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She warned me on our first night together that there might be sharks and not just regular ones but night ones. Swimming around the bed. So if I wanted to call it off she understood. Instead I suggested we went back to mine but she said it made no difference. The sharks would still come. She said it was like in those movies where they think it’s the house that’s haunted but it’s the person. The creepy kid I said. Yes she said I’m the creepy kid I guess but it’s sharks.
We don’t have to do this she said again but I had committed to her and her sharks already. She could have had a husband somewhere, kids, an extra limb, webbed toes; nothing was going to change my mind. Did I mention she was pretty?
I asked the girl if there was anything I could do, I said I would buy a harpoon, keep it by the bed, if it helped. She liked that but said no and I was secretly glad because I had no idea where you would buy a harpoon and was pretty sure they would ask what I wanted it for and then things would be weird and anyway I didn’t think I could carry it home.
We went to the park at night and there was another young couple there and I got talking to the guy and he said his girlfriend saw a man in the corner of the bedroom so they came to the park. She likes to pet dogs he told me. I told him about the sharks and he said he preferred the man and that he wasn’t a strong swimmer and that film you know, I said Jaws and he said no, that one about the killer whale, I said oh right but I didn’t know what he meant.
I took her to the aquarium and she said she knew what I was doing and it didn’t work like that. She wasn’t afraid of sharks. She said you could be the biggest shark fan and one would still eat you if it wanted to, which they don’t generally she said, people eat way more sharks than sharks eat people she told me because she was smart and pretty.
The whole thing hurt my head but she seemed ok with it but then they were her sharks, not mine. Spoiler alert, one girl’s sharks are another boy’s rabbits.
She said the only thing that ever helped was watching The Lion King but what she didn’t know was that I fucking hated The Lion King. Ok, I hadn’t really seen it up till then, but the thought of it annoyed me. I thought Aladdin was the last good one. I could talk about this for hours when I was drunk if anyone cared, which they didn’t.
When I suggested we went away I knew she thought I meant just us, not the sharks, but she couldn’t promise anything. I was sure they wouldn’t dare come if I booked a fancy enough hotel. Sharks were fierce but I imagined they were generally all for romance when it came down to it. I saw the way the momma sharks held the fins of their babies.
But they came. She said it didn’t kill the mood but it did. I started to get upset about it. I wanted to see them too. She said she was sorry. She caught me demanding they showed themselves on several awkward occasions and I know she thought I was way madder than her.
Do you hear them? I asked. Is it like you hear the water first? Do you hear the music from Jaws? I asked, realising that might sound like I was mocking her but I was desperate to know something, anything.
She said no, she didn’t ever hear anything. She just knew they were there, circling the bed. There’s a wall I wanted to say, the bed is against a wall, like they were real. I was excellent at keeping our toes safely under the covers she said to make me feel better.
I got really upset one night and said we should just stay up all night and if any came I would punch them on the nose. She said that’s bears and I said I was sure it was sharks and we had our first fight.
Yes she said, they won’t come if I don’t go to bed obviously but I like bed, I don’t want them to have won and I was proud of her but very tired.
How long has this been happening? I asked, feeling like a therapist and hoping she didn’t tell me some horrific story that involved some guy doing something horrible to her.
I just thought they were there one night and since then they have been she said.
I secretly wished she had an idiot older brother that told her something about how if she has her toes peeking out from the covers sharks will get them but no, she was an only child. Nor was her mother bitten by a shark while she was surfing pregnant which was my favourite scenario.
Can’t you just not see them I said like it was that easy and she said she’d try, for me, which was progress but I don’t think she did.
So I don’t know now if she still sees them or just isn’t telling me. I did catch her watching The Lion King in the middle of the night once or twice and I said the sharks and she said no, I just missed Simba, and I didn’t believe her because that film is so annoying and when I asked if she wanted to go see the live show she said no way, it looks really annoying.
Sometimes I think I hear something in the night, like water, or a lapping sound but I don’t know. There is water in my body. There is a ticking in my ears, she tells me that’s my heart but I don’t know why she’s so sure, her with her sharks.
We were together a year, which is not nothing. It’s long enough to lose yourself in someone forever, a small part anyway.
In that year I never saw her night sharks but I believed they were real, to her, and if I know anything I know that reality is subjective, so I know nothing other than that I paid more attention than I thought in my philosophy class. I told myself it was me that kept her safe that year but after that who knows who kept her safe or if she was safe at all. The same with before she met me.
