“In a Shark’s Mouth” by Nicole Lacy
Someone once told me about the man-eating muskies in Lake Erie. Someone else swore there were snapping turtles big enough to take off toes and fingers. I stopped swimming, even though Grandma assured me that the stories of pikes picking off Great Lakes waders were myths. But because I was a curious girl, it wasn’t long before I learned about the bull shark, which can swim from the ocean and into a river, squeezing itself into a narrow creek bed, because it knows that children are an easy meal.
What is a myth? It is the lie that hides a vicious fact.
Once, on a Sunday afternoon, my mother took me to the natural history museum. We saw the skeletons of giant fish containing smaller skeletons in their see-through bellies. There were fish with fanged underbites that could have gutted entire ships. I stood in front of the fossilized jaw of a megalodon, its body longer than two school buses. One of its teeth was bigger than my mother’s whole hand.
A megalodon could have swallowed a great white, even Jaws. Against Grandma’s advice, I watched Jaws over and over. In time, I memorized the details of each attack and no longer covered my eyes when children were eaten. I watched Jaws until my brain grew serrated teeth of its own.
Saturated with facts, the ground dissolved underneath me. I was alone in the ocean while a shark sliced through the depths, preparing a fatal strike from below.
Some nights before bed, a plastic shark swam circles around me in my bath, its dorsal fin surfacing briefly before disappearing under the bubbles. When it went in for the kill, I clamped its teeth onto my flesh until fear surged through my body, and I had to pull the plug from the drain.
Someone once gave me a pop-out poster for Jaws that leapt when unfolded. I closed it against my face, feeling the cardboard teeth sink into my skin. I imagined being dragged underneath the ocean in a shark’s mouth. I still wonder what it would be like to die in this way—suffocated and torn apart all at once.
Sharks wander dark water without fearing for their lives, and never shed tears when their mothers disappear. I set out to become one, absolute in my indifference. But I’m adrift in this ocean, waiting, as shadows move underneath.
What is a fact? It is the secret a grandmother keeps, or a silhouette underwater. It is something as real as the tooth of a megalodon—or my mother, waving goodbye after our trip to the natural history museum, once, on a Sunday afternoon.
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Nicole Lacy’s Artist Statement: Nicole Lacy is an MFA candidate at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has appeared in Tin House’s Open Bar and Word Riot, among others. In a Shark’s Mouth originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The Los Angeles Review.