Issue 68 — Eddie Argauer, Toni Ann Johnson, Josefine Klougart
First Shark Fatality in VA Beach
The ocean reflected a veneer of pale clouds creeping toward the horizon, not quite ominous, yet dark enough to dim the once glittering surface. There would be no sunset to enjoy tonight in Virginia Beach. The veiled sun made it difficult to guess the time, but it was almost 6 pm, Sunday, September 2, 2001.
Schools of menhaden and herring flitted nervously across the water, the prey of pursuing bluefish and stripers. Oftentimes a sand bar formed just off the coast providing a respite from the incessant surf. Today was no different, though the Atlantic seemed a placid pond compared to its legendary reputation as the fiercest ocean; she had been temporarily tamed.
As the evening approached, ten year-old David Peltier and his father, Richard, from Richmond, Virginia, were on a sandbar about 50 yards offshore in four feet of water. Richard had been teaching David how to stand on his surfboard.
Having enjoyed a relaxing, sun-filled week retreat with friends, Msgr. Kevin Hart, Pastor in Washington, DC, stepped onto the deck for one last look. He thought it nice that a father and son were playing together. He turned to leave, and then he heard it—screaming, and something unexpected: red, lots of red mingling with slate gray. He flung himself down the deck stairs and sprinted to help the father tug David’s leg from the gaping maw of an eight-foot shark. A bluish gray fin and snout protruded from the water. “How can this be happening,” thought Hart. It seemed so unreal, yet the blood seeping through the water, lapping over David’s surfboard proved it real enough.
When the boy was dragged up onto the beach, Hart saw massive puncture and tearing wounds on the boy’s leg. “Apply pressure,” someone yelled. Hart favored a turnicut as the artery seemed to be gushing blood, but the others disagreed. “Go to sleep,” advised Peltier. “No,” shouted Hart. “Keep him awake. He’s going into shock.”
Thirty-five years of priesthood exposed Hart to many unusual challenges, but never anything as tragic and grisly as a shark attack. He prayed over David, of course, and hoped.
Later, Peltier recounted that the water was clear enough that upon glancing down he noticed the shark, its fin and its bluish back. He immediately called his three boys to climb onto their surfboards. As he leaned over to pick David up, the shark mauled the boy. Peltier hit the shark over the head to try to get it to release his son.
After an agonizing 25 minutes, an EMS team arrived transporting David to the hospital. He was in critical condition all night long. There were shark bites all along his leg. The attack severed the main artery in his left thigh and resulted in significant blood loss, a hospital spokesman said. He was taken to Sentara Virginia Beach Hospital and pronounced dead at 3:45 am.
Maylin White, curator for the Virginia Marine Science Museum, reported that sharks typically found in Virginia Beach waters are small varieties, such as the sandbar, sand tiger and hammerhead. Larger species, such as tiger and bull sharks, are rarely found, he said. White said he thought a sandbar shark could have been responsible for the attack.
Forty-nine shark attacks, including the one in Virginia Beach, were reported in 2001 to the International Shark Attack File, based at the University of Florida. Thirty-eight of those were in the United States, 28 in Florida. Only five shark attacks—none of them fatal—had been recorded in Virginia prior to the attack. The data collected since the mid1950s covers shark attacks across the world.
Bruce Edwards, the city's director of Emergency Medical Services, said they had no idea what could have brought the shark so close to the shore. “This is such an anomaly. I've lived here all my life and I have never heard or seen anything like this before. We're not exactly sure.”
Only an eighth of a mile south of the attack site, a popular fishing pier juts out into the water, its stilt-like legs standing up to the onslaught of waves. Prior to the attack a rusty, bent sign hung at the pier’s gate: “No Shark Chumming.” But soon after the attack, it inexplicably disappeared. Some believe chumming off the pier attracted this shark to the scene.
Sharks can detect some chemicals at concentrations of around one part per 25 million, and experts claim they've seen sharks go into a frenzy over a single drop of blood in a 2,000-gallon tank. They can smell and taste even the smallest amount of blood from over a mile away and trace it back to its source. The close proximity, calm water, time of attack and aggressive chumming may have been the right conditions to create Virginia Beach’s first shark fatality.
A wreathe was hung on the bulkhead to mark the site. Since then, a newly pumped-in beach leaves the weathered memorial beneath twelve feet of sand. Though the faded memorial is now buried, the memory of David Peltier will forever remain on the surface.
Copyright © 2014 by Eddie Argauer.
Eddie Argauer has written and produced cable networks including The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel for ten years. His work has aired overseas on Discovery's People and Arts among others. He currently writes as a freelancer in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.
