Steve Amick | Because of Jaws

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Because of Jaws
By Steve Amick
Date of publication: 
May 14, 2014

It was because of Jaws that she never went back to the water, ocean-wary at nine, turning away from the beach to the sweatier sides of summer: pumping down back roads on a banana seat bike, clinging to the sliver of shade tilting between the Dairy Twist and the clam shack, her back to the wall, safe against the cool cinder blocks, staring out at the distant shore and the tiny, happily fat. And, of course, there was always the library.

It was because of Jaws that she stopped going, in those unsupervised packs, to the matinees with friends in cut-offs and a wafting of smoke and because of Jaws that she withdrew into herself and books and left the family to their bodysurfing and unnecessary splashing; their fate-tempting fun.

It was because of Jaws, then, that she followed a path to library science, and because of Jaws that she only considered the Midwestern schools, turning her back on the Atlantic when it came time for college, ignoring the snipes of her Ivy League folks.

It was because of Jaws, in a way, that she wound up married to a man from Michigan. It was because of Jaws that she gave up her part of the family’s well-brined house on Martha’s Vineyard in exchange for a cash buyout from her sisters and brother, and put that money toward the cottage they found, just south of Grand Haven, right on the lake. It was because of Jaws that her first time shopping for a swimsuit since she was nine was at a maternity shop.

It was because of the lake that she relearned to swim, cribbing from a library Red Cross book. It was because of the lake that she knew once again what it was like to let go, to lie back and let that body fat she otherwise detested do her a solid, for once. It was because of the lake that her mind, normally rigid, disciplined, was allowed to float, too, as she bobbed on the waves. It was because of the lake she could reset her soul and reset her life the year her husband strayed. It was because of the lake that things looked better, like they might still work, with the help of the summer and their brand new boat.

It was because of the Asian carp she stopped going in the water and because of the carp she stopped going out on the boat. Even with sharks, you were generally okay in the boat, but now she wouldn’t even have that. It was because of the Asian carp, monstrous invaders, some up to eighty pounds, her own weight at the start of high school, leaping from the depths in the rivers just south of there, creeping north, coming for her, that she slept worse now at the lake than back at home, terrorized by flashes of footage from CNN, the reporter blackened and bruised by the lunging fish as their motor stirred them to frenzy, flung to the deck; boaters with broken noses, some knocked overboard; swimmers chased from the roiling water.

It was because of Jaws she saw the attacks as personal. It was because of Jaws she viewed their open maws as doom-dealers, though she’d yet to see one in Lake Michigan. It was because of Jaws even a photo could make her shriek.

It was because of the lake that her husband insisted on spending the next summer out there, at the cottage, on the boat, on the dock, on his own when she opted to teach a summer session; when she decided that she would simply not have the time, this year, to leave their home near campus.

It was because of the Asian carp she got a little tipsy at a faculty party and said something hateful about the Japanese.

It was because of the Asian carp, that potential marauder, darting from the deep, — and because of Jaws and because of the pull of Lake Michigan, when she first saw it, years ago, shimmering with light, limitless — and because of it all, that she found herself standing boneless on the cottage porch, watching the Realtor pound in the sign, feeling as stuck as that post.


Steve Amick is a twice-recipient of the Michigan Notable Book Award for his novels Nothing But a Smile (2009) and The Lake, the River & the Other Lake (2005), a Washington Post Book of the Year. Some of the places his stories have appeared include McSweeney’s, Zoetrope: All-Story, Playboy, Story, Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, Five Chapters, National Public Radio and the New York Times. He has had plays produced in Chicago and won several advertising awards including the Clio. Recently, he has been teaching in Northwestern’s MFA workshop and is a member of the faculty at Pacific University’s acclaimed low-residence MFA program, yet he still lives in Ann Arbor.