What Sharks are Made Of: Fionn Murray

What Sharks are Made Of: Fionn Murray


and ghosts love company don’t they.

You roll over on the bed till you’re face up but in the dark you can’t hardly tell the

the difference between the wall and the ceiling.

The shiny burgundy bedsheets that Maggie bought in Clery’s are all in disarray.

You roll over. And you can hear the ghosts

in the house.

The ghosts are always there

just like your big bottle of Jameson just like your sagging rotting belly just like your hair and your eyes and

your nose and your lips.

You can’t see the ghosts

you can’t see anything

except a sliver of moonlight through the curtains. A little sliver of moonlight shining on the wallpaper with the fishes on it

fishes that used to be goldfishes but the wallpaper’s so old they’ve gone yellow. You think about how long ago the wallpapering must’ve been done.

And the ghosts think about it too because they’re always there.

The things that’re never there: Maggie and hot dinners and shaving gear and the eldest and the youngest well

well the youngest speaks for himself doesn’t he.

You roll over and suddenly you can’t see the moonlight anymore

the sliver’s gone.

You can’t see the ghosts now

not that you could before but

they’re always there watching you

breathing down your neck and blowing smoke into your eyes.

A cloud passed in front of the moon putting a stopper in the moonlight. A navy cloud.

Same colour as the tracksuit bottoms the youngest was always wearing

when they weren’t mucky.

He’d never wear anything else

even to his first confession

even to funerals.

And then the eldest’d be asking you -what kind of cloud is that dad? Is that cumulus?-

And you’d say -sure I dunno-.

You wish it was one of those moonless nights you get down here. Not at home.

Down here you could show the boys Jupiter and the North Star

and tell them that up in space there’s no air

and there’s no sound either.

You can scream all you want

and no one hears you

no matter how loud.

-Like underwater dad.- says the eldest. It’s not a question but he still needs

needs his da to make sure.

-Just like underwater- you say to him.

The youngest wasn’t listening. He wasn’t the kind to be worrying about stars and Jupiter and underwater.

The youngest was the kind of boy who said -pecifically- when he meant -specifically-.

Who’d still be saying that years later

even when he’d got his own job and his own house.

When he’d be speaking for himself.

And then your eyes are fluttering like petals in the wind and here comes

here comes

here comes the waterworks. What was it Mags used to say -ah here now Joe don’t be lettin the boys see you crying-.

She didn’t want to be reminded.

So you don’t cry. Instead

you roll over

in this bed.

You kick the burgundy bedsheets clumsily to the floor.

You’re too drunk to feel the cold anyway.

You wonder why you even bother to walk from the living room to the bedroom every day.

You wonder because

days are spent undressed in the living room wide awake.

And nights are spent undressed in the bedroom wide awake.

And the bottle of Jameson is always


always at the ready.

Because every day is the same.

And it has to be the Jameson. I mean sure you can’t remember the last time you ate anything solid or had a proper shave

but you have standards.

But by now being drunk and being not drunk are like the same thing

just a kind of a thick fug. You sometimes think you can’t even feel the Jameson anymore

like you’re not even there

like you’re a ghost and the Jameson just passes straight through you.

You’re a ghost and

and ghosts love company don’t they.

The only way you know you’re drunk anymore is how many times

how many times you have the same thought. When you’re drunk your thoughts keep on

keep on skipping like a dodgy chain on a bike jumping

jumping the gears.

And every thought you have

it’s like the first time you’ve ever had it

even if you’ve had it a hundred times before.

So you’ll think -I’d better go to the bathroom- and forget about it and

and five minutes later -I’d better go to the bathroom- and

and half an hour later -I’d better go to the bathroom- and

and in the end you don’t even bother and vomit in the fireplace.

When you get sick

the ghosts are right beside you.

What would Mags say if she saw you

getting sick in her good fireplace. I mean sure it might be your house but it’s her kitchen it’s her living room it’s her good fireplace.

But not anymore.

You don’t even feel sick when you get sick. You feel ridiculous.

You’ve got a mortgage and health insurance.

You’ve got a pension plan.

You’re old enough that you feel silly calling your da -dad-.

And look at you

shoving your fingers down your throat in front of a dusty fireplace.

Just like how every day on the way from the bedroom to the living room you go into the jacks and rest your throat on the toilet seat.

in her good bathroom

the good bathroom with the blocked toilet and the shower curtain torn down and the cracked mirror.

