Having come home safely from Cape Cod, and having not been attacked by anything more bloodthirsty than my 7-year-old who wanted to share my ice cream cone, we decided it was safe to sit down and watch the movie Jaws.
It is just about a perfect movie, a rare film that is monstrously famous but still somehow even better than all the hype. Even as I mouth each line along with the characters and follow every facial movement beat by beat, I find something different to admire every time I watch it.
This time, it was the girl. Not Chrissie, the girl who launches the film by getting gobbled up, but the girl in the kerchief, the one who is standing on the rocks by the estuary and calls out a warning to the crowd in a quavering voice: “Sh— shark! The shark! It’s going into the pond!”
She’s scared of two things, as far as I can tell. She’s scared of the shark, of course, which by this point has already devoured four people and a dog. But at least for a second, she’s also scared of being wrong.
Just a few seconds prior, the entire beach was swallowed up in a panic when someone spotted a fin in the waves. Someone screamed “Shark” then, too, and there was instant hysteria. Children were trampled; a mother lost her mind with fear and screamed uselessly, clutching her baby and freezing in place. An old man was left to drown in the foam as the entire populace scrambled to escape the water. And as the bathers panted and trembled on the beach, dry sobs rising up from the crowd, the word came back: It was “just a hoax. There are two kids with a cardboard fin.” (See, I told you I could quote the movie line for line.)
But before these summer people have a chance to contemplate how poorly they have behaved, there is another alarm. The girl by the estuary calls out in a trembling voice, rising to a scream: “Sh— shark! The shark! It’s going into the pond! … Somebody do something!”
“Now what?” grumbles Chief Brody, whose life has been nothing but alarms since he moved to the quiet island of Amity. But his wife reminds him their son Michael is in the pond, so he strides over to investigate. And yes, there is the fin. And this time, it is real.
I think about this girl a lot, the girl who cried shark. I know why her voice quavered…. Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.
Image: Still from “the attack in the pond” scene