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Authors: Karen Rivers

Before We Go Extinct

BOOK: Before We Go Extinct
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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For Peter Benchley, who changed my life with his book

 

1

My foot is stuck in the toilet bowl in the closet-sized bathroom in the two-bedroom walk-up I live in with my mom on the corner above Alf's Bodega.

I fell in hard, footfirst. I was trying to see the roof of the For Reel Fish Market, checking for shark fins drying out there in the hotter-than-it-should-be June sun.

It's not that I don't like the owner, Mrs. Stein, I do. I just thought maybe she was cashing in so she could move to Florida. There's more money in shark fins, pound for pound, than anything else in the sea. Somewhere along the line I stopped trusting everyone, even the lady who gives me free shrimp when I walk by, calls me “boychick,” and cried when I broke my arm trying to take off from the fire hydrant out front when I was five.

Spoiler: people can't fly.

Mrs. S. has an old yellowed photo of Key West taped to the peeling wall over the cash register. She talks about how she'd do anything she could to get there, to have that life, to smell those flowers and the sunscreen and sea salt. In the Keys, it's all sand and rusty bikes and tropical drinks and music. She won't take her troubles with her. There will be no Mr. S. scratching his eczema-encrusted arms and grunting and no customers shouting about the price of crab these days. It will be so perfect, empty, free, and blue that she maybe wouldn't feel guilty about her part in destroying the ocean's balance and depleting the atmosphere of oxygen, killing us all.

The truth is, that's what's happening and no one cares. The sharks will be all fished out sooner than you think, the balance of the food chain will be tipped. You think it doesn't matter, but it does. Most of our oxygen comes from plankton in the sea. If there isn't enough oxygen, our lungs will fill up with carbon dioxide. The end. The failure of the species.

The failure of us.

Not tomorrow, not next week, but soon enough that we
should
be panicking. We should be doing everything we can to stop it. But we aren't. We're going to let it happen. We'll just sit here and slowly die, pacified by our own dumb existences that don't even matter. Not really. Not to the whole big world.

As it happens, there aren't any shark fins on the Steins' roof, and now my foot is wedged into the bowl at an angle that looks like a joke picture someone should post on social media. But it sure doesn't feel like a joke, and I don't post stuff like that and LOL. Not anymore.
#becausenothingisfunnynow

If there had been even one triangular hunk of flesh up there, I could have been a hero, shutting down another illegal finning operation, just like the guy who made that movie
Sharkwater
. That movie changed my life. The movie that turned me into Sharkboy, which turned into Sharky. The movie that I happened to see before my first day at the Richer-Than-You Academy for Famous People's Kids and One Charity Case—guess which one I am?—so that when they put me on the spot and told me that I had to introduce myself to the school by doing an impromptu speech about something I cared about, the sharks were right there, still sinking, bleeding, finless, in my mind and it was all I could think to talk about. I didn't think I'd
cry
. People don't forget stuff like that, as it turns out: the new guy, six feet tall, sweating into his hair, nervous, then bursting into real, actual tears at the podium on their fancy stage.

Because we're all going to die!

Yeah? Sissy.

But if you think about it, what better thing is there to cry about? People? You want to cry about
people
dying? Why?

It happens.

People die. No one is immortal. We're just a bunch of organs stuffed into a skin sack, waiting for something to fail.

Waiting to fall.

After that, the sharks and I were forever linked. I was Sharkboy to most people; Great White to The King, which was kind of two types of jokes: one about my race, and one about the shark of the same name. There were ruder things to be called. They could have gone with Crybaby, or worse. And me, well, I
like
being lumped in with the sharks. Sharks have always been my favorite things. Think about it. They are amazing in a hundred different ways. A thousand.

Besides, the ocean is my kind of place, full of silence and mysteries and species people haven't even discovered yet. Things that have never been seen, never been co-opted by humans, never been destroyed by greed. We always kill the stuff that matters. Who needs outer space when we have so much we don't understand yet right here, our own secret universe that we mostly ignore, take for granted, and throw plastic garbage into, destroying everything?

Not me. I don't take anything for granted.

