by Lucie Britsch
She warned me on our first night together that there might be sharks. Not just regular ones but night ones, swimming around the bed. If I wanted to call it off, she understood.
I said we could go back to mine but she said it didn’t matter, the sharks would still come.
She said it like we were in one of those movies where they think it’s the house that’s haunted but it’s the person. The creepy kid I said. Yes, she said. I’m the creepy kid, but it’s sharks.
We don’t have to do this she said again, but I’d already committed to her and her sharks. She could have had a husband somewhere, kids, an extra limb, webbed toes.
I asked if there was anything I could do, because I was old fashioned, and still thought men could save women, if they let us. I could buy a harpoon I said keep it by the bed, if it helped.
She appreciated it but said no, and I was secretly glad because I had no idea where you would buy a harpoon and was sure someone would ask what I wanted it for and then things would be weirder and I didn’t think I could carry it home it anyway.
I didn’t see any sharks that first night but she said they were there anyway. Sharks are subjective she said.
Some nights we would go to the park and there was always another couple there. The man said his girlfriend saw another man, in the corner of the bedroom, so they came to the park. I said better than another man in a bar maybe and he said maybe.
I told him about the sharks. He said that made him feel better about the man. He wasn’t a strong swimmer he said and that film you know, I said Jaws and he said no, that one about the killer whale, I said oh right but I didn’t know what he meant.
I took her to the aquarium and she said she knew what I was doing. It didn’t work like that she said. She wasn’t afraid of sharks she said. You could be the biggest shark fan and one would still eat you if it wanted it to, she said, which they don’t generally. People eat way more sharks than sharks eat people she said, and I nodded. I had never eaten either.
The whole thing hurt my head but she seemed fine with it, but then they were her sharks, not mine.
She said the only thing that ever helped was watching The Lion King. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I hated The Lion King, not when things were going so well.
When I suggested we went away I knew she thought I meant just us, not the sharks, but she couldn’t promise anything. I was sure they wouldn’t dare come to a hotel. Sharks were fierce but I imagined they were generally all for romance. Survival of the species and all that jazz. But they came anyway. She said it didn’t kill the mood but it did and I got upset. You can’t get a boner if you’re upset about imaginary sharks.
I want to see them too I said and she said she was sorry.
She caught me demanding they showed themselves and she thought I was the one with the problems.
Do you hear them I asked? Is it like you hear the water first? Do you hear the music from Jaws? I asked, realising that might sound like I was mocking her, but I was desperate to know something, anything. I was starting to think girls were way weirder than I could ever have imagined.
She said no, she didn’t ever hear anything, she just knew they were there, circling the bed. There’s a wall I wanted to say, the bed is against a wall, but I didn’t, because she still wanted to have sex with me.
I got really upset and said we should just stay up all night and if any came I would punch them on the nose. She said that’s bear and I said I was sure it was sharks and we had our first fight.
They won’t come if I don’t go to bed obviously she said, but I like bed. I don’t want them to win. She meant women have to deal with worse shit than this all the time, this is nothing. I was proud of her but very tired.
How long has this been going on? I asked her, hoping she didn’t tell me a horrific story that involved a man doing something horrible to her, like they do.
I just thought they were there one night she said and since then they have been.
I wished she’d told me her idiot brother said if her toes peeked out the covers sharks would get them, but she was an only child. Or maybe her mother bitten by a shark while she was surfing, pregnant. She said she would have loved that but no.
Can’t you just not see them? I said, like it was that easy, and she said she’d try, for me, which was progress, but I don’t think she ever did.
After that I didn’t know now if she still saw them or just wasn’t telling me.
I caught her watching The Lion King in the middle of the night and said the sharks? and she said no, I just missed Simba, and I didn’t believe her because that film is so fucking annoying. When I asked if she wanted to go and see the live show she said no way, it looks really annoying. I would never understand girls.
Sometimes I think I hear something in the night, like water, or a lapping sound but I don’t know for sure. Indigestion can sound like all sorts of animals inside your body.
A ticking in my ears freaks me out and she tells me that’s my heart, but I don’t know why she’s so sure, her with her sharks.
We were together a year, which is not nothing. It’s long enough to lose yourself in someone forever, a small part anyway. I never saw her night sharks but I believed they were real, to her. I told myself it was me that kept her safe that year but after that who knows who kept her safe or if she was safe at all.
After we’d be split up a week I started to feel like my bed was a raft, a sudden absence of someone will do that.
