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Say cheese (c) Pat Black

Say cheese (c) Pat Black

“Tony’s dad’s a shark hunter,” Evan said.

His mother rubbed shampoo into a lather on his scalp. “Is he now?”

“Yep. He’s hunted them all. Great whites. Tiger sharks. You can even get a whale shark, too. Apparently he saw one as big as Jaws one time, but it got away.” The boy screwed his eyes shut as the suds crept down his forehead in long white fingers.

“Fancy that, a shark hunter. And Jaws, too.”

“It nearly ate him. After he fell in.” The boy stabbed downward into the bathwater with his rubber shark, for emphasis.

“I’ll bet it did. Right – head back.” He did as he was told, and she poured the jug over his head, running her hand through his soapy tufts until they were clear.

After bathtime came jammies, dressing gown and slippers, then a quick hot chocolate in front of the television. A David Attenborough show was on, which did not feature the sea or any of the creatures in it. But Evan said: “Tony’s dad? He uses a harpoon to sink a shark.”

Evan’s dad peered over the tops of his spectacles. “You can sink a shark with a harpoon?”

Evan nodded. “You have to be quick, though. Or it’ll jump out of the water and get you first.”

“That sounds like some job,” Evan’s dad said, winking at Evan’s mum on the armchair opposite. “I wouldn’t mind a job like that.”

Evan frowned, gulping down the last of the hot chocolate. “It’s too dangerous for you, dad.”

Evan’s mother laughed, and after a time, Evan’s dad did too. “Right, mister,” he said, at length. “Make like Jaws and brush your teeth. Then – bed.”

“Aww!”

Later, as he lay in bed, Evan’s mother read him a story – but he couldn’t focus on it, keyed up and fidgety. “Do you think you would ever get tired being a shark hunter?” he asked, standing up on top of the bedclothes.

“Settle down. And yes, you might get tired of being a shark hunter.”

“I don’t think I would. Well, so long as it was bad sharks that ate people. Not good sharks.”

Evan’s mum closed over the story book. “Are you sure Tony’s dad isn’t just a fisherman?”

The boy shook his head. “Tony says he’s definitely a shark hunter. I asked him to cross his heart, hope to die. He hunts sharks. He goes all over the world. Sometimes he has to go down in his diving cage. He uses a spear gun. Sometimes, a knife.”

“Stop talking about sharks. You’ll get nightmares.”

“Not me. I love sharks. I wish I was one!” And he dived full-length into the bunched quilt.

Nightmares or not, the next morning he was in his grey flannel uniform and tight-pinched shoes, his schoolbag on his shoulder. The high-pitched chatter and screams of the schoolyard carried from the bottom of the road as Evan’s mum walked with him to the gates.

“He might even be here,” Evan said.

“Who?”

“Tony’s dad, the shark hunter.”

“That’d be nice. You got your packed lunch, now?”

“Look, here’s Tony now! You don’t believe me, but I’ll ask him.”

“Oh no – don’t embarrass him,” Evan’s mum said.

But it was too late. There, approaching the gate from the opposite side, was a beautiful little blond boy with huge, wide blue eyes, clutching his mother’s hand. She was no more than a girl, with long brown hair that had lost its shine somewhere. Her eyes were pinched and sleepy, and she seemed to be wearing pyjamas and slippers underneath a deep blue fleece top. She could be no more than twenty.

“Tony!” Evan said, delighted to see his friend. “Here’s my mum… Tell her, Tony. Tell her about your dad.”

The boy let go of his mother’s hand and straightened up, proud. “My dad’s a shark hunter,” he said. “He’s hunted them all – great whites. Tiger sharks. Whale sharks. He’s even hunted a mako.”

Evan frowned. “What’s a mako?”

“A shark.”

“She didn’t believe me!” Evan said, pointing at his mother. “You’ll bring him in to meet us, won’t you?”

Tony nodded. “That’s right. He’s at sea right now, but he’ll be back soon. Won’t he mum?”

Tony’s mum nodded, almost imperceptibly, but said nothing.

“Race you!” Tony suddenly cried. The two boys tore into the yard, joining the rest of the chanting, screaming throng of youngsters.

“Kids, eh?” Tony’s mum said. She fished in her pocket for a cigarette.

Evan’s mum nodded. She opened her mouth, on the verge of saying something, some note of consolation, but the girl had already turned and started off down the hill.

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