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The Sea Swimmer

By Ottilie Hainsworth

The Sea SwimmerCharacters

John, a loner                           

Jana, a Selkie

Solomon, their child

A gang of friendly transvestites

The Brighton Swimming club of the 1880’s

Page one

Close up of John swimming in the sea on his back. He is wearing goggles, and has short, clipped hair and a placid, unreadable expression on his face. Pan out to see the Palace pier in the background.

Then a photograph of the Brighton swimming club in 1881- men in all over bathing suits with their arms crossed in front of their chests and bushy moustaches. Close up on a faintly blurred image of a serious looking young man- John’s great great grandfather.

John’s Story

I like to swim every morning.

My father swam, and so did his father before him, so I suppose it’s in my blood.

If for some reason I can’t swim .. I feel.. sort of edgy.. all day.

I like to swim alone.

You never know what you’ll see.

One morning I arrived at the beach earlier than usual.

I was getting changed when I saw some girls. At least I thought they were girls..

They were hard to make out, the sun wasn’t quite up yet, and I didn’t have my glasses on. Anyway, there were these shapes, moving, sort of slow dancing on the stones.

I watched. I noticed one of them put something on, a dark thing, and then (here’s where it gets hazy) she sort of slipped off.. into the water. And then she was gone. The others were still there.

That was when I felt something under my foot. It was dark brown and sort of velvety feeling- damp like. Without really thinking I picked it up. Then also without thinking, without a plan, I found myself heading back the way I’d come from, to the palace pier.

I climbed up in under the pier with this.. thing, under my arm, and I found the most hidden rusty corner and shoved it well in there, where it would never be found.

Then I ran back along the beach, to see what would happen next.

By the time I got back, there was just one girl left, naked, crying on the beach. Naturally, I went to comfort her.. but I was too late. A group of transvestites appeared as if out of nowhere. The biggest of them kindly wrapped my girl in a fur coat and they surrounded her like a cloud of butterflies, and bore her away. There was nothing I could do.

I followed and watched. They took her to a little house in Kemp town, on a lane leading down to the sea.

After that I made a point of passing by there regularly and glancing in at the window. I saw her shadow. Sometimes she was bent over a sewing machine, making strange brightly coloured satin outfits and weird hats with fish bowls and birds in cages in them. I must say, she was good with her hands. She didn’t come out much, and when she did it was always in the middle of a laughing chattering group. She too was smiling with them. 

It was the day of "Pride". The transvestites came out full of smiles and gloriously dressed in the finery, which my girl had made. She was with them, and wore an emerald green tail. The crowd was so thick that she became separated from her friends. This was the moment I had waited for. I helped her to escape the crowds and we ran down to the beach. We sat together in silence. I saw her look out to sea and her huge brown eyes fill with tears. Then I touched her hand. It felt cool.

I married my girl, whose name was Jana, and took her to live with me in my house. We had a baby. He was a solemn, yellow haired child with his mother’s big brown eyes. (Picture of parents pushing baby in a 3-wheeler along sea front.)

She never said where she was from, and I didn’t like to ask. But her accent was strange, both thick and delicate at the same time.

My wife adjusted slowly to life in our seaside town. She never learned to cook, beyond heating a tin of beans, and she had a strange love of raw fish – a taste that was inherited by our son. I loathed the stuff, but I indulged her, because it was the only food she liked, and she had grown so thin.

(Pictures of Jana attempting yoga, opening a tin of beans, and smiling, saying "lets go to Yo Sushi" while John grimaces.)

Often she would be down on the beach with our boy spending long hours beach combing, but she never came back with anything.

I had never loved anything the way I loved Jana.

I didn’t want to see the sadness in her eyes as she looked out to sea.

It was as if she was searching for something.. something I couldn’t give her.

Solomon’s Story

Me and mum are on the beach.

She is sitting on the stones, having a rest she says, and I am climbing. I climb right up in amongst the iron rusty bars under the pier, high above the swirling waves. It’s dark in there, the noise of the waves crashing on the stones below, but I’m not scared, I’m exploring. I feel with my bare feet, feel with my fingers along a rusty ledge… my fingertips touch an unexpected something.. soft and slippery. It has a fishy smell. What is it ?

I want to know. I tug it, pull, slip and dangle momentarily at an awkward angle in the air by one hand.. then I’m falling! Plummeting down to the shallow stony sea bed pulling this great brown velvet sock thing down on top of me heavily. I sit up, the water frothing around me, giggling giddily with relief.

Mum is standing up, calling and waving to me. From here she looks as tiny as an ant. I lug the great big damp sock up the beach towards her, and she is coming towards me, with her eyes fixed on what I’m carrying.

Jana’s Story

(All told in pictures)

The boy with the dark seal skin is small in the distance, then closer. Jana’s hands grab the seal skin and she hugs it tenderly to her, with her back to the boy, who in the background says "What is it mum?". The boy is wearing glasses.

She murmurs " It’s mine". Then she turns to the boy, kneels down and hugs him fiercely,

kisses him all over his face and head. Close up of her lips close to his shell like ear as she whispers something inaudible to him. The boy nods once, as if in understanding.

Jana is taking her clothes off and slithering into the seal skin.. finally we see her pull the hood up over her head. Her transformation is complete and she looks up from the stones as a seal. Frames getting further away to show Jana moving down into the sea in silhouette, while the boy stands motionless further up the beach, his body slight, and in the last frame of the page looking somehow broken.

Solomon’s Story

(Pictures show a grown up Solomon wearing goggles and swimming on his back, with an expressionless face like his father’s.)

I like to swim every morning.

My father swam, and his father before him, so I suppose it’s in my blood.

I like to swim alone.

You never know what you’ll see.

Solomon turns over to swim on his front, and then, at first blurred, then clearer, from deep down in the water he sees, and we see, the dark brown eyes of a seal gazing up at him.


This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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