The Apostle to the Sea

by Stewart Moore

When Liam Finch asked him whether a God-fearing man could marry a mermaid, Father Robert Mackelroy at first thought the old fisherman had been at the bottle. But Liam stood straight and steady at the head of the aisle, his cap in his hand. Though his gray eyes sparkled, it was not with the dull gleam of whiskey. Father Robert set down the golden crucifix he’d been polishing and tried to think of something to say.

“I mean, Father, is there some special ceremony? Because she hasn’t been to church so much.”

“Liam, I don’t…”

“…Know if I’ve gone outta my mind? Yeah… Well, don’t worry yourself. It was just a thought.” Liam gave his cap a twist as if he were trying to squeeze words out of it. He was a stout man with some pepper still left in his beard, and broad in the way of powerful men who have run out of work for their hands. He hadn’t bothered to open his coat when he came in, and in truth the March chill reached deep into the church on weekdays, when the boiler stayed off. He squeezed his hat once more, then set it on his head. “Good morning to you anyway, Father.” He turned and walked back out into the sun.

Father Robert looked out the door at the town. Time was when the Church of Saints Peter and Andrew of End Harbor, Massachusetts looked out on docks crowded with fishing-trawlers, each one with a crown of seagulls weeping for scraps. Now, only Liam’s Blue Lady was left. The oily smell of fried batter from a couple of seafood restaurants replaced the overpowering odor of raw fish. The days were long gone when a miraculous catch would have made much difference.

Robert shivered. Rubbing his callused hands for warmth, he went back into the church and shut the doors. He spent the rest of the morning watching the sunlight crawl across his desk and trying to write that Sunday’s sermon. He read the text appointed: St. John’s Gospel this week, chapter three. One verse struck him particularly, and he read it over and over: “The wind blows where it chooses. You can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

The chill in his office made him numb and stupid. He opened up his enormous black concordance, the book that listed every word in the Bible. He looked up “wind,” but he couldn’t bear to pore over the thirty pages of references. Just to keep busy, he thought he would look up “fisherman,” but found himself flipping through the “M’s” instead.

There was, of course, nothing in the Bible about mermaids.

He shut the heavy reference book and threw on his coat.


As Robert pulled into Liam’s driveway, he saw the mailbox that said, “THE FINCHES.” The “THE” and the “ES” were larger than the original letters. Yet they hardly resembled a drunkard’s scrawl. They were neat, careful, even. They quietly, soberly declared the presence of more than one Finch in the house. So Robert knocked on the gray weather-beaten door, even though the driveway was empty. And he was not particularly surprised when a woman answered his knock.

She looked to be maybe ten years younger than Liam, perhaps in her early fifties, though Robert couldn’t decide what gave that impression of age, since her skin was smooth and hardly wrinkled. Perhaps because her hair shone as white as sea-foam, as if it had always, always been that color. Perhaps because her body was wide and well-settled. Perhaps because she wore a plain white dress that would have looked at home in a hundred-year-old daguerreotype. She stood in the doorway and stared at him with eyes a shade of shocking blue that Robert had only known Scandinavians and Russians to have.

“Yes?” she asked. Her voice rang as clear as a lullaby.

“I’m—I’m Father Mackelroy, from the church, from Liam’s church. I’m sorry, are you—”

“Am I Mrs. Finch? Liam says that’s up to you, Father.” He couldn’t place her accent: Scottish? Swedish? Russian? “My name is Anikka.” She held out her hand, and Robert shook it. She gripped his palm hard enough to squeeze the bones, but her hands were perfectly smooth.

“Will you come inside?” Anikka asked, and she turned back inside the house without waiting for an answer. He closed the door behind him. Anikka had already disappeared, but Robert had visited Liam before, and knew the house. He heard porcelain clinking, and followed the sound to the kitchen. The unkillable odor of fried Spam filled the room.