It was just a raft at first, if there was water, it was calm, empty. I didn’t feel any threat, just a floating sensation. But it could have been indigestion.
But then I sensed something there in the darkness, not so much circling, just there.
I switched the light on to check several times to check for sharks. I wanted to sleep with the light on but knew I couldn’t, because I was supposed to be a grown man, if that was even a thing. I told myself I wasn’t checking for sharks but ghosts maybe, monsters, burglars, serial killers even. Was it too soon for Santa?
I told my therapist about the girl first, he was pleased I was dating, and then about the sharks. He was still pleased I was dating but suggested I went to different bars.
I told him about my new situation, the one without the girl or her sharks but my own possible sharks. I didn’t mention the indigestion.
He was that sort of therapist that told you what you wanted to hear so he told me this girl sounded troubled. I was golden but the girl was nuts.
He told me some bars where I might meet less troubled girls, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone I told him, because it wasn’t professional and he was already in trouble for saying girls were mostly crazy.
All I could think was he was hanging out in the other bars with the troubled girls where I wasn’t supposed to be, to offer his services, not to hit on them you understand.
He told me that this girl was still in my head and it was nothing to worry about. I just needed to move on.
Then I woke up one morning to find my bedroom floor was damp and I called my therapist to ask him what it meant.
He said I probably knocked over a glass of water in the night and did I keep a glass of water by my bed?
I said I did and that he was probably right. I hadn’t kept a glass of water by my bed since before the shark girl. I thought water in the room might be a trigger. She had oceans to deal with as it was.
I started falling asleep to music, like I was a teenager again. Lying in my bed with my headphones, listening to dumb songs about love, wondering when it would happen to me, or if this was it.
I stayed over at my folk’s house one night but I slept on the couch. I wanted to feel normal again and crashing on a couch felt normal.
My mum was delighted I came home and didn’t even question why I couldn’t make it upstairs to my room, she was just happy I was home. I always used to fall asleep in front of the TV and she would come and put a blanket over me, remove the snacks from my chest. Mum shit.
I couldn’t tell her about the sharks, which was a shame, because she would have liked the girl.
Maybe I should have slept in my childhood bed. Maybe I should have willed those sharks to me and have my dad have come and save me. He looked like he needed to feel like that again, so I felt bad.
I saw the girl again a few weeks later in some bar and she seemed better.
I didn’t want to bring up the whole shark thing if she really was doing better so we talked about some TV show everyone was watching that we weren’t watching.
After a few drinks I needed to know if she still had her night sharks.
She didn’t and seemed a little embarrassed, like I’d asked if she still wore that bra, but then she joked she just had night sweats now and I remembered why I liked her.
I wanted to say I thought I had her sharks, but it sounded crazy. We were in a bar but we weren’t that drunk, and it wasn’t loud enough to make night sharks sound like a band, if anyone was listening.
We said our goodbyes and I kissed her eye by accident.
I drunk called my therapist and told him I saw the shark girl again because I wanted him to know she wasn’t just the weird shark girl but also a girl I’d liked once.
He said who is this? Make an appointment like a regular person. So, I made an appointment.
I told him that I’d lied before and I hadn’t knocked a glass of water over and that I didn’t really even drink water and everyone was always on at me about it but I just didn’t. People didn’t used to drink water all the time and they were fine and he said well they’re dead and I said yes but not from not drinking water.
So, you think you have this girls’ sharks? He said, looking at me like I was mad, because I quite possibly was, but he really should have been more encouraging, seeing as I was paying for his golf habit.
Have you met Katie? He said then, looking through his files.
I said I hadn’t.
You should meet her he said, in a mysterious way, and I worried Katie was his pet shark and he was going to whip her out of some tank he had under his desk, like I knew people did with spiders sometimes, if you said you were afraid of them, and they made you pet them and before you knew it you were Facebook friends with a tarantula named Legs.
She has a session after you he said, but I can’t say anymore because of patient confidentiality, and I thought maybe he is a professional after all.
Right I said still thinking Katie was a shark or maybe a girl that thought she was a shark or maybe she was just another girl he thought was damaged enough to go out with me.
So, he introduced me to Katie, and she wasn’t a shark but one of his patients who had a similar problem, only hers was a night bear.
Because you’ve met her now and you two are quite messed up he said I don’t mind telling you that her bear used to be a day bear too, but now it only comes at night. He was bragging. Like check out my mad therapist skills.
Right I said.
We’re making progress you see he said. It’s just a night bear now. And he looked at me like do you understand what I’m saying, I’m a god.