Toni Ann Johnson
Twenty-one years later I’ll run into you outside the Path Station in Hoboken in front of the wide green awning that leads down to the trains. Sounds of rumbling below and the din of chatter swirling, you’ll yell my name above the noise, saying it like a question, as if you could actually be unsure that it’s me.
I’ll turn and totter on the top step. Just in time. Seconds later I’d be swept into the stream of bodies flowing to the tracks.
It’ll be shortly after 5pm on a late September weekday, humid, and cloudy with air that smells of commuters caught in unexpected high heat. Perspiration will run down my back and leak between the butt cheeks you used to make fun of.
I’ll squint against the sun and stare at you. You’ll smile with closed lips and brown eyes that are gentler than I’ll remember. Several seconds will pass before you’ll say, “Wow. This is the first time I’ve ever seen you away from home. Where’re you living these days?”
“Manhattan,” I’ll say.
“Oh. The big city,” you’ll say, like it’s a truly good thing.
I’ll nod. I won’t ask you anything. I’ll look at you and wait.
Suits of blue, black, gray and tan will dodge and whoosh past us in both directions. Heels clicking on concrete, huffs and impatient scoffs, we’ll be in the way.
I’ll shield my eyes with one hand and be silent for so long it’ll feel impolite. You’ll hold a charcoal gray suit jacket over one shoulder, your white collared shirt bearing sweat marks under the arms. You’ll smell of Obsession For Men, alluring, and more sophisticated than the Old Spice I used to notice sometimes at the bus stop during high school when you rarely spoke to me. Your chest will be broad and you’ll be slim, like me, which will mean something, because twenty-one years earlier we were chubby six-year-olds foraging together for Ding Dongs and Oreos my mother hid deep in the pantry so we wouldn’t overeat. We’d find them, and eat them all, and that thrill was a bond we shared.
Neither being connoisseurs of Nabisco Cookies and Hostess Snack Cakes, nor being buddies from the time we could crawl, was as strong as the bond you shared with every kid in the neighborhood but me.
Someone will bump into you, and you’ll fall into me and grab my arm before I lose my balance on the top step.
“Sorry. You alright?” you’ll ask.
“Fine, thanks,” I’ll say, and take my arm back.
That day, twenty-one years after I lost you, I’ll be wearing a tomato-red kufi (an African hat) atop unapologetically kinky hair. Wild kinks I tamed the soul out of when I lived across the street from you, hoping straight hair would make me pretty and more like everyone else. But you called me an ugly, bubble-butted nigger at the bust stop. Elementary school became Junior High, which turned into high school, and I barely existed. You had all those years to speak to me. That day I’ll wonder, why now?
I’ll have on black chunky boots and a dress that’s lime-green, like Life Savers candies. Red-black-and green, are Pan-African colors and I’ll wear them because at the time, I’ll be mad and militant, saying screw you to you and everyone else from home who said my color, my hair, and my big butt made me ugly. That day at the Path Station, it won’t matter to me that you were only a boy when you said those things.
I won’t smile. I won’t be warm. I’ll forget any mean things I may have said back at the bus stop. I probably said some, because I will remember how you winced at the mention of your crippled father, fat mom, and port-wine stain birth-marked baby sister. My tongue, sharpened on figurative and literal sticks and stones hurled at me by neighborhood bullies, must have pierced your soft spots sometimes, too. Yet you’ll look at me that day with a tenderness that insists cruel words never passed between us.
Your dark hair will be short. Your skin clean-shaven, clear, the spots of adolescence healed and faded. Your face will flush and your eyes will brighten the way they used to shine when you were my round-cheeked running buddy. You’ll look deep into me with such warmth that against my will you’ll begin to melt the glaciers that numbed me inside.
My name, when you say it, will sound like songs from playtimes past. In your eyes I’ll catch a glimpse of us singing on swings, flying above the grass where we found four-leaf clovers. You’ll invite me into a little chamber of your heart where you saved us. But I won’t go. I won’t be ready to remember how to get there.
There’ll be no mention of what happened to us and what didn’t happen that should have. You’ll sing my name again, a young boy’s sweetness shining out of your grown man’s face and you’ll say, “You were my first best friend.”
I’ll know that you’re telling me you’re sorry. You didn’t mean to hurt me. You were just a kid.
I’ll nod politely and shrug off your words. I’ll carry my bubble-butt and my baggage down the stairs, catch my train, and move on with my life.
In another twenty years, I’ll be middle aged and softer inside and out, the rough edges of resentment worn down with experience. I’ll remember how you said my name that day and the way you looked at me with affection. I’ll transport myself back to the Path station, in front of the stairs, trains rumbling below, bodies whooshing by, and I’ll be kinder to you. I will. Because by then I’ll know that love is the only feeling left once enough time has passed.