She poured hot water into two coffee mugs. “I’m sorry Liam’s not here,” she said. “He’s gone to get some fish from the market.” She handed him a mug with a teabag’s string dangling over the side, and sat down, her fingers wrapped around her own mug. Her clear blue eyes watched him until he finally sat down himself, blushing. But she didn’t say a thing.

“So,” he said at last, plastering a smile onto his face and looking up from his mug—though not quite directly into Anikka’s cool gaze, “how did you and Liam meet?”

“On his boat,” she said, and for the first time, she smiled, as if she’d just told a particularly clever riddle, and wanted to see Robert try, and fail, to guess it.

“Oh, you took a tour on the Blue Lady?”

“Yes,” Anikka said, but her smile widened, and Robert knew he’d guessed wrong nonetheless. Still, he could only hold to this tack, until a better wind came along.

“And how long have you known each other?”

“Almost a week,” she said, and her smile grew as wide as a shark’s.

“Well, I’ve heard of shorter courtships,” Robert said, faking a laugh.

“From children, yes, who run away from home and grab the first piece of driftwood that floats by. Not from old men of the sea who sail the same ground for years after years, whether it gives them fish, or not.”

Robert finally gave up pretending he was in control of this discussion. “No,” he said. “No, not from them.”

“Do you disapprove, Father?” Anikka asked.

“Miss Anikka,” he said, “my approval is the least important thing in this room. The mailbox already says, ‘The Finches.’ It looks to me like you’re already married, for all intents and purposes, so I don’t see what possible relevance my approval could have to you and Liam.”

Anikka’s smile faded. The sadness in her eyes made him look down into his tea. He’d left the bag in too long. He sipped the black and bitter tea, and looked out the window.

“Father,” Anikka said at last, “it matters very much to Liam. It wasn’t because he didn’t care what you thought that he painted the mailbox. He painted it because he was happy. But then he said to me, ‘This Father Mackelroy is a good one. He’s got hands that know how to tie a bowline, and a nose for a following wind. If there’s a way to do this thing right, he’s the man who’ll know it.’” To hear Anikka’s crisp accent straining to imitate Liam’s Massachusetts drawl made Robert wish he didn’t feel too ashamed of himself to laugh.

“You’re right,” she pressed on, “it wouldn’t matter so much just for me. But what you think matters for Liam, and so it does matter for me. Please—I was not trying to make you angry—I am sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Robert said. He remembered Liam’s tortured expression, as he’d twisted his cap into knots, trying to ask a question.

“Anikka,” he said, “do you know what Liam asked me this morning?”

“He said he wanted to ask you to perform a ceremony. Is that not what he asked?”

“Well, not exactly. He asked me… He asked me whether he could marry a mermaid.”

For a long time, Anikka only stared at him. Robert wondered if Liam was losing his mind after all, and if Anikka would suddenly hurry herself out of town.

Instead, she laughed. “You mean the half-woman, half-fish? Oh, dear, no! I’m no mermaid!”

“But… I am concerned about Liam. He seemed, well, it seemed like he really believed you are a mermaid.”

“Oh, well…” Anikka wiped her eyes. “My dear Liam is a good man, but he is a simple man, and not good with strange words that do not name parts of a boat. I never told him I was a mermaid. I’m a selkie. It’s quite a different thing entirely, you know.”

Robert recognized the word, but could not for the life of him remember what it meant. “Selkie, is that… Norwegian?”

Anikka burst out laughing again, as if the idea that she was Norwegian was even funnier than her being a mermaid. “No, no, no!” she gasped. Once she’d gotten herself somewhat under control, she stood up. “Come, I’ll show you.”

She led him into the living room, where Liam kept the ancient steamer trunk with which his family had come through Ellis Island. The last time Robert had been in the house, the trunk had served as a coffee table. Now, its top was bare, and a new padlock held the lid closed.

“Liam said it would be safe enough here,” Anikka said. She reached behind a shelf crowded with ships-in-bottles, and pulled out a key. “I would have been more careful, once upon a time, but hardly anyone thinks of such things nowadays.” She turned the key, and the lock opened with a harsh snap.

