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Paul Jaskunas

Paul Jaskunas

Paul Jaskunas is the author of the novel Hidden, which received the Friends of American Writers Award, and of "The Market for Virgins," a story published by Amazon for Kindle. He is on the faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

Shark Attack Victim

1.

The shark attack victim forgets about the surfboard, his hair loss, and depleted bank account when the shark's teeth rip into his leg. He goes under, thrashing. Except the shark, no one sees the ribbons of muscle torn away. Not even the victim understands what is happening. All he knows is that death long forgotten has come back. Like a lost child returning home at last, completely by surprise, without explanation for his absence or return, and he, the father, the one who has missed him, stands at the door astonished by love and grief. There is terror, of course, but beneath that, as his insides float away, there is the hum of providence in the bloody surf. He experiences a tingling in what remains of his neck, a lemon-sugar delight on his tongue. And so he floats...

2.

The shark attack victim remembers that Sofia means Wisdom—and was known as god in ancient times, not long after the earth spun and shimmered into being. He smiles at the thought.

3.

The shark attack victim engages in imaginary conversation with the shark: 'What is the meaning of this?' I am hungry. 'Why me?' I hunger. 'In an hour, I will be missed, wondered about, remembered by others and you, you, who have no thoughts in your brain, know nothing of all that is left of me on shore.' The more you speak, the hungrier I become. Your words, I want to eat them... 'You can't ever—these thoughts keep thinking—on and onward, without my head, without my body, my thoughts swim like the fish in the sea and hide in the corals—I see them dart and careen in the depths of this ocean, which is not large enough for all that I have in me.' Your head will taste like a mandarin, says the shark, the sweet juices, the tang of your brains! '...Still, my thoughts soar like the gulls, like the clouds, the wind...' The conversation seems so real that the victim is still opening and closing his mouth as it drifts away from his corpse.

4.

No, no, here is what really happens: The shark attack victim escapes. He has lost one arm and knows he is fortunate to have survived. An optimist, he recovers quickly and gets used to the inconvenience. He leads a rich, busy life—a wife, children, school days and holidays—so much work! Sometimes, when the arm's phantom presence makes his spine quiver, he believes there is more of himself than ever, thanks to the shark. He remembers the pain of the attack like a lost friend whose face he can almost recall. Much later, in the hospice, as he is finally dying he sees the looming white head of the shark. It floats toward him. He raises both arms to embrace it. At long last, he hugs the shark. Together they roll in the ocean. The mass of the fish is comforting it is all he knows in the end the devouring love of the shark.

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