We’re at the lake and all you want to talk about is sharks. You tell me there are over 470 species, scattered across the globe. You tell me hammerheads are your favorite, and I ask why. I squint against the sunlight, shift my weight to hide the garbage heaped behind me, the last flies of long-gone summer buzzing around used diapers, rotten fruit. We’re the only people here; the beach is mostly used at night, judging from police reports.
You say hammerheads miss nothing and that some cultures revere them as gods. I ask you how they see so well; I scan the so-called sand (it’s dirt) for glass, for needles. I think of a needle in the haystack and pray this hard-packed beach will protect your precious feet from pricks. You tell me about 360-degree vision and electroreceptors, which allow them to sense the energy of prey.
I blindfolded you and drove in circles because all you wanted was the ocean, and all we have is this muddy water in a man-made lake.
Tonight, I hope, you’ll be too tired to remember all you’ve gotten is a scuffed-up snorkel bought on sale. This weekend you’ll get your full wish list, surely, from your father. He mentioned Blue Planet, a shark’s tooth, and a pair of flippers.
It’s October, and I thank God for global warming, for the sun baking this dirt to stone. Cracks fan out from me to you. I remember how your skin peeled and flaked when you were just a baby, how your father said you got bad skin from me.
“Tell me about a shark that doesn’t bite,” I say, but you grin at me, impish, and take off toward the water with your snorkel.
People dump all kinds of garbage here—refrigerators, Christmas trees, rust buckets with corpses sealed tight in the trunks. I worry about the world you’ll see when you go under, but I know these muddy waters—too cloudy, even, to see your own hands before your hungry, searching eyes.
My hands itch from all the times I want to touch you, but I’m trying, in small ways, to let you go. You’re six today—old enough you don’t want me to walk you to your classroom. Old enough to know this isn’t really the ocean; you’re only pretending to be fooled.
Hammerheads see everything. That’s what you’ll tell me when we leave.