The Plight of Pursuit
Time laps by quickly, even for a Greenland shark over five centuries old
I was born doused in darkness, and in it, I shall die if I don’t find The Light. Green, ethereal, like bioluminescent jellies pirouetting my mind, it beckons me. Imbues me with urgency, with purpose. At seven thousand feet below the Arctic, I have millions of square miles to cover before Time swaddles me in her uncompromising womb. My greatest ally and adversary, this quest is all-consuming, filling me with dread heavier than a glacier. But a life without meaning is no life at all. So, with this truth, I dive on.
“Always in a hurry.” Margrét shakes her bulbous head and rolls, fins flopping, until she rips off a mouthful of polar bear carrion. “Grandma lived for three hundred and seven winters before Time called her home.”
I gulp. “Did she find The Light?”
She squints at me with her good eye. The other wriggles with a glowing worm that blinded her a century back. I once offered to remove the parasite, but she protested, joking that, aside from me, Ragnheiður—she’d gone as far as naming it in Old Norse for ‘clear and sincere adviser’—was her closest chum. Hilarious, this one.
“You and your light.” She nudges the bloody fur towards me. “Simplicity is divinity.”
I take a bite, lest she scold me. But like everything I eat, seal, fish, squid, even the rare reindeer, it’s bland. Gristly. Certainly not as tasty as my friend claims. Why does she revel in the mundane?
“Ready?” she asks.
I nod, and we dive beneath the glittering facets of an iceberg, moving at our typical glacial pace, much to my irritation. Hours smear by. Blue deepens to gray, then black, tepid to cozy, cool, and the velvety depths embrace me. A plankton speck of tension melts away. Calm is darkness’s most soothing lullaby.
“It’ll fade, you know?” Margrét tickles an octopus who quickly spirals away.
“Your need to find something bigger, better. Enlightening.”
I scoff. “How do you know?”
“You turn one-fifty next month, yeah?”
“Classic midlife crisis for any Greenland shark.” She winks at my glare. “You’ll see.”
Margrét was wrong. The only thing that faded was my patience, especially with the blokes of my species. They pursued me relentlessly. Pleading to bump fins.
“Popping out baby sharks isn’t my destiny,” I’d say, brushing them away.
Finally, they acquiesced, leaving me be.
Now, alone, a winter shy of two-fifty, I explore once again. Seeking The Light that haunts me. Drives me. Moves me. Serves as my mantra as I swim beneath the dense waves. I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, but never stop pressing forward. There’s no time for dithering. True happiness awaits only when I seize my fate.
Years slip by quickly.
The sleek silhouettes of longships expand to whale-sized hulls. Shiny, intricate gadgets with blinking lights—not green, to my dismay—submerge deep below, invading my bubble, increasing my anxiety. The water isn’t as cold as it used to be, either, no matter how deep I dive. I wish I could swim faster, so I could explore further, but I’ve filled out. Twenty-three feet in length, and a tad over a ton, I’m doomed to move slower than whale fall decomposes. The mother-of-pearl lining? At least the humans in fur coats don’t stalk us anymore. At least, not like before. Maybe the heat got them too.
One evening, off the coast of Iceland, a familiar scent tickles me. Followed by the glint of a tail. I circle a reef and, just as I begin to grin, my gills clamp shut. Margrét lies in the most unnatural position, fins limp by her sides.
“Dying?” she wheezes. “Yes.”
Throat tight, I struggle for words.
“It’s alright.” She offers a weak smile. “I’ve lived a good, long life. Four hundred seventy winters, in fact. I’ve had multiple lovers, babies, tried every kind of carrion delicacy you could imagine. I’ve grappled with sailors, circumnavigated the Arctic Circle more times than I can count, and, most importantly, I’ve been blessed with some loyal chums who’ve given my life richer meaning. Made it worth living.”
I can’t look her in the eyes, even though now, they’re cloudy as clamshells. “I’ve been a shit friend.”
“Was actually talking about Ragnheiður.” She lets out a strangled laugh that sounds more like a cough. “Though I lost her a couple hundred years back.” Always the jokester, even in her final hour.
Still, her humor does nothing to console me. “I should’ve made an effort to visit you. I should’ve—”
“Regrets are as useful as cut anchors. No amount of wishing will fasten them back. Besides, what’s important is you’re here now. To say goodbye.”
I want to ask about her adventures. About the sailors she’s fought, the babies she’s mothered. If she’s ever seen The Light. Instead, all I can do is watch as her once vivacious body goes limp as uprooted seaweed.
Today, I am five hundred and thirteen winters. I should be celebrating. No Greenland shark has ever lived this long. But I have regrets. Margrét, were she still alive, would scold me. Would remind me to rejoice. To celebrate the small things. Yet, in pursuit of The Light, I gave up living along the way. I’ve never had a lover, a baby. Rarely surfaced for fear of getting caught. Never took joy in sampling carrion nor stopped to admire the sweeping oceanscapes I’ve seen on my quest. Nothing was ever enough. I didn’t allow myself to be happy because I thought the ending was all that mattered. But what do I have to show for it? The Light must not exist.
Failure clutches my heart.
No, I choke.
Time has come to reclaim me. I’m not ready—
A flash. A glimmer. A burst of bright light.
I freeze. Peer up through shadowy waves. Green dances like lightning. Pulse slowing, I force myself up. Try to move faster, to reach the surface before it’s too late. But every stroke is like swimming through whale blubber. The water warms as I slide into shallower depths, body shuddering, trying to shut down.
My heart stops as I blast through the surface but, before my eyes close for the last time, they lock on what I surrendered my life to—a symphony of emerald ribbons plays across the lavender sky.