“No one thinks of what things?” Robert asked.

Anikka opened the lid and stepped aside. Robert looked inside. At the bottom of the otherwise empty trunk lay a small black fur coat. He looked up. Anikka watched him closely, a smile haunting her face.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” he said.

“It’s my skin,” she said. “My other skin.” Very gently, she lifted it out of the trunk and let it hang. Robert could see that it wasn’t a coat after all. At least, it wasn’t a person’s coat. It was the hide of a seal, black mottled with gray. It filled the room with its musk, a strange, cold smell that somehow made him think of icebergs. The empty holes of its eyes winked darkly at him.

“Isn’t that illegal?” he asked. “Aren’t they endangered?”

“Yes,” Anikka said. “Very endangered, indeed.”

She put her hand inside the long slit that opened the belly of the hide. The right flipper waved. It seemed like a sick sort of joke to Robert, treating this poor creature like a puppet show. But Anikka’s arm kept going further into the skin, though there couldn’t possibly be enough room inside, unless there was some trick to it. Yet what sort of trick could make her entire arm fit inside a flipper that wasn’t twelve inches long? And what sort of trick could make both her arms fit into that skin? What sort of trick made the empty seal’s head envelop hers? What sort of trick shrank her stocky legs to fit inside the black-furred tail, which beat upon the floor?

Robert stared down at the seal that sat on the floor, looking up at him with ice-blue eyes. He felt as if he were looking down the wrong end of a telescope. The vertigo made him sway. He spun around, crashing into the walls as he ran down the hall and out the door, the seal’s laughing barks chasing him the whole way.


Father Robert washed up on a bench on the town square and let normality wash over him. A young family pushed a stroller by, the mother and father arguing quietly while their baby stared straight ahead. Two teenaged boys playing hooky rolled past on skateboards, earbuds planted firmly in their ears, sharing a tinny bass line with the world. A herd of uniformed children ran across the green, their teachers running at their heels like border collies.

In the warm sunshine, what he had seen in the dim light of Liam’s living room faded, but only a little. Every time a dog barked, he shivered.

“So,” he said quietly, “it’s not Liam who’s losing his mind. It’s me.”

That was the most elegant explanation. He would exit parish ministry in time-honored fashion by having a nervous breakdown. Maybe he would become an alcoholic, too, just to speed the process along. With a little careful planning, he could be run out of town before the summer season began.

The trouble with this idea was that Robert very much wanted to believe that he had seen a woman turn into a seal this morning. He remembered long ago, when he had first felt God’s presence, like a wind that moved through still air, like a window that opened up inside his mind to let in the light. He believed in miracles then. He wanted so badly to keep believing in miracles, but in time they all grew small and ordinary, a trick of good timing and little more.

But he had seen a miracle today. An honest-to-God miracle.

He realized suddenly that he did want to perform the wedding. He liked Liam a lot, and he could not deny Anikka’s sheer presence. But how could he perform the sacrament of marriage to two people, one of whom wasn’t a person? He couldn’t ask the bishop. He’d get an order for a psychiatric evaluation instead of a theological opinion.

How did that Disney movie go? She had to turn into a human first. Somehow, Robert doubted that would do Anikka and Liam any good. And the original story didn’t help, because there they didn’t get married at all. Besides, what he needed wasn’t stories. It was history.


With the word, the bottom fell out of Robert’s chest. He gasped at the emptiness and wrapped his arms around himself. The cold rushed in like a shadow falling over the sun.

“Matt,” he whispered. “Oh, Matt.”

But if anyone would know, it was Matt. He’d been obsessed with Catholic church history even in college. In those days when God had not yet set Robert aside for the priesthood, and all manner of things still seemed possible.

It was conceivable, now, that Matt would just hang up on him. But Robert didn’t think so. And he had to try. He owed Liam that.

Back at the rectory, he got the number off the Boston College website. He sat looking at his phone for a long time. Almost as long as the very first time he’d called Matt, twenty years ago.


