Once, when I was younger, on a day when the sun was fat and clouds were piled up on the horizon like ice cream, I caught a shark. He was half as long as I was tall, with skin as harsh as sandpaper, and although his eyes were black and sad, he smiled at me as I scooped him into my boat.
He told me, as he lay heaped in the belly of the boat, of strands of eel grass stroking his fins in the warm Sargasso, of endless twisting conversations with lonely remoras, of nights spent watching the ripples from a boat tear the moon into a thousand shimmering strips–and a tear painted a trail down my cheek as I realised my mistake.
I apologised as I eased the hook out of his jagged mouth and helped him onto the lip of the boat, but he smiled again and assured me that he did not mind. His skin rasped against the wood as he slipped back into the diamond sea, and the water laughed as it embraced him.
The Shark was one of the very first pieces of flash fiction that I ever wrote, and I still think that it’s one of my favourites. I’m pretty sure that I wrote it after having read The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, though the inspiration was more to do with subject matter than style; I think it’s fair to say that the tone and voice are certainly nothing like it.
If you haven’t read The Old Man And The Sea then shame on you – go and read it now. It’s OK, I’ll wait.