BY NANCY THORNE
Copyright is held by the author.
I SENSE the sharks before I see them. Six mill about, basically the same except for a difference in weight; four sleek, two overfed. Pearly whites flash when they spot me. They skim around obstacles before accelerating as I watch through magnified lenses.
My body tenses with unleashed foreboding. My forehead breaks out in a sweat. A torrent of shivers courses through my body. I think of fleeing, but it’s too late. Mere moments later they circle, surrounding me.
“Are you Andrew?”
I straighten my spine, press upward on the bridge of my eyeglasses, and nod with a tight smile I can only speculate appears sincere.
The leader identifies her role with a nudge on my shoulder as she seats herself beside me while the rest take their place around the table and its sea-green tablecloth.
“Jill’s gonna be a bit late.”
My mouth feels parched. “Oh?”
“Didn’t she text you?”
Had I been so jittery I didn’t notice? “Oh yeah, looks like she tried.”
Dark eyes and dilated pupils size me up above the flickering flame of the candle.
“Jill has told us so much about you,” says a head, locking its jaw onto a slice of bread.
I laugh nervously. “All good I hope.”
The immediate silence is broken by a server smiling above me in a guy-to-guy manner in acknowledgment of my predicament or in envy of my situation. “Ready to order?”
“Just waiting for my girlfriend. She should be here any minute,” I say, hoping.
He takes drink requests from each of my girlfriend’s schoolmates as I keep up my fraudulent composure.
The leader touches my arm. “Please, Andrew, tell us what it is you do. We’ve waited much too long for this opportunity.”
I push back the hairs adhered to the damp above my eyebrows. “I, uh, I work at the aquarium. I’m an aquarist.”
“And what does that mean, exactly?” flows from a mouth.
“Um, I’m the shark feeder.”
A collective gasp ebbs across the table like a wave.
“Yeah, I feed them fresh mackerel every day. I’ve learned a lot about their habits.”
Knees brush against mine. “Habits?”
I shift my legs. “Yeah, sharks have predictable ways of doing things. Like, they normally touch their prey before attacking.”
The leader brushes my forearm. “So, Andrew. Would you say this type of job pays well? Of course, we don’t mean to poke our noses into your business – ”
I could excuse myself; I need to go to the bathroom, I could say. But I know better. I have to remain calm. “Not bad.”
A solid pressure hits my shoulder. I lurch my body to one side.
“Oh, I startled you.” My girlfriend. She sits down and strokes my back. “See? Told you he’s a good catch.”
“Ready to order now?” the server asks.
I look at Jill. Her skin appears moist in the candlelight. She smiles and displays the full length of her gleaming teeth. “I’ll have the grilled mackerel,” she says.