You remember when you came down here for the week during the Easter when the eldest was about thirteen and

and sure they’re so keen to experiment

at that age. You couldn’t sleep worrying about the accounts and

about one in the morning every night

when he thought everyone else was asleep

you’d hear him sneak into the bathroom and

and start experimenting.

There wasn’t even a lock on the bathroom door

this house was built in the days when there were never any locks on the bathroom door

because people assumed that what you did in the bathroom was everybody’s business.

The next morning you were glad the eldest never really looked anyone in the eye.

Sometimes you know that if the eldest came down here

you’d still hear him experimenting away in the middle of the night.

You’ll not stop boys like that from doing what boys like that do when they think no one’s looking.

Sure it’s only healthy.

Sure it’s only natural.

He can’t help it.

And you’d know who he’d be thinking about. What kind of person he’s thinking about. What kind of boy he’s thinking about.

Sure it’s only natural.

He can’t help it.

You remember the look on Mags’s face when she

found out what sort of person her eldest was

one of those sorts of people.

Like she’d swallowed a chunk of dry turkey the wrong way.

You were never after thinking she’d go on like that when she found out. Sure remember that time he was playing dress up and spilt her big thing of Chanel and

and you wanted to give him a slap

a slap at least but

she laughed it off.

She let him away with murder

but at least he always said his prayers.

It’s only now

you notice what bed you’re lying in.

The wallpaper with the fishes on it the wallpaper the eldest used to hate.

He said -you should never have anything with eyes on it in someone’s bedroom-.

You thought you were lying in the big double bed

the bed with her good linen

but you’re lying in the youngest’s bed.

Remember the first time you brought the boys down here and Mags said -now when you wake up in the morning it might take you a minute before you know where you are so don’t be scared-.

That’s you

but you’re too drunk to care.

You just wanted the smell of him and


there’s a few loose hairs on the pillow.

They’re dark hairs so dark that you only notice that they’re brown not black when it’s so sunny you have to squint and oh

you’ve no idea if they’re your hairs or his he was

he was the image of you wasn’t he

he was the image of you altogether. The same hair

the same yellowy teeth that look crooked from a distance

the same droopy nose.

The only way you could ever tell the difference between a picture of him and a picture of you at that age was that with

with pictures of you you’re always standing still

standing still

because your da has only the one roll of film

and your da says film’s expensive

and your da says -for god’s sake Joseph would you ever stay put!-

But pictures of the youngest oh he’s

he’s always moving

playing his hurling or swimming because

even a camera couldn’t make him sit still.

There’s not many things that could make a boy like that sit still.

And when you think of him roaring around the house like mad

then straight away you can hear Mags

like she’s right beside you

saying -Ah here now Joe don’t be letting the boys see you crying-.

It reminded her of that time.

Then you hear your da in your other ear saying -ah for the love of Jaysus Joseph would you ever stop your bawling-.

So you don’t cry. Instead

you want the ghosts beside you

because there’s no one else.

You want to think the ghosts are just outside the window

looking at you

just as alone as you are

but they’re not there.

You can run outside

and try and find them

you can shout and scream

but the ghosts aren’t there.

Mags isn’t there.

The eldest won’t come down because you told him so.

The youngest well

well the youngest speaks for himself doesn’t he.

You’re alone.

You’re a ghost and everything just passes through you.

You go for a walk

a walk in your sweaty shirtsleeves with the buttons done up wrong

and a green dressing gown with the belt missing and the Jameson in the pocket.

You can go walking at this time of night here and only the moon’ll see you. Round here everyone goes home early

they’ve things to do.

They’ve families to take care of.

Along the gravel and you’re

you’re barefoot but you hardly notice anyway and

and you come to the soggy cliff

where even the rocks seem a bit uncertain


the whole thing’s falling apart.

You bump the Jameson against your thigh in time with the waves

the waves exploring the crevices of the rock pools where you could fall asleep with the seaweed running through your toes.

And you’d leave the ham sandwiches out on the rocks and they’d almost toast in the sunlight.

Beneath the little moon and the lights from the village across the bay

the village with the chipper where you told the youngest the fish was dogfish and he wouldn’t touch it.

And you get soaked and freezing in these rock pools

where the youngest would try and catch dinner. Then he’d try and catch dinner in the sea

and you’d say -be careful

there might be a shark.-

Mags grinned.

The eldest sat in the shade

his togs bone dry

watching the youngest.

And the youngest would shriek and leg it out of the water

but say a minute later -sure a shark’d never try to eat me.-

-Why’s that?- says Mags.

