Shark's Tooth

by Nicole Beckley

He comes to pick me up for our date in a blue pickup with rusted out wheel wells and a broken side mirror. The inside is clean and tidy; even if I have to squeeze in next to him on the bench seat cause the passenger side’s seatbelt is jammed. He asks if I mind. I don’t. I’m not much for decorum. And we’ve already slept together so I know this isn’t just a ploy to get me close to him. We are dating because he has a rugged beard and a seaworthy fishing boat and a deep knowledge of marine wildlife. I am writing a paper on oceanography.

I am what I would call a sex brainiac—someone whose primary impetus for sleeping with someone is access to knowledge. I want to know what’s in their brain. I want to feel as connected to something as they do. I want to possess the knowledge more than I truly want to possess them. That simply comes with the territory. And on a good day comes a couple of times.

It’s not that I don’t like Chuck—he seems decent enough—it’s just that a large part of the attraction was the boat and the sea and the knowledge. I’m less interested in hearing about his complicated family dynamics than I am in learning about marine habitats while floating a few miles from the coast. I’ve never been a library type of gal. I’m a hands-on learner. Before oceanography there was astronomy and Raul, and cycling and Zach, and, very briefly, meditation and Daniel. It’s not necessarily intentional, it’s just that sometimes one passion leads to another.

On our fourth official date Chuck takes me to an aquarium and we stand in front of the case of dogfish sharks and I make a joke about Jaws. He’s never seen it.  “You’ve never seen Jaws?” I say, horrified. I think of the previous two times we’ve been out on the water and realize all those “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” references have just been for naught. But then he tells me about how dogfish sharks eat worms and large crabs and bear live young six at a time and I think at least he has a few redeeming qualities.

A few weeks later I come over to his tiny apartment and he pulls out a shark’s tooth and puts it in my palm and tells me sharks lose a tooth a week. “Keep it,” he says. I tell him I think I could fall for a guy like him and he goes all smiles and says, “Me too.” As if that makes any sense. I say it, but I know it will end because I am moving to San Diego at the end of the year, where there are lots of men with bigger boats.

He leads me to his plaid dark green couch and as we start to unbutton our clothes he runs his hand from the top of my head to just below my belly button and tells me this is the length of a mature female dogfish. When I peel off my jeans I pause and remove the shark’s tooth gift from my pocket, running my finger over its fine edge, and feeling some fondness for its giver.

I place the tooth on the end table and let the curvature of his thick mouth meet mine. He grasps my waist confidently with his whole hands and I ignore the scratchiness of his beard, thinking instead about my lab partner Su-Yin. We both got into oceanography thinking it would be fun to explore the sea, though it turns out it’s not that adventurous and there’s a lot of time spent sitting in a lab or an office or learning about various regulations. Not terrible, but not particularly great. Su-Yin and I share an office, and spend the majority of our time together practicing tying bowline knots and prepping for the wilderness survival club to which we both belong. Our goal is always to break out of the office.  We are determined to find adventure.

“Doing okay?” he says, and I snap out of my distraction and focus on grey-green eyes and muscled jaw and hip bone meeting hip bone. “Mm-hmm,” I hum, and make him promise to take me out on his boat soon to see the harbor seals.

In our office the next day I show Su-Yin the shark’s tooth. “Wow, he must really like you,” she says, “Nobody’s ever brought me any cartilage or bone or anything.” She says I found a good guy and I say I guess so. My oceanography paper is really coming along. I pocket the shark’s tooth and tell her I’m going to make it into a necklace to remember him while we’re in the wilderness and she says that sounds good. She hands me a paper map of Big Bend, which I’m supposed to commit to memory for our wilderness survival summit. Su-Yin found out about it when we were researching oceanographic history. She’s a much better researcher than I am. I remind her of this and she does a proud half-smirk. I trace my finger on the map. Big Bend was underwater millions of years ago and now we can go and find shells from the Cretaceous era and stones from the Paleozoic. We can see where the sea was firsthand. We are determined in our adventure aspirations.

When the weekend comes Su-Yin and I fly to Midland and drive three hours south through dusty highway to Big Bend. At the park’s entrance we see a dozen other survivalists who are going to spend the weekend hiking and foraging and sleeping under the stars. The summit attracts all kinds—there are a pair of grey haired wives with matching wood framed glasses, a couple of dudes with shaved heads and tan shirts that say “Paleo and proud,” and a dark haired woman with full sleeve tattoos that make her look fully clothed even though she’s only wearing a tank top. All of us are toting packages of nuts and jerky and dehydrated oats. “So much for my foodie blog,” one of the wives jokes, and we all laugh and start hiking our separate ways.