Girls before her have told me they felt safe with me but she never told me that. She caught me lifting weights once and I think she just thought I was vain.
I got really into sharks that year, in secret. It was the weirdest guilty pleasure. I kept thinking of that episode of Friends where Monica catches Chandler watching a shark movie and she thinks it’s what he’s into.
It was only after she’d gone, maybe a few weeks, that I started to feel like my bed was a raft.
It was just a raft at first, if there was water, it was calm, empty.
I didn’t feel any threat, just a floating sensation.
But then I sensed something there in the darkness, not so much circling me but just there.
I admit to turning the light on to check several times a night. I drew the line at sleeping with the lights on though.
I told myself I wasn’t checking for sharks, more ghosts, or monsters, or burglars, serial killers even. Was it too soon for Santa?
I was in denial I guess.
I told my therapist, about the girl first, he was pleased I was dating, and then about the sharks, he was still pleased I was dating but suggested I went to different bars.
Then I told him about my new situation, the one without the girl or her sharks but my own possible sharks.
He told me what I wanted to hear because he was that sort of therapist. I picked him for that reason. My mum has one that says the opposite of what she wants to hear and I really think she’s wasting her money when she could just get that from me for free.
He told me what I already knew then, that she was troubled, this girl, and told me some bars where I might meet less troubled girls but I wasn’t to tell anyone he told me that because it wasn’t professional and all I could think was he was hanging out in the other bars with the troubled girls where I wasn’t supposed to be, to offer his services you understand, not to hit on them.
He told me that this girl was still in my head and it was nothing to worry about. I just needed to move on.
But then I woke up one morning to find my bedroom floor was damp.
I asked my therapist what it meant and he said I probably knocked over a glass of water in the night and did I keep a glass of water by my bed?
I said I did and he was probably right.
But I hadn’t kept a glass of water by my bed since before the shark girl. I stopped when I met her, worrying water in the room might be a trigger. She had oceans to deal with as it was.
I didn’t tell my therapist this because he had given me a logical explanation and I wanted that.
I started falling asleep to music. Something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. Lying in my bed with my headphones on like I was 14 and listening to a dumb song about a boy and a girl and wondering when it would happen to me.
I even stayed over at my folk’s house one night but I slept on the couch. I just wanted to feel normal again and crashing on a couch felt normal for a guy my age. My mum was delighted I came home and didn’t even question why I couldn’t make it upstairs to my room. She was just happy I was home. I often fell asleep in front of the TV when I lived there. She would come and put a blanket over me. Remove the snacks from my chest.
I couldn’t tell her about the sharks obviously which was a shame because she would have liked the girl the sharks came with.
Maybe I should have slept in my childhood bed. Maybe I should have willed those sharks to me and have my dad come save me. He looked like he needed to feel like that again so I felt bad.
I saw the girl again and she seemed better. It was just in some bar. Work drinks.
I didn’t want to bring up the whole shark thing if she really was in a better place so we talked about some TV show everyone was watching that we weren’t watching.
After a few drinks I had to know if she still had her night sharks.
She didn’t and seemed a little embarrassed like I had asked if she still wore a particular bra but then she joked she just had night sweats now and I remembered why I liked her.
I wanted to say I thought I had her sharks if she didn’t but it sounded crazy. We were in a bar but we weren’t that drunk and it wasn’t loud enough to make night sharks sound like a band if anyone was listening.
So we said our goodbyes, I think I kissed her eye by accident.
I told my therapist all this because I was still a little drunk and needed him to know she wasn’t just the weird shark girl but also a girl I had liked once.
Have you met Chloe? he said.
I said I hadn’t.
You should meet her he said in a mysterious way and I had this weird feeling Chloe was his pet shark.
She has a session after you he said but I can’t say any more because of patient confidentiality and I thought maybe he is professional after all.
Right I said still thinking Chloe was a shark or maybe a girl that thought she was a shark or maybe she was just a hot girl he thought was damaged enough to go out with me.
Turned out Chloe had a night bear.
Because you’ve met her now and you two are quite messed up I don’t mind telling you that her bear used to be a day bear too my therapist said like he was showing off his mad therapist skills and this was all down to him.
Right I said.