-Sure I’ve a goldfish. That’s like the shark’s brother. He knows I take care of it and all.-

You laughed

and you said to him -but sure a shark doesn’t know what he’s doing. A shark just eats things because that’s what he has teeth for. A shark couldn’t not eat things.-

Sure it’s only natural.

He can’t help it.

Then you’d all walk back to the house. Slowly because there’s so little to do down here you make it last.

It’s the sort of place where you’d spend half an afternoon trying to mend a snapped shoelace.

And with the yellow sun cracking the tarmac and the wind blowing just enough to flutter hair into the youngest’s face

you slipped an arm around Mags’s waist and pecked her on the cheek.

And -oooh- says the eldest and –oooooooh– says the youngest and you want to give the eldest a smack

but sure you just wink at the both of them instead.

And the eldest slipped an arm around the youngest’s shoulders and pretended to slobber all over his cheek. Mags laughs. The youngest laughs.

And you’d all walk back with your arm around Mags and the eldest’s arm around the youngest.

And now you walk back to the cliff.

You look out

across the sea

so black

you can’t even tell the waves apart

and oh

it’d be so quick.

Every day you sit in the living room and

and think exactly the same thing and

and every night you come out here

and think exactly the same thing

and your thoughts they just

your thoughts just keep

keep on skipping.

And every time

you think









When you come back

back to the house

it seems strange and alien like you’ve never been there before

or like you have been but someone else has moved in and moved everything around.

And then you remember it was you who moved everything around

there didn’t used to be any dirty wine glasses on her coffee table

or stains on her good yellow tablecloth.

You don’t remember the last time you drank wine or ate on that tablecloth.

You don’t even remember how long it’s been since you found out.

Every day is just the same as the last. It could have been six weeks ago

it could have been six months

it could have been long enough that the youngest would’ve been playing for the seniors by now.

He really could’ve you know.

People used to say to your da -your boy Joseph has a fine pair a legs on him

sure he could play for the seniors he could.-

The youngest didn’t much like the hurling the first year

or the second year

but sure once he got the knack he was never home.

The eldest was always home.

But he’d come out with you and Mags the odd time to watch the matches

and sure he only had eyes for the youngest

cheering away.

Oh just watch him run

and run.

And then

there was that match

in January

the sky so white

and he was legging it up the pitch that was more mud than grass

with his boots squelching in the mud and soil

and a fella on the other side did a sneaky tackle

almost looked like he smacked his hurley against his leg

the youngest fell

ran into a flagpole and here comes

here comes

here comes the waterworks.

And you just stood there watching on the other side of the pitch as the ref blew it up.

Then after the game he was limping over to the car and trying to pretend he couldn’t hear Aidan and Shane and Jason

-he’s already made his first confession- they said and giggling

and the youngest looks at you and he says -why didn’t you come over when I fell over da-

trying to hide the hitch in his voice

and looking straight ahead and not turning his head in case they see his face.

And you wanted to pick him up

and carry him over to the car

and just hold him so close

and say sorry

but instead you looked the other way and said the same thing your da said to you whenever you hurt yourself:

-Well sure I saw you were bawlin. If you’re bawling then you’re fine. If you’re hurt and you’re not bawlin then I know you’re really hurted.-

You never really liked the hurling anyway

you could’ve played for the seniors but

you never really liked it.

You’re back in the bed and

you roll over.

Burgundy bedsheets in a ball on the floor.

You don’t remember walking from the living room to the bedroom.

You might as well have walked through the walls.

You’re a ghost and everything just passes straight through you and

and ghosts love company don’t they.

You roll over. And you sit up. And finally after not saying it for years you finally say to the youngest and the room:

-I’m sorry.-

The sound of your own voice makes your eyes water. It’s so much older than you remember so cracked and weathered and rusted.

You don’t remember the last time you heard the sound of your own voice.

It’s so easy to say sorry when you’ve no one to say sorry to.

And here comes

here comes

here comes the waterworks.

You can’t even stop these hot tears corroding your skin anymore and you don’t want to. Melting your skin just like

just like that time the eldest spilt the kettle and he

he must still have the scar.

And you remember why Mags used to hate it when you cried.

You remember

when Mags was pregnant with the youngest and she’d get sick in her kitchen sink every morning

every morning so much so you didn’t even notice the smell after awhile.

So much so you’d have these dreams

where she’d get sick so much the baby would come up through her throat and be washed down the sink

and rot in the sewer.

