Pictures of the Shark

JawsPublished in Epoch, Vol. 51, No. 3, Winter 2003.


On the freeway, the tires of his father’s car made heartbeats, like the music in Jaws which signaled the great shark’s approach.  Everywhere Buddy went, the shark followed –grinning, deadly, a silent friend.  Buddy sat in the back seat, wedged next to suitcases his father had lugged out of the woman’s apartment; the woman sat in front, in Buddy’s place.  All the way from Houston through Dallas, her thin, breathless voice had fluttered over roadsigns and billboards, license plates and historical markers, circling what a good time they were going to have together on their trip to Universal Studios, in Hollywood.

“It’s so nice that we can all finally be together,” she said.  “I think we’re going to be special friends, Buddy.  Don’t you?”

The woman paused, waiting for an answer.  Buddy pressed his forehead against his window.  Outside, a freight train appeared to move slowly backward.  At night, trains moaned past the house where Buddy and his mother lived, where his father used to live; Buddy wondered if any of the cars he saw would pass his mother’s house.  He closed one eye and framed the picture he would take, like leaving a note in a bottle.  His mother’s camera was a thin black plastic rectangle whose lens was grimed with sand from trips to the beach with his father long ago.  Buddy hadn’t told his father that he had his mother’s camera.  The night before, he’d slipped it into his suitcase so he could get pictures of Bruce, the mechanical shark from Jaws, at Universal.  His mother had caught him and said it would’ve been okay for him to bring it, if he’d asked; now, she had said, he’d have to take some pictures for her.

“Buddy?” his father said.  “Answer Mary.”

In the rearview mirror, his father’s eyes floated, watching him.  That morning, Buddy had followed him down a long hallway at an apartment complex which looked like a set in a disaster movie, ready at any moment to be destroyed.  His father had knocked on a door, then opened it impatiently.  Inside, the woman, who stood barely taller than Buddy, backed away.  Buddy had stared at her pale, sleek arms, and could not help comparing them to his mother’s, which were plump and jiggly.  Ashamed, he looked at the woman’s face.  She studied him anxiously with timid, slate-colored eyes.  To Buddy, it was clear she was a liar.  Even before he’d met her, he’d known she was, and his mother had told him a liar was the worst thing in the world.

“Buddy,” his father said.  “If you don’t answer Mary, we’re gonna pull over.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Buddy said to his window.  “I’d like that.”

The woman, whose name was Mary Winifreed, didn’t reply.  Buddy had known his father had a secret, but still he’d come.  So what did that make him?  One thing was sure:  He couldn’t let his mother know.  He didn’t want a picture of Mary Winifreed.

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