Plugs

“Be careful,” Natalia says. “The shark doesn’t bite, but it’s jagged down there.” Her boyfriend gathers her up like a possession. I shrug this off and grab my mask.

It’s an eight-foot nurse shark just sitting there under the broken hurricane wall just like she said. To see it you have to dive about nine feet or so and hold onto the bottom of the concrete, pull yourself down and hold your breath long enough for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.

The guy next to me is trying to get my attention. Pointing at me. A trail of blood trickles up to the surface. It takes me a few long seconds to realize it’s coming from my hand. I must have cut it on the barnacled, rusty piece of rebar I’d been holding on to. Before I let myself go up, I sense the shark is not alone. Something is with it in the darkness.

#

That night, I’m in my room, listening to the night sounds of my happy neighbors as I drift asleep. Soon as I turn the lights out, I sense that presence.

My eyes adjust and I see a shark in the corner, standing upright, like a man. It’s saying something. All garbled. Lost in translation. But I get the sense it’s a command. I turn on the lights but it doesn’t disappear. I can see its jagged teeth and jaw moving as it repeats its command.

My cut hand is throbbing. I look at the bandage, then I’m alone in the room. Except for dozens of ants chaotically fleeing the corner instead of marching to my waste basket in neat lines as usual.

I go outside for air. Natalia is alone on her steps having a smoke.

“You too.” she says. It isn’t a question.

“Yeah,” I say.

They’re leaving tomorrow. I have another few weeks on the island planned. But what about everyone else?

In my head I hear the sound the shark was making. Was it saying, “go”?

My throbbing hand tells me it’s a warning.

David Kopaska-Merkel

“You’ve never been up to my apartment before, have you?” Matilda asked, unlocking the modern lock on the door with a worn brass key. Juliet followed the old woman into the sunniest apartment she’d ever seen. The windows stood wide open. Juliet, from her place across the street, often saw Matilda leave without bothering to close them, a mad choice in a neighborhood full of dealers and thieves, let alone Juliet’s two baseball-crazed sons. Matilda just pitched the balls back.
A bird flew in, chirping at Matilda.
“Thank you,” said Matilda; Juliet realized she was speaking to the bird. It flew off. “You can put the groceries on the counter,” Matilda said to Juliet. “Thank you for lending a hand. I’ve gone and gotten old.”
Juliet found herself staring at the countertop. She could see coiled shells in it, and, impossibly, tiny spirals of writing.
“Are those fossils?” she asked, and Matilda nodded. “And the writing… What language is that?”
“Hah! I knew I was right,” said Matilda.
“What do you mean?” asked Juliet.
“I’ve been watching you. I’m retiring, my dear,” said the old woman, “and I’ve chosen you to take over.”
“Take over what?” Juliet stared.
“The world,” said Matilda, laughing. “Sorry, my awful joke.”
She gestured at the rug in the living room and suddenly Juliet could see that it was the ocean, with the chairs and couches as continents riding on it, clouds tugging and forming in the sunlight pouring in from the window.
“It all takes a while to figure out, like the writing on the counter,” Matilda went on briskly. “My advice is to get your kids launched before you try anything serious. There are some books around the house, and a few rules, but it’s all pretty much learn as you go.”
“Learn what as I go?” asked Juliet.
“Being God,” said Matilda.
Juliet only stared.
Matilda smiled and asked, “Who did you think was in charge?”
“I don’t know,” said Juliet, adding, “And if I don’t want to?”
“Believe me, there are days when you don’t want to. It’s like being a parent,” sighed Matilda. “But once you’ve been chosen, that’s that. I’m quite sure I’ve chosen a worthy successor.”
She chucked Juliet under the chin.
“It’s a compliment,” she prompted.
“Thank you,” Juliet replied. Matilda laughed, pressed the worn brass key into her hand, and walked out the door.

“Oh hi,” said the boy eating a ham sandwich at my kitchen table.

“Glad you brought your own food,” I said. “I’m tired of buying for all you kids.”

“I brought you a gift.” It wasn’t wrapped. I had never seen one in this condition before. It was 45 cm of polished wonder, grey spotted with tan, every leg bristle intact. It must have been collected live. I examined it from every angle.

He nodded, took another bite. I judged him to be about 16. His clothing was perfectly ordinary; his accent only noticeable because I was looking for it.

“So who are you?” I asked. He knew my name.

“Call me Chad. I’ve heard stories about you my whole life.” While he talked I gently picked up the trilobite and turned it over.

“Oh my God! The ventral surface too!” Through the translucent papery belly I could see everything from the interior was gone.

I made Earl Grey and we talked. Mostly I talked. He asked about my childhood in Missouri, how I met Phil, all the places I’d lived and which ones I liked best. They never answer my questions, but there was one I had to ask.

“I had a visit once from a girl younger than you. She was sick. She told me it was incurable. She said her name was Lane. What happened to her? She looked so much like my niece, I thought she must be…”

Chad held up his hand. “I don’t recognize the name. She must have been from after.”

I shook my head. “I know you all choose ordinary one-syllable names, never give your real names. But I could tell she was from somewhen close. Closer than you.

“My sister’s daughter disappeared at the age of 10; we don’t know if she’s alive or dead. But Lane looked so much like Laurie. I think Laurie survived. I think she had/will have children.”

Chad stood up, brushed the crumbs off his pants. “Thanks for the tea.” He held out his hand for the trilobite. “You know I have to take that back. I wanted you to see it. I knew you would like it, because my great-grandmother wrote about her visit. She mentioned the display case.”

I looked over the ancient creature carefully one more time, then gave it back. “Thank you.” I smiled, squeezed his shoulder, watched him fade out.

Lane had been fascinated by my fossil collection. She had even taken my picture beside the case.

end

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