Katie was great and really not that damaged at all, just the regular amount we all. She liked telling people that we met at therapy and people and seemed to like this too. She told me it happened in TV shows all the time so people like it and I said right.
I asked her once how she knew it was the same bear every time and she got really mad.
What? she said, you think I’d just let some random bear follow me around?
Follow? I said looking behind us. We were at the movies. But I remembered what the therapist had said about it only being a night bear now.
Katie asked the bear to wait outside when I slept over and I always appreciated it but it was only two weeks after we started seeing each other that I found out why the therapist had introduced us.
Still seeing your sharks? he asked, a little too casually if you ask me, even now you have Katie and her bear? he said, confused.
But it was me that was confused.
Do I have to spell it out for you? He said. I said he did but he ignored me.
When Katie slept over the next night I said it was ok if the bear wanted to stay and she accused me of being kinky. I laughed it off but I didn’t know what I was anymore.
I said I was tired anyway and that we could just watch a movie.
I hadn’t told her about the sharks, they might not have ever been mine to tell. I expected the therapist to have told her anyway. I imagined him saying to her have you met Ben? You should meet Ben. In the same way he had to me about her.
When she asked why I was seeing her therapist I said the usual and she seemed happy with that. Only now do I feel a bit hurt that she’d think I was flawed in the usual ways boy were, when I was actually fine, apart from the shark thing and bad dating choices.
That night I lay in my bed on my raft, as I now saw it, and I waited.
I thought you were tired the bear girl asked.
I am I said, do you hear anything?
She said she didn’t and but didn’t ask what.
I didn’t hear anything either.
Not the sound of water, calm or thrashing, not the sound of a shark, silent or hungry, nor did I detect any bear. Not that I knew what a bear sounded like. I imagined them humming or singing or dancing or rubbing up against a tree, because cartoons had fucked with my head.
I assumed they’d at least breath heavily and I would hear one if it was standing by my bed.
But the room was silent.
I wanted to get out of bed but was I afraid.
I asked Katie to get me a glass of water, which was basically like me throwing her to the wolves if those wolves were a bear and a shark. She got the water fine and I made a promise this stopped now.
The next day she didn’t mention that her bear had been ripped to shreds so I assumed her bear had punched my shark on the nose, or they’d just sorted it out like grownups and were now having a drink somewhere.
I stopped seeing Katie after that but she probably stopped seeing me first.
I’d stopped seeing the sharks too, not that I ever saw them. I wondered if they’d ever been there for any of us.
I went back to my therapist. I didn’t want to just stop seeing him too. I needed something to be real.
So, it worked? he said.
What? I said.
The bear! He said.
Oh right, I guess? I said.
You guess? Do you still have the shark problem? He said.
No, I said.
Then it worked he said clapping, himself I think.
So, what’s the problem now? He said, sitting back, looking at me like this guy?
Nothing I said.
So why are you here? He said. Go away he meant.
I’m not seeing anything I said.
Do you mean you’ve gone blind? he said, suddenly more interested.
No, I said.
Then what do you mean? he said, disappointed.
I mean I’m not seeing things that other people are seeing I said.
What do you think people are seeing that you aren’t seeing? he said.
Well the sharks and bears for a start I said, but it’s made me think I’m missing everything.
That’s hardly everything he said, reassuringly for once.
Then I told him that I couldn’t see those magic eye pictures and he told me no one can and people see what they want to see.
I want to see it all I said.
Well that’s greedy he said. You will see what you’re supposed to see.
He then suggested I go get my eyes checked and that a psychic told him once that he had a small boy with him but he doesn’t believe it.
I told him that was disturbing.
He said for the poor boy yes. Imagine being there and not being seen.
I said oh I see and I think I almost did.
I wouldn’t complain if I were you he said sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms.
I wasn’t I said, I was just telling you.
I see people with real problems he said. I think you’re ok.
Ok I said.
I have patients that would have wanted that girl to be eaten by her sharks but you wanted to save her. You’ve learned that you can only save yourself he said.
I have? I said.
Yes, he said and showed me out.
I don’t think that’s what I’ve learned I said. All I’ve learned is there shouldn’t be animals in the bedroom.
Fine he said, but mine was better.
It was I said but I’m not there yet.
Lucie Britsch’s writing has appeared in Vol.1 Brooklyn, The Sun Magazine, Catapult, Split Lip, Epiphany, Jellyfish Review, Synaesthia Magazine, two honourable mentions from Glimmer Train. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and a novel is coming soon. She’s on Twitter: @LucieBritsch.