Robert hadn’t realized he’d dialed the phone. Matt’s voice was just as he’d remembered it, a strong voice, made for huge lecture halls.

“Hello?” Matt asked again.

“Hello, Matt. It’s Robert.”

A long silence. Robert heard the sound of a door closing. “Bobby?” Matt’s voice was low now.

“Hi, Matt,” he said, smiling wanly. “Long time.”

“Bobby… Why are you calling? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I need to see you.” Robert winced. He hadn’t meant to say that. It was true, God knows, but he still hadn’t meant to say it.


“Matt. I have a question. I need to ask you a question. It’s about church history.”

“What is it?”

“No. I need to see you. You’ll understand when you hear the question.”

Robert looked out the window. He could just see the cars driving down Main Street, the sun glinting harshly off their windshields. “Please, Matt,” he whispered. “For auld lang syne.”

“Goddamn you,” Matt’s voice whispered in his ear. “Come see me tomorrow. You remember the bar we used to go to on Tremont Street?”

“I remember.”

“Well, it’s not there anymore. It’s a coffeeshop now. Be there at noon. There’ll be a pretty good crowd around us. No one should notice. Oh, and Bobby?”


“Don’t wear your collar.” Matt hung up.


Robert arrived at Slow Boil at eleven o’clock on Saturday morning. He’d been unwilling to take a chance on traffic into Boston. Well, he thought, holding his Bible and his notebook under his arm, at least maybe I’ll actually write my sermon. He went inside.

Steam rose in gentle wisps from pots and mugs, and in angry blasts from the espresso machine. Younger people than he sat and typed furiously into laptop computers. No one spoke. A radio played faintly; for a terrible moment, Robert thought he heard smooth jazz, but then the tempo shifted wildly, and a trumpet shrieked. Davis at Birdland, he thought. At least someone still had some taste.

Robert breathed deeply. Underneath the smoky scent of coffee beans burnt almost black, he thought he could still smell the faintest ghost of cheap whiskey, with a cheap beer back. How many times had he and Matt come here, to have a drink and continue some theological debate one of them had started in class?

Unfortunately, the fools who owned the place now had put huge windows in the front that let in all the fresh morning light. Somehow, Robert always found it easier to talk about God in the dark. He bought a plain black coffee and found an empty chair in the least sunny part of the shop. He stared out the window and thought about the ocean.

Matt came in five minutes later. Apparently he’d also worried about coming in late, and missing the connection. He still wore his hair long enough to tickle the edges of Jesuit decorum, without being so long as to be in outright rebellion. That hair was still blonde and bright. Robert could almost feel the gray streaks at his temples burning. His students must love him, Robert thought. His students must just fall in love with him.

Matt stood in the doorway and scanned the room. When he saw Robert, he made no gesture of recognition, but kept scanning for a moment. Then he wandered to the counter to order his coffee. He kept his back turned. All Robert could see was his blonde hair and his gray windbreaker.

Once he had his coffee, Matt spent a long time over the milk and sugar. Robert stared down at his Bible. He had no idea what the words said. Finally, mercifully, a shadow fell over the table. Matt sat down. He still smelled like cigarettes and expensive soap.

“You never used to take milk and sugar,” Robert said.

“I still don’t.” It was true: Matt’s coffee was as black as his.

“It’s good to see you, Matt.” How many sermons had he given over the years? And had any of them felt as true on his lips as those six words?

“You, too, Bobby. I’m sorry we couldn’t meet in my office, but you know how things are.”

“Are you in any trouble?”

“No,” Matt said. “The Inquisition isn’t here yet. I’m definitely on their mailing list, but I don’t think they’ve moved on to tapping my phone. It’s better with our new Pope, but there are still lines we can’t cross. So what was it you needed to ask me in person?”

Robert closed his Bible. Matt sipped his coffee.

“I have a serious question,” Robert said.

“So I gathered.”

