Boyfriend and Shark – Berit Ellingsen
Brandon didn’t want to be boyfriend and boyfriend. But friends with occasional benefits was fine, when it suited him.
Michael didn’t take it personally. Brandon didn’t have any other lovers, or many friends in general. In that light, he and Michael were boyfriend and boyfriend.
Michael wondered if he was undermining his dignity by benefiting Brandon, but came to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t. There weren’t many good people in circulation and he didn’t have the patience to search for another someone when he had one right there, only occasionally and on whims, instead of regularly and mutually.
Brandon slept next to him in bed. At least he didn’t run off in post-coital panic like some others. He even stayed for breakfast. But then he was just Michael’s friend, not his lover.
Michael wriggled over to Brandon and hugged him.
“Don’t hug me when I’m sleeping,” Brandon would have said if he had been awake. “It feels like you’re crushing me.”
“How can you tell?” Michael would have replied. “You’re asleep.”
“I can still feel it and can’t get away because I’m paralyzed,” Brandon would have said. “It hurts. Don’t do it.”
He did it anyway.
Sometimes Michael wished Brandon would have an aneurism of the brain stem and become locked inside his own body. Then Brandon would be paralyzed in bed, unable to move anything but his eyes. He’d take care of Brandon, every day, every night.
The skin beneath Michael was cold and wet and smelled of ocean. What the hell? He jerked back and fumbled for the lamp on the bedstand.
There was a shark in his bed! A real shark! With dark back and white belly and blacktipped fins, just like in the nature shows on TV. Michael screamed. He was on his feet, up against the bedroom wall, hand over his mouth.
The shark had dark eyes and a sleek body. It opened and closed its maw. Michael didn’t dare look at it, the teeth were probably enormous.
The shark eyes took in the room, the walls, the ceiling, him. Did it look hungry? He moved to get out of the animal’s field of view. The gills fluttered, opened, then sank back into the skin with a wet sound.
OK, OK, stay calm. He had a shark in his bed. He had to call animal rescue or a vet or something.
The shark moved like a released spring. It flailed and shattered the lamp on the bedstand. Michael watched, paralyzed. The shark made one more attempt at moving, then gave up. The dark eyes stared at him, searched his face, his eyes, almost pleadingly.
Oh water! The thing couldn’t breathe in air.
Michael ran to the bathroom and filled the tub with medium cold water. He heard the shark thrash, but when he returned to the bedroom, it was quiet.
He lifted the shark without thinking. It was about the same size as a man, and heavy, but he managed, and put it head first in the tub. There wasn’t room for the tail, but at least the fish got its head under water. The dark eyes rolled shut. The gills pumped hard.
The shark was breathing and he had survived getting it into the tub. Time to call for help.
Where was Brandon? Had he fled and left a shark in bed as a warning against more sleep hugs? His suit and shirt hung over the chair in the bedroom.
Michael looked at the shark. There was something familiar with the dark eyes and the slender body.
The guys from the aquarium rolled the shark onto a blue net, carried it downstairs and out of the house, into a large truck with a plastic tank. Michael stood in the doorway and watched the truck drive off.
Every day he visited the shark at the aquarium. He told friends and colleagues he was seeing a sick friend at the hospital.
“You’re so giving,” they said.
“Thank you,” he replied and smiled.
At first, the shark just lay there, on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling tank, and tracked him with its eyes, gills moving slowly. Michael pressed his hands against the cold glass. The shark didn’t respond.
After a few weeks, the fish started swimming restlessly in circles, around and around. When Michael approached the glass, the shark came close and rolled its eyes at him, before it sped off into the gloomy water.
“How’s the new blacktip doing?” Michael asked one of the aquarium employees, a guy with too much body mass and not enough hair. “Looks like it has lost some weight.”
“He’s not eating,” the employee said. “Just swimming and swimming.”
“How are the other sharks treating him?” The tank had several whitetip and tiger sharks, even some hammerheads, and many species of skate and eel.
“He’s ignoring them,” the guy said.
He was being fickle about his food, like he always did when he was unhappy.
Michael got a job at the aquarium. He bought fine meat without bones; from farmed boar, forest moose, Argentinian ox, Arctic reindeer and thoroughbred horse. He smuggled it inside in a large burlap bag and fed only the slender blacktip shark.
Once, he nearly fell into the tank. He leaned too far forward on the catwalk above the water. The shark shot up and almost closed its jaws around his hand. He fell backwards on the sharp grating, sloshing liquid high. After that the shark refused to eat his food.
Michael wanted to write letters in thick black marker on white paper sheets and press them against the glass: “I M S O R R Y.” But what would be the point of that? He already knew the shark’s reply.
The shark kept swimming, around and around, as if it wanted out. It turned thin and full of sores, the tail and fins ragged from nips and bites from the other fish. Michael tried to make eye contact with the shark to comfort it, but the slick body passed over him like a shadow.
There was just one thing to do. Michael bribed a colleague on the night shift with liquor and money. They pulled the shark out of the water and lifted it onto the blue net it had arrived in. The shark bucked a few times, then lay still.
They drove to the bay and lowered the shark into the quiet water. Michael looked over the edge of the net. The shark took him in, searched his face like it had in the bedroom.
“I’m not going to hold you any longer,” Michael said. “Goodbye. Please be happy.”
The shark circled him twice, then cut the night dark surface with its tail and disappeared.