By Edele Winnie
She chose the belt carefully. She did not want leather, but rope, narrow rope. He was a thin man, so that helped. Classy rope belts were difficult to find.
He was an odd sort. Tallish, skinny, messy brown hair and glasses. A passionate marine biologist who had never learned how to swim. He’d been fascinated by computers as a youth, and that had led to his development of the computerized shark tracking system as an adult. His work as a biologist was respected but he was still, at heart, a computer geek who spent more time behind the screen than in the water.
She was on the wrong side of forty, married, dyed blonde hair with dark eyebrows. She wore heels every day. She was renowned for her work on the great white shark. It was she who had published the data revealing that there were no large males, only female great whites. Sharks were her passion too, but her moods ran in both warm and cold currents.
It was inevitable that they should meet; there were only so many biologists specializing in great white sharks. It was at the Worthington Marine Aquarium, which held both displays and serious scientific inquiry.
He thought she was cold. She didn’t show her feelings, if she had any. He tended to be enthusiastic as a child and took disappointments equally as hard.
The belt was a surprise.
“I have a present for you.” She said.
He smiled. Who doesn’t like presents? He already had a large collection of plush toy sharks. But it was not a stuffed thing- it was a slender rope belt with a rope fastener and no buckle.
“For you,” she said, with a hint of a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
“Thank you.” He was confused.
“Put it on.”
Embarrassed, he took off his leather belt with the big dolphin buckle and threaded the rope through the loops.
She nodded appreciatively. “Very nautical.”
He had almost forgotten about the unusual gift when she reappeared at closing time.
“I have something important to show you,” she said, beckoning.
He followed her out to the great white shark tank. They had one large female right now, and they called her ‘Mother’.
“Looks like Mother’s sleeping,” she said with a smile.
She was quick- pushed him against the cement wall, her hands on his shoulders, her hot mouth sucking at his. He was naive but enthusiastic. He thought he understood when she undid the rope belt with a flick of her deft fingers.
They rolled and pawed beside mother’s tank until they were both exhausted. Then she put her legs into the water.
“Is that safe?” he asked genuinely concerned.
She laughed. “They’re attracted by movement.” She reminded him. “As long as I don’t kick around I should be fine.”
Challenged, he too put his feet in. “I don’t swim.” He admitted.
He did not see her outside of the aquarium but each workday now ended in a frenzy beside Mother’s tank. The maintenance staff had begun to gather and secretly watch.
In the beginning he was unaffected but as the weeks slipped by he began to hunger for her on the weekends. His vacation was agony and he found that he often couldn’t sleep. He longed for her skin, the smell of the water, the feeling of the wet concrete. He felt ravenous, and on the edge of losing control. The thought of sharks in a feeding frenzy came to him, how they sometimes took bites out of each other in their excitement to get to their prey. He rubbed his hand along the tender bite marks on his arms. He needed her.
But there was the problem- she was married. She was a highly successful and publicly visible biologist- famous even. She would not want a scandal. There together time was always and only at the aquarium. She had never spoken of her husband. Not once. But then they didn’t do a lot of talking, did they?
He felt an uncharacteristic anger rise in him. Was she toying with him? She said little- but what did that mean? He loved her desperately. Surely no other man could be capable of what he felt for her.
The next day after work he was waiting by Mother’s tank. He had begun to arrive first, before closing time, anticipating. She arrived with that wicked glint in her eye and grabbed him. But this time he seized her wrists- he was stronger than she was- and looked her right in the eye.
“We must talk.”
“That’s not what you usually want to do.” She snapped at him, twisting her wrists away.
“I love you completely.” Best to get it all out. “I cannot live without you. If you don’t leave your husband….”
She raised an artful eyebrow. “You will what?”
He didn’t answer. “He can’t love you the way I do.”
She became calmer and he immediately felt guilty. The guilt irritated him.
“I would never hurt you.” He said, but the words sounded angry and seemed for some reason to mean the opposite.
She nodded absently. And then she grabbed him and twisted and they both tumbled into Mother’s tank. He panicked and struggled- and then remembered- Mother would be drawn to the thrashing. Mother, who was always hungry, mother who could not been satisfied, mother with that steel glint in her eye. She was still holding him and a thousand thoughts tripped through his brain. Was this a double suicide? What was she doing? Was it an accident? But she seemed to be holding him under the water. Her head reached up and she gulped a breath of air. That’s when he understood that she was drowning him. He grabbed her arms, trying to climb up her body to the air above but they just sank deeper. He tried pleading with her with his water filled eyes but she seemed to be grinning, mouth open, teeth exposed. The burning from lack of oxygen finally spurred him to thrashing and panic. Mother, now roused, came by sleepily, as if to say ‘what, again?” He struggled even more but still she kept his head from the air. The great white shark took him from her with jaws filled with teeth. She let go and floated to the surface.
The great white shook the man, let him go and poked him with her snout, trying for some sport. He thrashed feebly, almost dead with drowning but Mother pretended he was trying to escape and grabbed him and shook him again. Blood clouded the water for a brief time. Mother was always thorough and soon there was nothing left that the filtration system would not quickly cleanse- especially this time. It was those big metal belt buckles mother always had trouble with. The fancy rope belts digested completely, just like everything else.