We hike as far as we can in the daylight, mentally marking areas that might have once been coral reef, and just as Su-Yin says we should scout for a campsite the gravel slides out from under her and she’s down in the dirt, blood smeared over her right knee. Her black bangs are dusty and there’s a thick layer of brown grime coating her socks. I rush over and throw my backpack to the ground. I dip my bandana in my water bottle and use it to wipe the blood and wrap the wound. I hold her calf and tell her she has soft skin. Even in the middle of nowhere she likes a compliment. “I wouldn’t have slid if we were under water,” she says, “This whole area used to be inhabited by clams and oysters millions of years ago.” I smile. “If only you were a guy, Su-Yin,” I say.




The next day we hike for 12 hours, stopping only to identify some rabbit scat and to investigate a rustling caused by a cactus mouse. We don’t see any other wildlife except a coyote in the afternoon. When we take a water break we notice the woman with the sleeve tattoos nearby. “Did you see the black hawk?” she calls, “It was circling about an hour ago.” We shake our heads no. She tells us she also saw a badger we didn’t see. Somehow the wildlife is missing us. We find a rock that could be a fossilized marine vertebrate, but no shells.

By nightfall Su-Yin’s knee is puffy and purple, like an overripe plum, and we’ve hiked so much that my feet are throbbing, unused to constant motion in tight boots. It’s unclear if we’re good survivalists, but we are not good hikers. We set up camp near some dry brush and I delicately remove my boots and socks. My toes feel all mashed together, like one engorged piece of flesh. I examine the yellow blisters on my ankles and between my toes and rummage through my bag for a safety pin, to no avail.

I unbutton my sun shirt and strip off my tank top and remember the shark’s tooth around my neck. It’s both hard and delicate and I remove it from the area above my sternum, clutching it between my forefinger and thumb and injecting the tooth’s pointed end into my ankle blister. A clear serum drains down my heel, and I feel some slight pride in my resourcefulness. Dang, Chuck knows how to give a worthwhile gift. Maybe I hadn’t given him enough credit.

I look over at Su-Yin, stretched out on her sleeping pad. Her pale skin tarnished by dirt and sun. She rubs her feet and I think about how small her body is. How feeble her wrists and ankles must be. How I could carry her if I had to. I think about what it would be like to hold her; not as a lover, but as a protector. My body a looming force, her mind more expansive than mine. How unstoppable we might be if only we were one person. How it’s her I’ll miss most when I’m in San Diego.

Su-Yin gnaws on a clump of jerky and we both agree that it’s not so bad learning about regulations in our comfy office. We have lots of free time to practice rope knots. And there’s air conditioning. Our oceanography papers are almost done. Su-Yin pokes lightly at her puffy knee and we sigh, deflated. I reach my hand toward her head and rub my fingers over her dark hair.

“How do you get this hair so shiny?” I ask. She just smiles.

I climb over to my sleeping area and stretch out. A grey grime coats our achy bodies and we don’t wish for another day of this. We have only a small pile of rocks to show for all our wandering. Perhaps we are not cut out for adventure.




When we return home Chuck picks me up in his truck. He’s replaced the side mirror and unjammed the passenger side seatbelt. He tells me I can still sit right next to him if I want. I do. Su-Yin texts a picture of an ice pack on her knee. “Home sweet home,” she says. “Now you’re cool,” I text back. I pull at the shark’s tooth around my neck. “This,” I say, “really came in handy.” Chuck smiles.

At Chuck’s apartment he leaves the lights off and rubs my feet long and hard, and right when I want to yelp with pain he plants a kiss on my big toe. I want to be disgusted by this, but there’s something so selfless about it that I can’t. He whispers that in the morning he’ll take me to see the harbor seals; if we’re lucky we might be able to catch them mating. He fondles my earlobe and tells me that seals don’t have ears, just a canal behind their eyes. I hitch my hips on top of his and clutch the shark’s tooth around my neck. “Shhhh,” I say and press my mouth hard against his until there is no talking about facts or adventures and eventually we are just sleeping.

Nicole Beckley is a writer and performer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Fiction Southeast, New Limestone Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Tribeza, as well as in many small theaters and on at least one public access channel. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies from Stanford University.