By Stephen Duffin
Tom screamed. “Dad,” he yelled. “There’s a shark in the swimming pool!”
“Don’t be silly,” called his father working upstairs. “It’s just your imagination.”
Tom watched the shark swim round the pool as if circling prey, its dorsal fin slicing through the cool water. Tom trembled on the patio, fear chilling his spine.
He gathered his courage to lean over the side of the pool. “How did you get in there?”
“How do you think?” said the shark, sounding like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. “I got the bus from the ocean, of course. How else would I get here?”
Tom stood up. “Sharks don’t normally catch buses.”
“I’m not a normal shark, am I?”
“What sort of shark are you?”
“I’m a hungry shark.”
“There’s no food up here.”
“You look tasty enough.”
“I’m just skin and bone.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
Tom noticed the shark had a small fedora carefully balanced on his head, while his right fin held a tiny, pearl-handled revolver. “One false move,” said the shark, pointing the gun at Tom, “and I’ll pump you full of lead!”
“Okay,” said Tom, sticking his hands in the air. “What do you want?”
The shark grinned, flashing rows of glinting white teeth. “I want a quarter-pounder with fries, and a strawberry shake every day. Got that?”
“Are you sure?” asked the shark. “Do you think your tiny human brain can handle it? Would you like me to write it down for you?”
“No,” said Tom. “I’ll remember.”
“Good,” said the shark. “So what are you waiting for?”
Tom heard his father shouting in the background. “What’s all that racket, Tom? Have you finished your homework?”
“And don’t forget your chores. Take out the trash, mow the lawn, and wash the car.”
Tom forgot all that as he ran to the shops. After all, the shark was hungry.
They’d moved to the house after Tom’s mom died. The pool came with the house. Tom’s dad only lived there to be near work so he hardly went near the pool. He worked for the IRS, squeezing blood from helpless citizens.
Tom preferred cinema.
He loved watching movies and wrote scripts, weaving words into a twisting, twirling, tumbling maze of wizards, witches, and warlocks. Across the galaxy, angry aliens blasted intergalactic photon torpedoes at spaceships from Alpha Centauri.
His father disapproved. “Shouldn’t you be revising Latin verbs,” he yelled one day from his desk. “And don’t forget mathematics, calculus, and trigonometry.”
Tom groaned. “But Dad,” he said, “I’m writing a screenplay about Martian spaceships crash-landing in Central Park. All the Martians are on a Special Needs Diet and can only eat chocolate ice-cream!”
“What rubbish,” said his father. “Why are your grades so bad? Have you studied geometry and differentials?”
“No, Dad. I’ve been watching old films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.”
“All that big screen rubbish is for idiots,” yelled his father.
“It is not!”
“You need a real job where you earn proper money.”
“I want a job that I love…”
“You’re useless,” said his father. “You’ll never fit in.”
That night, Tom sat out by the pool. “I’m fed up,” he said to the shark, feeding it some chocolate fudge ice-cream as a treat. “I’ll probably never get a job and I don’t know what will happen…”
“Don’t worry,” said the shark, adjusting its fedora. “Have faith in Magic Realism.”
“Will that help?”
The shark winked at him. “Wait and see.”
The next day, Tom talked to one of his mates who offered him a job as a runner for a movie crew. It paid almost nothing, but Tom didn’t care. This is great news, he thought, grinning like a circus clown waving a blank cheque. He took the job, soon making friends with the cast and crew.
“Another waste of time,” said his father. “You’ll end up on welfare like all those bloody creative types. Why can’t you work in an office?”
Tom shrugged. “I’m writing a screenplay.”
“Why can’t you do something normal?”
“I love my work,” said Tom. “Maybe I’ll get lucky?”
Tom’s script got made into a short film.
His father watched it. “Complete trash,” he muttered. “Why was the hero only a poet? Why was his girlfriend a dancer? Why didn’t it have a happy ending?”
“The director liked it,” said Tom. “He says I’ve got a future.”
“Looked like junk to me,” said his father. “I have important work to do. I must assess these tax returns…”
“You only love money,” said Tom. “Why don’t you get a life?”
“Why don’t you get a proper job?” snapped his father, his face glowing red with anger. “Why can’t you train as an accountant?”
“But I love films.”
“I’m ashamed of you,” yelled his father, hurling a giant tome on tax law at Tom. “You’re a disgrace!”
Tom focused on cinema, worked hard, and one day came racing home. “Dad,” he called, “I’ve got great news!”
He couldn’t find his dad anywhere. “Where are you?” he yelled. “I won a full scholarship to film school! All fees paid!”
He spoke to the shark. “Have you seen my dad?”
The shark nodded. “It was so hot he came out for a swim.”
The shark burped. “I ate him…”