“But it’s going to sound ridiculous. You’re either going to think I’m playing some stupid game with you, or you’re going to think I’m insane.”

“All right,” said Matt. “But you know I already think you’re insane.”

“I know. I know.” Robert watched the pedestrians walking by the windows. Two men walked by, hand-in-hand. He closed his eyes.

“So?” Matt prompted.

Robert took a deep breath. “Has the Church… ever given out a theological decision… on the spiritual status… of mermaids?”

He heard the soft clunk of a coffee mug being set down.

“Did you say mermaids?” Matt asked.

Robert winced. “I did.”

“You know, you’re actually not the first person to ask me about mermaids this week. Some old guy, wanted to know if the church had any opinion about marrying one.”

“That was Liam Finch,” said Robert.

“He’s one of yours?”

Robert nodded.

“Poor old guy,” Matt said. “He sounded so lonely. So that’s what you came out here to ask about? The spiritual status of mermaids?”

Robert nodded.

“I told you you were insane.”

“So what did you tell him?” Robert asked.

“About what? About whether it’s okay for an old fisherman to marry a mermaid? Come on, Robert, I’m an historian, not a psychiatrist. And the only opinion I know on the topic is Hans Christian Andersen’s.”

Robert swirled his mug, watching the coffee rise to kiss the lip of the mug.

“No, wait…” he said. He blushed fiercely, but still choked the words out. “She’s not a mermaid. She said she was a ‘selkie.’”

“Selkies, mermaids, it’s all the same. It’s… the same…” Matt bit his lip. “It’s… You know, I’d have sworn he said, ‘mermaid…’”

“He did. She… The woman he’s talking about, she’s the one who said she was a selkie.”

Matt looked at Robert for a long time. He took off his glasses and wiped them with a napkin. “So there really is a woman involved?”

“She’s real,” Robert said.

“Do you mean ‘real’ like…”

Robert reached his hand across the table, stopped short of touching Matt’s arm. “She’s real. And they want to be married.”

Matt cleaned his glasses for a little while longer, before finally settling them back on his nose. He stood up suddenly. “Come with me, Bobby.”

“I thought you were worried—”

“Just come with me. I have something to show you.”


Matt’s office was just as Robert had known it would be: a cave of books, stalagmites of tomes tottering on the brink of collapse, the single window bricked up with ancient commentaries on the letters of Saint Paul. The dry leathery smell of parchment closed around Robert as he shut the door.

Matt’s fingers spidered up one trembling column of books. He found the one he wanted, and, with a magician’s quickness, yanked it free. The entire stack shook, sighed out a breath of golden dust, then settled into silence once more. Oblivious to the disaster he’d almost brought down on them, Matt opened the huge and ancient chronicle.

“I’ve been researching the history of marriage in the Catholic Church,” Matt said. He smiled thinly. “For the obvious reasons. I’m especially interested in what was going on at the edges of the Vatican’s reach. Places that technically had a bishop—but only technically. Strange things always happen in places like that.

“For example, Greenland. Vikings settled there, and they managed to hold on for almost five hundred years, before the Black Plague and the English and the sheer damn freezing cold of the place drove them out. The very last record we have is from the year 1408, and it’s a wedding: Thorstein Olafsson married Sigrid Bjornsdottir.

“Unfortunately, some folks from Iceland happened to be visiting that day, trading for sealskins, and there was some sort of fight. The Icelanders came off second best, and went back to Reykjavik to complain. They said the marriage was irregular, and they wanted it annulled.

“The problem was the bride. No one seemed to know who she was. She said her name was Bjornsdottir, but none of the Bjorns in the neighborhood stepped up to say, ‘That’s my girl.’ Worse, she couldn’t prove she was Christian. She couldn’t answer questions about the Trinity and such.

“Now, what you’d expect, in that time and that place, is that she’d be accused of secretly worshipping the old Viking gods. It was an easy accusation to make, and it got a few people burned at the stake. But that’s not what our troublemakers from Iceland said. The issue wasn’t that Sigrid couldn’t prove she was Christian; it was that she couldn’t prove she was human.

