'Of Sharks and Jellyfish' by Carol J Forrester
LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Story, 'Of Sharks and Jellyfish' by Carol J Forrester
'Of Sharks and Jellyfish'
Everything was second-hand. The battered desk, the three stuffing spilling chairs for customers, the dented boat up on stilts out the back. Even the computer was old and whirled like a frightened bird whenever there was cause to switch it on.
Oldest by far was the cage. Josie watched as Adam tried coordinating the two men sent to deliver it. All three bare chested in the afternoon sun, Adam’s beer gut bubbling over the waistband of his denim jeans. He was older than the other two by at least twenty years, the redding patch of scalp at the back of his head showing where the hair had given up. He stood clear of the truck; arms raised above his head as he called out directions from the dirt track leading up from the beach. Despite the gut, and the balding patch, his arms were stills strong. Josie could trace the lines of muscle from where she stood, colour rising in her cheeks.
The cage inched slowly off the flatbed, moving forward in short, jerky fits until it reached a tipping point and careen into the sand.
‘Careful!’ grumbled Adam. He knelt to check the cage, ran his hands along the corroded bars and rose with a grin when he found they still held. ‘We’re in business,’ he called.
The two men jumped down after the cage, climbed inside the cab and started the engine. The one in the passenger seat reached for the glove compartment and pulled out the cash Adam had paid them. He smiled as he counted.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Josie asked, approaching as the truck pulled into gear and moved off the beach. ‘This seems like a lot of money, for not very much.’ She wrapped a hand around one of the bars and pulled. It held solid, the metal warm under her slender fingers.
‘Help me get it up the beach, would you?’ Adam asked, ignoring her question in favour of pulling on a pair of gloves. He pulled a second, green pair from his back pocket and held them out. ‘Hey,’ he grinned, ‘they match your dress.’
Together they dragged the cage behind the shop, next to where the boat sat on its stilts.
‘Tomorrow we’ll called Thomas and ask him to bring his tractor to take them both down to the water, then we can test the winch and make sure that everything is working order before we start taking bookings.’ Adam leant against the back wall, still grinning as he had been as they wrestled the cage across the beach.
Josie pressed her lips into a tight line and nodded. There was nothing new she could say about how idiotic this whole venture was, and the last time she’d voiced any objections, Adam had accused her of turning into her mother. She glanced again at the cage and ran her eyes across it, checking for weak points. It looked fine, and the previous owner had apparently used it for fifteen years without ever having a shark so much a dent it.
She turned away and followed her footprints round to the front of the shop, where Adam’s signs for ‘Amazing Marine-life Tours’ were propped against the open doors. Was it her imagination of did the ocean look darker? She shook her head.
‘Need your help with something else,’ said Adam, appearing behind her and then disappearing into the shop. ‘Here,’ he called, and emerged with a brown paper package in one hand and a plastic bucket dangling from the other. ‘These need sorting ready to go into the adventure packs. Two in each.’
Josie took the package and held it away from her body, half tempted to simply hurl it into the ocean.
‘Do sharks really need their teeth cleaning?’ she asked. ‘Haven’t they been around since pre-historic times? Surely they’ve evolved past needing a toothbrush.’
‘Dogs need their teeth cleaning?’ Adam shrugged. ‘I don’t see why sharks would be any different, and besides, we need something to set us apart from the rest of the cage diving experiences that have popped up this year. This will make the customers feel like they’re actually having an impact on the environment and the wildlife in it!’
‘How exactly? By letting the sharks have their right hand for breakfast?’
‘Josie, come on, you know I wouldn’t let that happen.’
‘You’ll be the first one to lose a hand,’ she scoffed.
‘No one will be losing a hand!’
‘No, they’ll lose both, and a leg too most likely. Here!’ She shoved the toothbrushes at him. ‘Go see to the dental hygiene of the ocean’s toothiest carnivores. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have you poking around inside their gobs.’
‘No, no, you wanted to set up this ridiculous company, you wanted to clean shark teeth for a bloody living. You go live your dream.’
Adam dropped his head and stared at the ground between his feet.
‘It’s not my dream,’ he said sulkily.
‘Oh no? The what is your dream Adam? Tell me because we’ve wasted the last six months of our lives on this nonsense. What’s another six months going to be on something else equally as ridiculous.’
He curled his toes in the sand and mutter beneath his breath.
‘Sorry Adam, didn’t quite catch that.’ She balled in hands into fists and tried to tamp down on the fury bubbling up. Splotchy face, she reminded herself. Both her and her mother. Angry, splotchy face.
‘What’s your dream Adam? I swear it can’t be any more ridiculous than this farce.’
‘Jellyfish,’ he said quietly.
‘Jellyfish Jose, my dream is to breed Jellyfish.’
Josie open and closed her mouth. The ocean was suddenly very loud behind them.
‘You want to breed jellyfish?’ she asked slowly. ‘I- what- how!?’
‘Not sure. The shark thing seemed easier and less dangerous in the meantime.’
‘You are joking me right?’
‘Well what have sharks got,’ said Adam. ‘Sure they can bite, but jellyfish can sting and man, that’s real nasty. You ever be stung by one of those blighters?’
‘Yeah, I practically grew up on the beach, almost everyone who lives round here has been stung by a jellyfish.’
‘So you know what I mean! Doesn’t the shark idea sound so much safer?’
Josie stayed quiet.
‘Tell you what, I’m going to go out and give that cage a clean, you stay here and finish sorting these.’ He handed her the toothbrushes again and kissed her on the cheek. ‘I think we should celebrate tonight, maybe go down to that seafood place you like.’
‘Yeah sure,’ Josie nodded, her hand closing around the bag automatically. ‘Jellyfish,’ she repeated, watching as he hurried away towards the cage.
She made her way inside the shop and edged past the stacks of boxes piled up in front of the desk.
‘Jellyfish,’ she whispered, slipping the toothbrushes into a drawer, and closing it softly. The computer struggled into life; the monitor flickering awake.
There was a letter from her mother beside the keyboard, the name of good divorce lawyer just in case Josie came to her senses and realised that Adam’s crackpots schemes were not going to lead anywhere good.
Heavy paper stock, nice quality, beautiful handwriting. Presentation was everything when it came to Josie’s mother.
The computer whined past its loading screen and Josie opened a browser. More loading, more waiting. She picked at the torn edge of the letter’s envelope, then extracted the letter and read it again.
‘Darling daughter, you know I’ve only your best interests at heart.’
Josie snorted, and crumpled the letter. She aimed for the wastepaper bin and missing by a millimetre.
Good enough, she told herself and smiled when she noticed that the internet connection had finished loading.
‘Jellyfish breeding.’ There was a pause after she hit search, then splutter of noise from the computer. Almost four million results.
‘Still better than sharks,’ she muttered, selecting the first. ‘Still very much better than sharks.’