Twenty Amazing Facts About Sharks

by Alex Miller

Not that it’s important, but the distance between Murray, Kentucky, and Daytona Beach, Florida, is more than 800 miles. That’s a long way to travel even under the best of circumstances—and my particular circumstances could not have been more bleak. Dad was behind the wheel. He drove like a hall monitor, so our vacation began with two excruciating days of doing five under the speed limit in the fast lane, two days of getting honked at and flipped off by justifiably irate fellow travelers. 

“I don’t know what they’re angry for,” Dad said, exasperated. “I’m going plenty fast.”

“Debatable,” I said from my seat behind him in the minivan.

“What’s their durn hurry?” He gestured angrily as another driver zoomed past in the slow lane. “Really I’m doing them a favor. Saving them a speeding ticket. Saving them from dying in a fireball. They should thank me instead of honking their durn horns.”

Dad was always quite circumspect about cussing in front of me and my little brother. Durn instead of damn. Sugar instead of shit. Fart instead of fuck. Even after Mom died, he watched his language. But sometimes when he thought he was alone I’d catch him dropping f-bombs for real. Like when he’d sit in the old plaid recliner in the basement watching cable news. His face would flush orange, and he’d use every cuss word I ever heard and some I hadn’t. I don’t know what the news people said to make him so angry, but they were sure good at it. They had him cussing every night. Anyway he never used those words with me and Cody. My father, in many ways, was not the world’s greatest dad—but he tried.

“Did you know sharks can grow thirty thousand teeth in a lifetime?” Cody asked. 

Cody sat in the passenger seat, next to Dad. He was seven years old, and I was fifteen, so by right of seniority I could have sat up front. But that’s the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to be in the van at all. I tried to skip out on the vacation and stay the week at my friend Laura Bloomfield’s house, but dad wouldn’t have it. He didn’t like her parents. They were Democrats who occasionally whipped up a pitcher of margaritas on taco night. That is to say, in the eyes of my father, they marched in the army of satan.

“Sure is a lot of teeth,” Dad said, feigning enthusiasm. He craned his neck to look at me. “Did you know that, Miranda? Thirty thousand teeth?”

“I don’t care,” I said. And I didn’t. Who could possibly care about shark teeth? I mean, beside Cody, who was going through some weird phase where all he did was read about sharks and memorize trivia. Cody was the most annoying brother imaginable.

“Did you know sharks don’t have bones?” Cody asked. “Just cartilage, like your nose.”

“Yes, I did know that,” I said. “I had seventh-grade biology, just like everybody else. Everybody who ever took seventh-grade biology knows sharks have cartilage instead of bones.”

“Be nice to your brother,” Dad said. “It’s good he’s found a hobby. You used to have one, as I recall. Remember soccer? You were good, better than I ever was. Not that I was ever much for sports. Do you ever think about playing soccer again? I bet there’s a spot on the team for you. I’d bet anything.”

“I don’t like soccer,” I said.

“You know, the other day I was talking to your old coach,” Dad said. “He said he’d love to have you back. Said the team hasn’t been the same without you.”

I sat straight up in my seat. All the hairs on my arm stood up too.

“Why did you talk to my coach?”

“He was just concerned about you, that’s all.”

“That’s weird,” I said. “I don’t want you creeping around school doing weird stuff, like chatting up my coach.”

Just then a big Chevy Suburban sped by, blaring its horn.

“What’s your durn hurry?”

“Just get in the other lane,” I said. “You’re in everybody’s way.”

Dad stayed right where he was. Ten or twelve cars trailed behind, probably wondering what was wrong with the psychopath in the minivan. If Dad had a superpower, it was the ability to always do everything in the most embarrassing way possible.

I looked out the window and did my best to ignore my family. I could tell by the way the landscape smoothed out that we were deep into Florida. All the way from Kentucky, the highway had cut through tree-covered hills. Now we’d entered the flatlands. The interstate crossed an endless plain of strip malls and subdivisions built with a lot of vinyl siding.

“Oh boy, there’s the ocean,” Dad said, after what felt like an eternity. A sliver of blue water appeared on the horizon. It didn’t impress me much, didn’t look any bigger than a puddle of water.

“Your mother loved the ocean,” Dad said. And I wished he hadn’t. Dad couldn’t go a day without bringing up Mom. Sometimes he talked about her like she was still alive. That’s what I hated most. When someone is gone—really gone—when there’s nothing in the world that will bring them back, the best thing to do is shut up about them. That’s what I think.

“Any sharks are out there?” Cody asked. “Think we’ll see a shark in Florida?”

The ocean grew larger. I rested my forehead on the window, felt the cold glass and vibrations. I never would have admitted this, but something about the ocean did make me feel good. We’d come a long way to see it. And I like to get where I’m going, even if where I’m going is nowhere special.

We checked in at a hotel and went up to our room, and Dad made a big, stupid deal about it, even though it wasn’t anything great. It was the most normal hotel room of all time. Last year when the soccer team traveled to the state tournament, we stayed overnight at a Best Western, and it was nicer, with a microwave and mini fridge. 

