into his mouth. “You ever been out to sea, lad?”
I thought about it a moment. “Never.”
“Shame. The mornings are always like this out at sea. Beautiful mornings, every morning.”
“I was a sailor, you know. Crewed with the Royal Navy out of Devenport.” He stuffed the rest of his burger into the box of fries and tossed it on the ground. There was a trash bin not more than a foot away, and I gritted my teeth. “Anyway, back to work. See you around, lad.”
After he rose and walked away, I picked up the half-eaten burger. The sun caught on little globules of fat in the patty, and I stared at it awhile, the grease now dripping into my hand.
I tossed it into the bay, and then sat back down and watched it drift off atop the waves, growing smaller and smaller until I could hardly make it out. I wondered how far it would float. If it would make it out into the greater parts of the ocean, the vastness of the sea.
I wondered if Ligeia would find it.
Even if she didn’t, the plastic would break down.