Copyright © 2013 by Toni Ann Johnson. Previously published by Sprout Magazine in February of 2013 and Red Fez in February 2014.
Toni Ann Johnson won the Humanitas Prize and the Christopher Award for her Disney Teleplay Ruby Bridges, the true story of the young girl who integrated the New Orleans public school system. Johnson won a second Humanitas Prize for her Showtime teleplay Crown Heights, about the 1991 Crown Heights Riots. Johnson has written a number of dance related projects, most notably the pilot for Save The Last Dance and the feature film Step Up 2: The Streets. Her stage play Gramercy Park is Closed to the Public was produced in Los Angeles by The Fountainhead Theatre Company and in New York by the New York Stage and Film Company. Essays, articles, and short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Times, The Movement, The Elohi Gadugi Journal, Sprout Magazine, Red Fez, The Emerson Review and Soundings Review. Her debut novel Remedy For a Broken Angel is forthcoming (June, 2014) from Nortia Press. Johnson holds a BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University.
from ONE OF US IS SLEEPING
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
I think to myself that I am a person who sees everything that nearly is. It’s a way of staying unhappy, useless in every respect. To be able to see — not what is, but what could be. What’s coming, but never arrives; a permanent postponement, a putting off; on its way, just around the corner, and so on. But then once in a while it turns out that the thing that’s hidden away there doesn’t even exist. That it’s something else, and that I am another. Nearly is the same as not, or at worst never. Non-births, undesires, the impossibility of something like circumstances. Under different circumstances — it doesn’t bear thinking about. I am a guest staggering my way home from a party that never was. Non-places. Whatever they are. It all starts and ends in a conception; eventually it must be swallowed. One’s ideas and good intentions, the patience, the ability to convince one’s eyes to see: invisible. And to become, with the gaze, fundamentally, an invisible person in the world. To another, who cannot see you, cannot see me. Because he’s always disappearing, because he can’t get the right distance: close up. Because perhaps he isn’t able.
There are people who cannot love you. And it has nothing to do with will, nothing to do with desire. It becomes a question of economics: negotiation. Columns, lists of one thing and another. A contract of service. Pay. Or no pay, just voluntary work with expectations and pictures. It’s like negatives. I see everything like a contact sheet: everything that’s dark is light, the light is hidden in the dark. But one thinks one sees: a person. There’s a resemblance. I see the outline.
But then it’s certainly not a person I see, suddenly it’s not a person I expect. Who will I come home to, who will find me in my bed. A back-to-front person, who can’t. Useless. Useless in love. And it has nothing to do with justice or ill will or the best intentions. Love can be an economic phantom, riding you through pictures that never turn out. To be. Anything other than pictures, a beautiful dream by which to sleep; by which to wake up black and blue. What are you complaining about; you’re almost at the finishing line. And the excuses, the ones one gathers along the way. Bait fed to you by a corrupt keeper.
I forgive you for everything; my body remembers it all. It’s impossible to continue and seemingly impossible to escape. It’s already too late; when we met we died there in each other’s arms, we died there in that gaze.
We drank each other like semi-poisonous drinks. Unthirstily. That is, I saved you for later. Which never came; there was always something fatal about it. The truth is: there may have been something else, too, but things like that are hard to keep separate. The fatality, and something else, like love perhaps, or peace; a home. Everything breaks down, wide belts snapping through the landscape: love, and something that cannot quite be called love.
The fatality of that.
That what one saw isn’t what one ever sees; the smallest disappointments, a thirst without a throat, trailing us like homeless dogs. And always the conception of what might have been: begging dogs every time one wants to get up from the table, walk out through a garden gate, and the future will be waiting there. Undead, and not even past.
Where have I been, is the thought I think; where have I been, what — na—ve. No: lonely. Where did I look closely, where did I see it clearly in front of me — everything that nearly was. The person who could love, nearly; this nearly-love that was always replaced by. By what? Reality. Whatever that is. Your reality, I suppose.
Copyright © Josefine Klougart og Rosinante/ROSINANTE&CO, Copenhagen 2012. Translation © Martin Aitken 2013.
Reprinted by permission of Rosinante & Co.
Josefine Klougart is one of Scandinavia's most important writers. Her debut novel Rise and Fall (Rosinante, 2010) contributed to her receiving the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2010. She has since published three other novels: The Halls, 2011; One of us is spleeing, 2012; and On Darkness, 2013. Her work has appeared in Salamander, World Literature Today, and Fjords. She is the editor of the Danish literary journal The Blue Gate.