“The Icelanders said she was a selkie, and that made three problems so far as they were concerned. First, seal-traders hated selkies, because whenever a seal escaped from a trap, a half-woman, half-seal made a good scapegoat. Second, selkies are supposed to be from Scotland, which, to the Vikings, pretty much made them English. Third, and most important, selkies were not human. They had no souls. They couldn’t be baptized, they couldn’t receive the Eucharist, and they could not be married.

“Oddly enough, Thorstein didn’t argue with any of this. Instead, being as rich a man as a Greenlander could be, he simply sent to Rome and he bought the right indulgence.” He tapped his finger gently on the ancient parchment. “This is the document that let Thorstein Olafsson marry a selkie.”

Robert leaned close, puzzling over the thickly-inked Latin.

“What does it say?” he asked.

Matt smiled. “It says, ‘Insofar as the Church’s mission is to redeem the creation, and to fill it; and insofar as all the lands of the earth are bounded by seas whose other shores are unknown to us; and insofar as there are agents in these seas who might carry the Gospel throughout all the oceans; and, finally, insofar as it is uncertain as to whether a creature not human made sometimes in the image of God might have a soul; therefore, Pope Innocent grants to Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Bjornsdottir the right to receive the sacrament of holy matrimony, in the sure and certain hope that their union will help to unite all those lands now separated by many waters. As Peter was Apostle to the Jews, and Paul was Apostle to the Gentiles, so let Thorstein and Sigrid be Apostles to the Sea.’”

Robert gently ran his fingers over the ancient ink. He could almost hear the wedding celebration that Thorstein and Sigrid must have thrown when they received this news. “What happened to them?” he asked.

“No idea, really. They moved to Norway the next summer, but that’s the last we hear of them. No word on any children. And twenty years later, there wasn’t a Viking left on Greenland. The Vatican eliminated the bishopric from its rolls, and filed all the records away in a deep, dark library. And that’s the end of the story.”

Robert looked up at Matt. “You don’t believe any of this… do you?”

“That there’s such a thing as a selkie? No. But it doesn’t matter whether I believe in that. What matters is that Thorstein believed it. Those Icelanders believed it. And the Pope believed it. The rest of it… Well, the rest of it is somebody else’s problem. Isn’t it?”

Robert nodded. “Thank you, Matt.”

Outside the closed office door, muffled footsteps passed by. Robert realized he was holding his breath.

“You should probably go,” Matt said softly.

“Yes.” That “yes” felt like it cost Robert a year of his life. “Good-bye, Matt.”

“Good-bye, Bobby.”

They stood in the silent office. They didn’t hug. They didn’t shake hands. Robert turned to the door. He reached for the knob. He stopped, smiling and shaking his head. “How did you ever find that indulgence?” he asked.

“It was just a matter of spending enough time in libraries, that’s all. Everything’s in there. You just have to look.”

“I always knew you’d be a good historian, Matt.”

“Robert, history is just what happens when regular people live their lives. Regular people, and their parish priests, helping them when they’re born, when they’re married, when they die. That’s what history is. I only study it. Your fisherman is living it. You’re the one who can help him.”

Robert opened the door. The hallway was empty.

“We’re living it, too, you know,” Robert said.

“I know,” Matt said. “I know.”


It was hours before Robert stopped shaking enough to drive safely, so by the time he finally made it back to the rectory of Saints Peter and Andrew, night had fallen. The red light of voice mail blinked furiously at him. A long hissing silence came, the sound of the ocean inside a seashell.

“Um… hello? Oh, right, the machine. Um, Father, this is Liam Finch. I just wanted to let you know, well, thanks for everything, you know? You were good for this town. You kept the church open, and there’s a lot of us who think the world of you for that. And, I understand about the whole wedding thing. It wasn’t really a fair thing to ask of you, and, so, it’s not your fault. I just wanted to say… Well… Good-bye, Father. Anikka and me, we’re off now. She says she wants me to see where she grew up—funny story about that—”

Robert ran outside and stood at the top of the church steps. Black water lapped against the docks. The Blue Lady was still there.

