High Hopes and Sunken Ships
An Illustrated Journey of Stagnancy
Two sharks sat in the corner of a coffee shop built out of a sunken Portuguese man-of-war, one with a pen and paper, the other with a laptop. The one, a great white named Luna Daisy Sharkowski, was working on the next great Pacific Garbage Patch novel. Across from Luna, a tiger shark named Richard Sharker doodled cartoons. Richard was a freelance cartoonist who wanted nothing more than to work for The New Yorker as their first apex predator since Jeffrey Toobin. Nearby, a scuba diver ordered a cappuccino that, through the strength of its velvety foam alone, stays together even under fifty feet of water.
“She’s a pervert,” Luna said, sipping on an americano.
Richard groaned, “she’s a marine biologist,” and engulfed his latte, cup, and all.
“Oh, so she’s a professional pervert.” Luna rolled her eyes, “and would you stop being a trash compactor! This is—” she lowered her voice as a puffer fish floated by, “this is an upscale place! If they see you doing, well, doing tiger shark stuff they’ll kick us out! Then where would we work?”
“Tiger shark things? Now that’s a generalization,” Richard replied as a license plate dislodged from his teeth and floated quietly to the floor.
“I’m getting another americano,” Luna sighed, swimming out of her seat and brushing by the scuba diver to wait in line behind a puffer fish.
“Grab me a vanilla cappuccino while you’re at it,” Richard said, “I’m feeling dangerous.”
Richard sat alone, finishing his cartoon with a sigh before shuffling it in with all his other finished drawings. As a look of predatory focus conquered his face, he started another drawing. Luna, meanwhile, continued to wait patiently behind the puffer fish as it perused the entire drink menu for, it seemed, the first time.
“What’s the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?” The puffer asked the barista, a moray eel who looked all too enthusiastic to answer the question. As the moray explained, Luna drowned out the noise, focusing on the opening of her book.
I was a shark, and he was a fisherman. We met off the coast of South Africa. I was thirty-five, just testing the waters of my prime while the old man had already given most of his years to the sea. I had been caught in his net and pulled aboard, only for him to be caught in my net as he stared into the obsidian orbs of my eyes.
“You beautiful creature,” he said, as he heaved with his muscular body to push me back into the water.
I had felt the dry, painful air flow through my gills, and the idea of being with a man flow through my heart for the first time. The saltwater filtered through—
“What do you usually get?” the high-pitched, nasal voice of a pufferfish snapped Luna from her reverie.
“What do you usually get?” the puffer asked again, staring up at Luna with bright, hopeful eyes.
“Americano, but the cappuccino is good too,” Luna responded.
“Yay!” the puffer cried, turning towards the counter to place its order.
Richard, meanwhile, had finished another drawing. He looked at the cartoon with an unreadable look on his face, and crumpled it into oblivion before staring into space.
* Richard did not wish to share this illustration*
The saltwater filtered through me, but I felt I couldn’t breathe as I stared up through the cresting lens of choppy seawater at the figure who stared longingly down at me. I—
“You’re right!” The puffer declared, staring up at Luna as it took soft sips from a cappuccino with its beak.
“Yes, thank you,” Luna smiled a thousand tooth smile, “another americano please,” she redirected to the moray barista.
The moray slipped through the water with an incredible grace, making the drink at the speed of a twirling baton before placing it gently on the counter and accepting Luna’s card with her tiny fins.
I could feel his eyes glowing like the moon through the—
“Can I try your drink?” The puffer inquired, taking a noisy sip from its cappuccino.
“What?” Luna asked.
“Your drink, can I try it?”
The puffer made no indications that it would shift its gaze away from Luna. The little fish was stuck to her like a lamprey.
“I guess,” Luna shrugged, but felt deeply uncomfortable as the small puffer fish took sips from her americano.
“Ohhhhhh!” the puffer sirened, and floated away to talk to the moray behind the counter.
Luna shook her gigantic head and swam back to the table to find an amused Richard doodling away.
“Did you hear any of that?” Luna asked, staring at pages of rough draft on her laptop screen and setting Richard’s vanilla cappuccino down next to his paper.
She looked over at what Richard was working on, letting a light laugh that reminded her of both Richard’s talent and her secret affections towards him.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” The puffer fish floated next to Luna and Richard.
“No, I—” Luna began.
“Sure thing!” Richard replied, sliding his pile of paper over to make room.