I flip my cell phone around and around in my hand, slapping it against my palm over and over. My sweaty fingers leave marks on the screen. I can feel my pulse in my foot, thrumming like the music I can sometimes feel coming up through the floor from 3B. Not today though. Today, it's quiet.

I'd call someone to help me out here, but I stopped talking a while back and I can't think when or why I'll ever start again.
My foot is stuck in the toilet
doesn't seem like reason enough to break this impenetrable barrier that I've made by being silent for so long that it's gelled like that and no one can reach all the way through. It's a lot like being underwater and there's a reason why fish don't make sounds.

Besides, there's always texting.

Help
, I type with my greasy finger.
I've fallen and I can't get up.
I take a picture of my foot down there, a million miles away, white sock in blue water.
#footinthebowl #awkward #helpme
Then I run it through a filter that makes it look like Mrs. Stein's Florida snapshot: white border, water turned aquamarine. She doesn't just want to go to Florida, she wants to go to Florida in 1960, through a time travel machine that erases all the crappy big box stores that make every city in America virtually the same as every other one. Not that I'd ever tell her that. What does it hurt that she believes that
that
Florida still exists? She'll never get there. Most people spend their whole lives dreaming of a future that never comes.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming. I'd like to do a little time traveling myself. I'd like to go back exactly twenty-four days, give or take an hour or two. I'd like to do something completely different on that day. I'd like to change everything.

I tap Send. The phone makes that sound that makes me think of carrier pigeons, swooping between buildings with my message strapped to their leg. They'll have a long way to fly to get it to The King, who is buried in a graveyard in Connecticut, where his dad and wife Number Seven have a summer place that they go to on hot long weekends to drink their pompous sparkling drinks, clattering with ice cubes. It's what counts as hobbies to those people: congratulating themselves for being rich, smugly offering each other handshakes and air kisses like they are blessings from the pope, and drinking, always sipping something from a goblet held in their manicured hands.

I think they buried The King's phone with him. I bet it's buzzing right now, down there in the marble box where he is lying.

#LOL,
I type, even though nothing is funny.

Swoop, swoop.

I finally yank my stupid foot out of the bowl—which is harder than you'd think it would be, a crunching and popping comes from the joint and I feel it in my stomach—and push the handle, wishing I could flush my whole self. I'd disappear and be gone for good, spat out into the sea where I'd swim away from shore instead of toward it, swim and swim and swim until finally a fin would surface beside me, then another, and there I'd be, surrounded. And for some reason, they would be saying,
Thanks, Sharkboy, thanks.
And I'd be like,
Think nothing of it, friends.
(This is a fantasy, so obviously being able to speak to sharks is totally a given.) And that would be that, me floating there on my back, ears filled up with water, muffling everything. Me, in the gray waves, staring up at the sky, and the sharks swimming around and around and around, slipping through the water like something too graceful to exist on land, something too beautiful. All of us out there together, away from this, so far away that somehow we'd be saved.

 

2

Let's get this part straight:

No matter what you might have heard or read on the Internet, falling was not in The King's plan when he fell from the steel beam jutting out of the forty-second floor of his dad's newest building, which was under construction on Eleventh and Fifty-Third, three Tuesdays ago at 4:27 in the afternoon. What the media hacks didn't mention was we did that all the time. Not the falling, you understand. Obviously. But it was where we hung out. The husks of incomplete skyscrapers were our playground. We skateboarded on the huge, empty floors. We balanced on the steel beams. We ran up the walls, leaving dusty footprints higher than you'd think would be possible, backflipping off. We taught ourselves parkour because the buildings were there and we had the keys and why not? It felt just dangerous enough. Sometimes we didn't make it, we'd lie in the dust bleeding but high from it all the same. We flew from one side of the building to another, careering off piles of tiles, toolboxes, scrap metal, or Sheetrock. Then, when we got tired of that, we'd get daring. Like superheroes who never actually did anything heroic, we'd stand above the city, above everyone. We'd look down, fighting the part of our brain that wanted us to get away from the edge, to stay away from all the edges. We clawed it back, that's what it felt like, like you were actually tearing your sanity away to force yourself to stand there, looking down. There was adrenaline in our knees and our guts but doing it felt like
winning
. Nothing would happen but also everything could. Anything.

BOOK: Before We Go Extinct
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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