He sprinted across the road and down the dock. He saw Liam moving boxes, handing them down to Anikka on the ship. “Liam!” he called.

The old sailor straightened and took off his hat. “Father! Have you come to see us off?”

“No,” gasped Robert as a skidded to a stop. “I’ve come to marry you.”

Anikka clapped her hands. Even in the harsh shine of the dock lights, Robert could see Liam’s blush.

“There is a precedent,” said Robert. “It’s from a long time ago, but that’s the thing about being an eternal church. Nothing ever really goes away.”

“I’m awfully glad to hear it, Father,” Liam said.

“First we need to baptize Anikka. I need a cup of water.”

“Come on down, I’ll get you one.”

Robert followed Liam down onto the deck. Liam went into the cabin, whence came the sounds of intense rummaging and occasional curses.

Anikka looked worried. “Do you have to baptize me?” she asked. “Liam was telling me about it. Don’t I have to know something about your God for that?”

Robert thought. The indulgence had not said anything about this. Perhaps His Holiness assumed Sigrid Bjornsdottir would be educated in Thorstein Olafsson’s community. But Anikka and Liam were leaving on the tide. There was no time.

“Anikka, do your people believe in God?” he asked.

“You mean the one who made the seas and the dry places? We do. Well, some of us do. There’s been so much death, your people have killed so many. Whalesong used to be a great chorus under the waves. Now it’s only a few solos, discordant. No one knows the old songs. The great cities of fish are gone: just villages now, easy to sweep up in a net. Some of my people say the heart of the sea has grown cold. There’s nothing left that answers prayers, but death, and that only answers ‘No.’”

“Do you believe that?” asked Robert.

“I don’t know. It was easier when I was young, but so much has changed. But… I look at Liam, and I know, someone has said, ‘Yes.’”

“Did you know that he was a fisherman?”

“Of course,” said Anikka. “So am I. So is the great white shark and the sperm whale. Fishing is not a sin, even if you do it in great gulps, so long as you don’t scour the sea itself. Liam and I have very similar opinions about fish.” She smiled toothily. Her canines were long and yellow. “Particularly when served raw, in the civilized fashion. I’m still working with him on that one.”

“So you believe in God the creator, and God who answers prayers.”

“Yes, I do,” said Anikka. “Is that enough?”

“I should say it is,” said Liam, standing on the steps with a steel cup full of water.

“But there’s one more thing,” said Robert. “Anikka, do your people sin? Do they hurt each other?”

“Sometimes,” she said, sitting down. “What people doesn’t?”

“Is it natural to hurt each other?”

“It’s as natural as not hurting each other. They both come from deep within.”

Robert sat beside Anikka. “Do you believe God can take that evil nature away, and leave only the good?”

“Why are you hounding her, Father?” Liam asked. His eyes shone and his hand shook.

“You’re talking about your Jesus-man,” said Anikka. “I don’t know much about him.”

“He redeemed our human nature—” Robert began.

“And what about my seal-nature? Did that need redeeming too?”

“I don’t know,” Robert said. “I only know… what I know. Anikka, do you believe—”

“That’s enough!” shouted Liam. He threw the cup on the deck hard enough to dent the rim. The water reflected the amber dock lights.

“Liam, I’m only trying…” Robert trailed off. He wasn’t sure what he was trying to do anymore.

“Now you listen here, Father. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that Anikka and me being together, that’s a miracle. And a miracle doesn’t happen without God’s allowing it. Now I’ve never done nothing without the Church’s giving it a pass, but I’ve got what I need here. If you can’t see your way to marrying us, then we’ll just say goodbye.”

Robert sat with his head down and his hands twisted together. “I’m sorry, Liam. You’re right. It’s an obvious miracle. It’s just that… not all of us get a miracle.” His tears fell, splashing in the water he had intended for baptism.