But we’re making progress and it’s just a night bear now, you see he said just in case I didn’t know this was a brag.
I did not see.
Chloe was sweet and like he said she was damaged enough to go out with me. She didn’t seem to mind that she met me at her therapist’s and seemed to like telling people this and people seemed to nod and like this too, she told me it happened in TV shows all the time, that’s why it’s ok and people like it. It’s relatable she said. I didn’t point out that it never worked out though. I liked her.
I asked her once how she knew it was the same bear every time and she got really mad.
What she said, you think I’d just let some random bear follow me around?
Follow? I wanted to say, worrying it was with us now, at the movies, but I didn’t because I remembered what the therapist had said about it only being a night bear now.
She asked the bear to wait outside when I slept over. I thought that was really sweet and not mad at all and she liked that I thought that.
It was only when I saw the therapist two weeks after we started seeing each other that I realised why he’d set us up. I was a little slow it seemed.
Still seeing your sharks? he asked a little too casually for my liking. Even now you have Chloe and her bear? he said confused. But it was me that was confused.
Do I have to spell it out for you? he said. I said he did not but he did.
When Chloe slept at mine the next night I said it was ok if the bear wanted to stay and she accused me of being kinky. I laughed it off but I didn’t know what I was anymore.
I said I was tired anyway and that we could just watch a movie. This quickly quashed any ideas she had about me being anything other than vanilla, dairy-free vanilla at that.
I had never told her about the sharks and only felt like it was a little betrayal. I half expected the therapist to have told her anyway, seeing as he was completely unprofessional, this was obvious now. I imagined him saying to her have you met Mark? You should meet Mark. In the same way he had to me about her.
When she asked why I was seeing her therapist I said the usual and she seemed happy with that and only now do I feel a bit hurt that she would think I was flawed in the usual boy ways and I was actually fine apart from the shark thing and now it seemed my bad dating choices.
That night I lay in my bed or my raft as I now saw it and I waited.
I thought you were tired the bear girl asked.
I am I said. Do you hear anything?
She said she didn’t and thankfully didn’t ask like what.
I didn’t hear anything either. Not the sound of water, calm or thrashing, not the sound of a shark silent or hungry, nor did I detect the bear. Not that I knew what a bear would sound like. I always imagined them humming or singing or dancing or rubbing up against a tree because cartoons had messed with my head. I assumed they would at least breathe heavily though and I would hear one if it was standing by my bed.
But no, the room was silent.
I wanted to get out of bed but was afraid.
I am ashamed to say that I asked the girl to get me a glass of water which was basically like me throwing her to the wolves if those wolves were a bear and a shark. She got the water without any problem and I made a promise to myself then and there for the madness to stop.
The next morning she didn’t mention that her bear had been ripped to shreds so I assumed her bear had punched my shark on the nose or they had just sorted it out like grownups and were now having a drink somewhere.
I stopped seeing Chloe or she stopped seeing me, I didn’t really care, I had stopped seeing the sharks was the main thing, not that I ever really saw them and I wondered if they had ever been there at all.
I went back to my therapist for one last session. I didn’t want to just stop seeing him too in case everything was now a figment of my imagination.
So it worked he said.
Oh right I guess I said.
You guess? Do you still have the shark problem?
No I said.
Then it worked he said clapping, himself I think. My plan worked. I am a genius. Ok, he didn’t say the last bit but he was thinking it.
So what’s the problem now? he asked.
Nothing I said.
So why are you here?
So I told him I had a new animal situation.
What do you mean? he asked.
I have a rabbit I said.
It just sits under my bed I told him.
Well I think that’s progress he said.
Yes, I mean it didn’t come with a girl attached did it? This rabbit.
No I said.
So it’s your own rabbit?
I guess I said.
So that’s progress he said.
I guess I said.
I wouldn’t complain about one little rabbit if I were you he said.
I wasn’t I said, I was just telling you.
I see people with real problems he said. Are you seeing the rabbit from Donnie Darko?
No I said.
Well I think you’re ok then.
Do I need to tell you how to get rid of the rabbit? he said. Do I need to find you another girl? Do I have to do everything? He didn’t say the last part but he was thinking it.
No I said. I was off girls. They were weird.
Ok he said, so we’re done here.
I guess I said.
And that was the last time I saw him or the rabbit. It could have still been there but I didn’t look. Maybe one day I’d meet someone and I’d get them to look.