Eric Van Hoose
Reading Time: 1.5 minutes
"Shark Prince" originally appeared in Issue 20 of Tahoma Literary Review. I was drawn in by how the details of this piece enhance the grief of the mother––the "snouts, beaks, trunks, tails, horns, hooves, whiskers, tentacles, manes."
Nine days after Chad goes missing, stuffed animals begin to arrive. Now, there are too many.
Bonnie looks at the pile—snouts, beaks, trunks, tails, horns, hooves, whiskers, tentacles, manes. Their eyes look nowhere and into all places at once. The pile nears the ceiling.
The FedEx driver asks what is going on. The UPS driver asks, too. Bonnie asks if she can make it stop, and for once, the news is good: Yes. They can hold the packages. For now, for a little while, it can stop.
Chad’s photo has made the national news. Bonnie knows this is because Chad is a handsome boy. The boxes come from Denver, Boise, Wichita, Indianapolis, Philadelphia. At first, she tried sorting—mammals, sea creatures, reptiles. But now there are too many. Now, they are all together.
In Chad’s bedroom, the cloth and stuffing dampen the sound. For a moment, Bonnie half-senses a presence on her skin. It is uncomfortable and soothing. For a moment, she doesn’t move.
She selects another box and slits the tape. Inside is a very small crocodile with crossed eyes.
Near-universally: small creatures have been enlarged, giant animals miniaturized. There is a foot-long ant, a hippopotamus smaller than a child’s fist. She looks at their faces, their eyes.
Bonnie has worked all day. She is tired. She is ready for bed, though she knows that when she lies down, she won’t find rest. She chooses a small box. It will be the last for the night. She cuts it open and withdraws a pink and blue shark. It wears a golden crown and a smile that conveys a dim sense of inner awareness. The toy’s texture and heft invite a squeeze. Bonnie gives it a squeeze. The shark smiles on. Bonnie squeezes, now, harder than she should. Her cheeks pack with blood. She stops breathing in order to concentrate on creating force. There is weight in her teeth, blood crowding her eyes. The shark, if it could feel pain, would feel pain now. When Bonnie can hold her breath no longer, she throws the shark against the wall (and a small scream escapes, is absorbed). She inhales, looks at the pile. The shark’s crown has come detached and rests against the wall. There in the corner, is the shark.
Eric had this to say about his piece:
One of my favorite short story writers is James Purdy; he often places opposites in close proximity and follows the resulting tension to its breaking point. Here, I’m mostly imitating him: the mother’s grief for her missing boy plays out against an outpouring of love and kindness, but sometimes even love isn’t enough. This is part of a novel in progress.
Eric Van Hoose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio; his fiction has appeared in CutBank, Sycamore Review, Bat City Review, Bluestem, STORGY, and elsewhere.