Anikka’s soft hand lay on his back. He shivered, realizing only now that he was cold.

“You’ve loved, haven’t you? And lost. Because of your church?”

Robert nodded. He took out a tissue and wiped his nose.

“Human,” she said, “whoever said that a miracle lasts forever? You’ve known the miracle, too. It should burn like a light in your heart. Don’t grow cold, like the heart of sea. Be light. Be warmth. Take your miracle, and be one yourself for others.”

Liam sat on Robert’s other side and laid a callused hand on his shoulder. Robert sat between the two of them for a long time. Finally, he blew his nose and said, “I don’t know if it will be a real act of the Church, or if it will count wherever they keep an accounting of these things, but if you still want me to, I very much want to marry you.”

“That’d be fine, Father,” said Liam.

“You’d make us very happy,” said Anikka.

Robert stood and faced them. They stood up and held hands.

“I usually like to take it slow at a wedding,” Robert said. “But at a time like this, there’s very little that needs to be said. Liam Finch, do you take this woman… selkie to be your naturally wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” said Liam.

“Anikka, do you take this man to be your naturally wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”

“Yes, of course,” said Anikka.

“Then in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you man and wife.” He made the sign of the Cross over them. Anikka and Liam kissed, long enough for Robert feel awkward. He cleared his throat, and they finally broke apart.

“It’s traditional for the priest to say a few words,” Robert said. “I’ll make it quick. Enjoy all your time together, you two. Because it is a miracle. God bless you both.”

Anikka looked up and sniffed the air. “The wind is turning,” she said.

“The wind blows where it chooses,” Robert said. “You can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

Anikka’s blue eyes sparkled. “That is very wise.”

“We’d better get going, Father,” Liam said.

“Let me help with the last of these boxes, then,” Robert said. Together, and with few words, they finished loading the boat. Liam’s trunk with Anikka’s coat went last. Robert and Liam shook hands.

“I always knew you were a mighty fine priest,” Liam said. “I told everyone right from the start.”

“Goodbye, Liam.”

“Goodbye, Father.”

Anikka hugged him. The smell of the sealskin coat clung to her. “Remember the miracle,” she said. “It’s never a good thing to forget.”

Robert climbed off the boat. Its engine chugged to life a moment later. He cast off the lines. Slowly the Blue Lady made her way out of the harbor and lost itself in the night. He heard Anikka singing over the waves, a strange song: tuneless as compared to the music Robert knew, yet with a deep structure beneath it. It was sad and happy all at once, a song of things gone by and things yet to come.

He stopped on the church steps. The purple cloth on the cross outside swayed in the wind.

He still loved Matt. He would always love Matt. And it hurt, but it hurt less than forgetting would. He felt the spikes pounded into the cross where the hands would go. Remembering was a different kind of pain. It was a wound that made you whole.

Father Robert Mackleroy went back to his rectory. Tomorrow was Sunday, and he still hadn’t written his sermon. He thought about the wind turning, and what blew in with it. He thought about love, and the way it turned like the wind, but never blew away. He thought about what an awful, wonderful miracle that was. His sermon wrote itself.

After he’d given it the next morning, he stood outside Saints Peter and Andrew shaking the hands of people he would mostly never see again. One young man gripped his hand tightly. “Do you really think the wind will change, Father?”

Robert felt the first cool breath of the sea breeze on his face. He thought of how many miracles lay ahead for this young man. And how many more, even for himself? In a great wide world where Liam and Annika sailed free on the waves, what wasn’t possible?

Robert smiled. “I think it already has.”

Stewart Moore recently turned from an interest in nonfictional religion, having studied the topic in graduate school for 11 years. Certain questions, however, can best be answered through the medium of speculative fiction. He has previously been published in anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow (The Beastly Bride, 2010) and Paula Guran (Halloween, 2011). He is currently working on several short stories, as well as a novel set in Cleopatra’s Egypt titled Strange Gods.

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