You’d wake up sweating like a dog in July and there’s

that moment

when you wake up

and the dream is real

as real as the very teeth in your mouth.

You’d bawl like mad when you think of this little baby

washed down the drain


and you’d clutch at Mags’s belly and kiss it

and just beg this little almost-child to stay put.

And then the eldest would walk in after he’d had a nightmare himself

with his yellow pajama bottoms sticking to his legs

and he’d see your tears staining Mags’s t-shirt

and running your dirty fingernails all over her bump

and Mags trying to tell you -ah here now Joe don’t be crying

it was only a dream

it was only a dream.-

And that was it.


Whenever people ask me about you

I tell them this that the other

but I’m only ever thinking about that moment.

I used to want to ask Mum if you ever had those dreams when she was pregnant with me

but I never did.

I already knew.

When she was able to answer

instead of now when she just screams

from inside the high walls.

I’m down here with you dad. I followed you down.

It’s me who took away all your razorblades

who waters down your Jameson

who minds you while you’re getting sick

it’s me who puts food in the fridge while you’re off down the cliffs

who listens to you when you tell me about the dreams and the nightmares

what it used to be like

it’s me who’s outside your window.

It’s me who you ask over and over again -why did you do it-.

You can’t even say my name.

And I tell you why.

I tell you I did it because in the sea there’s sharks and there’s fishes and a shark can’t stop being a shark anymore than a fish can stop being a fish.

And I told you this yesterday and I’ll tell you tomorrow because

every day is just the same as the last.

And I want to explain

about the youngest

how it happened.

About the son you cried about losing

before he was even yours.

This is what happened.

As I did it I spoke to him and I told him things. I told him that his tears were just water and salt just like saltwater just like fishes live in

isn’t that interesting.

I told him that his screams travelled through the air at three hundred and thirty-six metres per second and the speed limit for places where there’s schools and houses was eight-point-three metres per second

isn’t that interesting

your screams are breaking the speed limit.

I told him that the cartilage in his neck is the same stuff sharks are made of.

I told him my teeth and the bones in my fingers are made of calcium and calcium is in milk and I know he doesn’t like milk.

I told him that pressure is equal to force per unit area and force is equal to mass times acceleration which means that if he was on Jupiter he wouldn’t be able to stand up

his bones would shatter

isn’t that interesting.

I told him he didn’t deserve this

that this is just a thing that grown-ups do sometimes.

I asked him if he remembered when mum and dad would lock themselves in the bedroom that’s because mum and dad have needs

and I have needs too.

I told him that I didn’t want to do this but sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do

like getting up early for school

like practising our first confession

like brushing our teeth.

I asked him if he remembered to say two Our Fathers and six Hail Marys.

I told him mum and dad and his friends still loved him

I told him that when I was his age I was really scared that mum and dad hated me but it wasn’t true

wasn’t true at all.

I told him I was sorry if he was uncomfortable

if something was digging into his hip.

I told him in a minute he’s going to fall asleep I told him to say goodbye in his head to mum and dad and Aidan and Shane and Jason and his hurling team and god would hear him saying goodbye

and I felt something dripping onto the backs of my hands

and just as his eyes started to close

roll backwards in his head

I told him I loved him

like every brother loves his brother

even though I had to do this.

And then he was


Dad I swear you’ve never seen him so still

even when he was sleeping.

Little Joe junior

still wearing his mucky trackies

and his football boots.

He wasn’t bawling.

A boy like that there’s

there’s not many things that could make him sit still.

And he was gone

can’t speak for himself at last.

He was a ghost and


About the author

Fionn Murray is a writer, musician and designer from Dublin, Ireland. He holds a BA in English lit. and film studies from University College Dublin, and a Master's in creative digital media from Dublin Institute of Technology. His work has been published in journals such as The Honest Ulsterman, Anomaly and Inklings, and he has won awards for his writing, including the 2010 From Page to Stage award for his play "Burn", and a runner-up prize in the 2017 Sunday Business Post/Penguin short story prize for his short story "Voluntary Redundancy". He is currently writing his first novel.

One Response to What Sharks are Made Of: Fionn Murray

  • Burgundy | Sixteen Magazine

    […] Our featured story is from Fionn Murray with What Sharks are Made of. It is a rare read, over thirteen pages in length and visually strange. Words hang out here and there but as we read and hear from the main character, we see why the words play on the page this way. They show the inner thoughts and fears of a father gone wrong and lost. Keep reading and all is revealed word by word and with an emotional ending that just stops… Read the story here >> […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *