She's not coming back, Marley. You know that, don't you?
Finn's words clove the air in the manner of a rusty jail door opening on greaseless hinges. Marley's fingers tightened on the chilly granite of the window sill. For the moment he ignored the remark, keeping his back to the man who was his best friend. He stared out the window, flaking steel mullions framing the iron-green ocean a short distance away. To his red and grit-ridden eyes the rectangle of glass appeared to be a small painting come to life, with miniature gulls swooping into tiny bursts of spray. A minute or two of silence, then Marley cleared his throat to speak.
I know that, Finn. You don't need to remind me. But it is my head what knows it, not my heart.
Marley had not turned to face Finn. His words bounced off the misty glass, shattering into needles that sped across the width of the small cottage to spike Finn where he stood. The Irishman winced, took off his cap and ran a scarred hand across his head. He briefly kneaded the nape of his neck, his hand dropping slack to his side. He leaned back against the whitewashed stone of the cottage wall, and waited. Marley spoke.
The ocean gave me much, my friend. Life. Blood. Ways to make a living. But it took a lot, too. Just before she came to me, I was thinking...
Marley's voice dropped off. His mouth hung open, working slowly. Fish out of water, Finn thought.
...I was thinking, that I didn't want to die but simply not living anymore would be just fine. Days like that, a man is likely to believe in anything what makes him better. Even witches. Selkies. Them that you swear you see in the mist, those nights where sleep is a fraud and the sea is the only voice louder than the ones in your head.
She was there, Finn. I know it. She in this room, she shared my hearth, my bed. I...
Marley's throat tightened around the grief and longing welling up from the spring of his heart. Finn's eyes softened, and he made to speak, but thought of nothing he could say to fill the void in his friend. Marley's shoulders shook, his hands clawing at the sill in a death grip. Finn could see from across the room the knuckles going white. Marley's head dropped, and stains bloomed on the stone of the sill. A croaking whisper rising to a near shout skirled out from his throat, causing Finn to flinch
I know she's gone, Finn! The sea took her back, and left me here. Why, Finn? Can ya tell me that?
Marley turned to look at his friend. His eyes were wide and wet, reflecting the nacreous light seeping through the windows. Behind him, the surf walloped the rocks and sand, and Finn swore he could see waves deep in the pupils of the haggard man who swayed slightly across from him. Finn hesitated, then walked over to Marley. His steps rasped the silence, tearing it apart with a duet of sand and hobnails on the burnished planks of the floor. He put his hands gently on Marley's shoulders and slowly spun him to face the sea.
I don't know why, Marley. You said yourself the ocean gave you much, even if it did take much. Manannán has a wicked sense of humor, you'll agree. But take this to heart, friend. The sea did give her to you, and she gave you to yourself. Remember that and rejoice.
Marley turned his head, staring at Finn with watering eyes. He said nothing, only nodding, then turned his face back to stare at the waves. He thought he saw a face, but it smiled and closed it eyes, disappearing amongst the foam.