Fiction · 01/16/2019

The Last Great White

When Ron saw the headline from his daughter, “Last Great White Dies,” he almost picked up the phone. His daughter made a lot of noise for extinctions. Her posts had videos like those at the Oscars where they showed the dead. The animal as a kid; the animal surviving; the animal mating; the alpha; the carcass.

As a Designated Helper, he was only allowed to talk about store matters. Everyone on his shift was a college kid, except Alice, who asked him for drinks then never spoke to him again, and Jimmy, who had lost a wife to pills and didn’t talk much. He heard one kid say to another, “Now I can swim again,” and laugh.

Ron’s whole generation got fucked by Jaws. Even in Muskogee, a thousand miles from the risen Atlantic, something mean and refined waited in the lake. In sixth grade he wrote a seven-page science paper, the longest he’d ever write. Most shark attacks happen in three feet of water. The Bull Shark goes up the Mississippi as far as Illinois. The first Great White was fifty feet long and killed everything in the old ocean. His daughter grew up on the lake. Now she lived by the Pacific. All Ron thought about nowadays was cancer.

She’d once asked for his bucket list. At first he thought his death row meal: chicken-fried chicken with white gravy, mashed potatoes, a banana milkshake. Then he got into it: seats behind home plate at InBev for a Cardinals World Series clinch; a fully-loaded Ford F-450 Super Duty; a night with Jennifer Lawrence. His daughter said, “Ew, god, nope.” Then he said: go in a shark cage. And his daughter laughed.

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He was late to work again. His manager threatened him with a final strike. He had inappropriate dialogue with another customer. A little black kid had come in with a Great White t-shirt. Ron said, “You heard? You heard?” The boy’s mother pulled him away.

He rented Jaws and Jaws II, Jaws III, Jaws: The Revenge, the Jaws reboot, Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows, The Frenzy, The Open Boat. Twelve High Lifes deep, untying the Wolverines he still wore, he thought, ‘the last Great White is dead’ and a stale black cloud passed through him.

Ashing into the empties crowding under the yellow light of the kitchen, he read again the shark monitor’s last reading: Thursday, 10:52. His daughter, a thousand miles away by the dead Pacific, called his doublewide “the Muskogee swing pad.” She said the guy she dated was “Armenian.” They’d bred Great Whites in a lab but weren’t close to release. Ron considered them frauds. The last Great White had died off the coast of New Zealand. Its name was Bert.

He took a cooler to the lake along with his chair, his pistol. A fat old man alone in a lawn chair surrounded by young mothers with savage kids and packs of thuggish teens. He took off his shirt and drank four beers wrapped in a paper bag. His belly was bloated and gray like roadkill. He waded past the kids and teens, out where pockets of cold gripped his toes. The kids scattered. He held his hand high, gun dry and shining. His daughter on a distant shore.

His father once took the family to Maine, farther than Ron could ever afford taking his own daughter. It was after Jaws. His father dared him to come in, swinging Ron’s screaming sister over the waves. Ron watched miles of black water rolling towards him. The tide coming in. He made it to his knees. Shadows moved under the water, past the breakers, patrolling.

He treaded water in the lake, gun high, his daughter on a dirty distant shore. Then, the swish of tail like a sword, fins like teeth on the surface of the water. A slow circle around him, a silent dive. He looked down and the murk of the lake receded past the emerald-gold sparks of the waterbound sun. A great swell under his feet, the grey snout with the black slits, the huge black mouth with perfect, white, box cutter teeth. The black eye, like a doll’s eye.

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Christopher Murphy received his MFA from The University of Arkansas and currently teaches creative writing at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He also serves as a Fiction Editor for Nimrod International Journal. His work has been published at Gulf Coast (online), This Land, The Jellyfish Review, and decomP, among others.