“Thanks,” the puffer paused as it sat down its cup and loitered into the chair, “friends.”
“Okay hold on—” Luna began, but stopped as she had a thought.
Were those the eyes that had launched a boat a thousand times? Could those eyes be affixed to her mundanity after so many years of watching the magnificent sunsets?
“I want to try your drink,” the puffer eyed Richard, who obliged with a motioning of his blade-like fin.
“Mmmmmm,” the puffer hummed in Luna’s ear at the resonant frequency of whatever part of her brain processed irritation.
“So, what do you do for a living?” The puffer asked.
“I work in advertising,” Richard replied, setting another drawing aside.
“I write, I’m a writer. I’m trying to be a writer,” Luna said, turning her focus back towards her laptop.
“I’m a poison donor,” George declared, and then fell silent.
Had I not been caught in his net, could I have been content living with my free—
“My name is George,” the puffer replied, “what do you write?”
“Uhhh,” Luna was stunned, “I write love stories.”
“I love those!” George perked up even more ebulliently than before. “So, you write sex stuff?”
Luna spit out some of her cappuccino, “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“I like the sex stuff,” George nodded to Richard in unrequited solidarity.
“Don’t we all,” Richard muttered, sorting another finished drawing into the pile.
There was a noiseless bliss that settled over the table as George took devoted sips from his drink. Still, as Luna took quick glances at the puffer, his eyes filled with an exuberant life that she found absolutely draining. She took a deep breath, and prepared to begin the next chapter of her story.
“Can you draw me?” George suddenly asked.
“My pleasure,” Richard replied, shifting his focus towards the puffer as he scribbled.
A pod of dolphins began pouring into the coffee shop, each one identical to the next. They formed a swift, synchronized line at the counter, and talked amongst themselves with nasal voices.
“Ugh, sorority types,” Luna groaned.
“You could just admire the view,” Richard replied.
“Pervert,” Luna said.
“Observant artist,” Richard corrected.
How could a man in love with the beauty of the world be content with but one creature in its waters? How could he—
“I want to try their drinks too,” George floated towards the pod as they all carried their coffees snugly in their blow holes.
“He’s insufferable,” Luna grumbled.
“What’s wrong with that?” Richard asked, tossing aside a drawing and starting on George's portrait.
“Look,” Luna said, pointing towards George, who was working his way through each dolphin’s drink without a care in the world.
“He wants to experience the rich diversity of life.” Richard shrugged. “As a writer, I figured you’d admire that.”
The pod left the coffee shop with a nasal ruckus, and George spent a moment isolated in the center of the sunken ship, his face glowing with happiness as he spun around slowly for unknown reasons before barreling towards the table like a rotund torpedo with a napkin clenched in his beak.
“What’s that?” Luna asked, and George spat out the paper.
“Phone numbers,” George replied.
“You’re kidding,” Luna rolled her charcoal eyes.
Richard nudged his portrait of George over to the puffer with a slight, contented smile.
“I love it!” George shrieked, “thank you!”
It was my moment, my chance, I had to make the man love me in a moment, but how? How could I?
“Can you do the flippy air thing?” George snapped Luna from her reverie.
“Yes,” she replied with a sigh.
In an instant, instinct took over. I plunged into the depths before flying back up, breaking the surface in a magnificent arc through the air. His eyes lit up with the lights of a sunrise in their boundaries.
“Can I read what you’re writing?” George asked, proceeding to float over and start reading off the laptop.
Luna took a deep breath, looking around at the coffee shop to delay her response. There was, however, nobody else but the moray eel, George, and Richard.
“Yeah, sure,” Luna said, angling the laptop so that George could read it.
George’s eyes flashed from side to side, scanning the pages with an unexpected efficiency before he nodded, and Luna pulled the laptop back into its productive position in front of her.
The puffer said nothing for a moment, but then, his beak shot open like a cooked mussel, “Oh, it’s just like My Fisherman and Me by Dorothea Dolphin! I love that story!”
“Yeah,” Luna felt her heart sink into the floor, and, with the crippling fear of emulation guiding her hand, deleted her manuscript at once.
“I think I’m going to start coming here more often,” George chirped.
“Glad to have you join us,” Richard replied, tossing aside another drawing. George looked over it and laughed.
Luna, meanwhile, after several minutes of despair, began another story.
Two sharks sat in the corner of a coffee shop—