I stepped onto the balcony. The hotel was on the beach, but somehow Dad booked a room without an ocean view. The balcony overlooked the parking lot. A man and woman rode a motorcycle into the lot. The motorcycle looked at first glance like a Harley Davidson but actually was some knock-off. The couple yelled at each other like they were drunk. The man climbed off the bike and lost his footing and collapsed. His helmet slipped off and bounced on the pavement. The woman laughed and laughed. The man yelled, and the woman laughed some more.

That was more Florida than I could take. I went back inside the room, where Dad roamed around, opening the closets and gushing over everything. “Look! Air conditioning!” he said, as if it had only recently been invented. “Look! Cable TV!”

Once we’d stowed our luggage, we all filed down to the van to find a place to eat lunch. Dad drove up the strip, remarking on all the restaurants. “Oyster Pub! Anyone up for seafood? International House of Pancakes. I sure could go for a tall stack.” But he wouldn’t choose one—he just kept talking about them. He drove up the highway, turned around, and went back down again.

“Dad, can you just pick one already? Me and Cody are starving,” I said on our third pass. Immediately he pulled into a Waffle House. I don’t know why he chose Waffle House. It was lunch time, and we’d eaten breakfast hours ago. My best guess is the other restaurants intimidated him, because he’d never eaten there and didn’t know what to expect. Dad was not particularly adventurous. But he knew all about Waffle House.

We went inside and stood around the front door, waiting to be seated. Everybody in the Waffle House looked sleepy. Everybody looked like they had been awake since last night. I shuffled away from Dad and Cody until several feet of space separated us. I’d found myself doing this more and more often. Like when we’d go to Walmart, I’d take off as soon as we got through the door, spend an hour haunting the magazine rack or makeup aisle. Doing so made me feel like an independent woman making her own way in the world—not just some dumb kid who’d had the misfortune of being born into the world’s goofiest family.

Waffle House had a stand of free newspapers. I picked one up and flipped to the back pages and read some very interesting personal ads. Pretty soon, a waitress informed my dad that he didn’t have to wait to be seated, he could sit anywhere. The waitress spoke with strained friendliness, trying to appear polite while on the inside she must have thought, These hicks have rocks for brains. Anyway we got a table, and immediately Dad was at it again, flagging down the waitress to ask for menus. She told us in the same strained-friendly voice that menus were already on the table, stacked up at the end with the napkin holder and condiments. I looked out the window and pretended to be somewhere else. At fifteen years old, I would have liked to believe I was cool enough to eat at Waffle House, but somehow, when Dad was around, even that simple dream was out of reach.

“The firstborn tiger shark will eat its siblings,” Cody said. “Did you know?”

“Well, now, I did not know that,” Dad said while perusing the menu. “That’s exciting.”

Cody grunted and growled, pretending to be a shark in a feeding frenzy. He bit into a paper napkin and ripped it apart with his hands and teeth.

“Cody that’s disgusting,” I said. “Stop being gross.”

“Now Miranda, be nice to your brother,” Dad said, still reading the menu.

“Cody, why don’t you learn some shark facts that aren’t absolutely revolting?” I asked.

“Do you know how high a great white can jump out of the water?” he asked.

Nobody answered.

“Ten feet!” Cody said, and he grinned big like he’d said the funniest thing in the world. “Ten whole feet out of the water! Can you believe it?”

I ordered a cheeseburger, and when it arrived I took a bite, and it was the most average cheeseburger I’d ever tasted. Meanwhile, Dad ate a bowl of cheese grits. The cheese grits at Waffle House, if you didn’t know, are just regular grits with a square of American cheese slapped on top. Dad raved about them. He went on and on, just like in the hotel room, like they deserved a Michelin star. He offered to let me and Cody try them. I politely declined, because they looked like they would make me vomit. Cody took a bite and said they were good. But what would Cody know about cheese grits? The boy ate nothing but Frosted Flakes, unless he felt adventurous and opted for Fruity Pebbles.

Cody took a swig of Coke. Dad looked concerned. He told Cody, in his Mr. Responsible Father voice, that he’d better not drink it all right away or he’d go thirsty for the rest of the meal. Cody looked down sadly at his drink. I scooched close and whispered something that changed his life.

“Drink up, Cody. Waffle House has free refills.”

His eyes grew wide with excitement. But they soon narrowed, as if I might be trying to put one over on him.

I picked up my drink and took a big, reckless swig. “Cross my heart. You can drink as much as you want.”

Cody threw up his hands like he’d scored a goal in the World Cup. He stuck his straw in his mouth and happily slurped away. I felt something in my chest that I hardly recognized—a warm, good feeling. Cody could be a brat sometimes, and he spent too much time on dumb websites like But he could also, on occasion, be really cute. The warm feeling spread through my entire body. I think if Mom had been there, she would have handled the Coke thing with Cody the same way.

After lunch we hit the beach. To be honest, I could have used a nap, but the prospect of the beach jolted some life into me. The beaches in Kentucky aren’t much to brag about, if you know what I mean. 

We lurched across the sand in search of an empty spot to claim. Plenty of beach was up for grabs, but Dad couldn’t make up his mind. I solved the problem by dropping my towel and announcing I wouldn’t go a step further. Once we’d settled in, the first thing I noticed was that everybody else on the beach had brought more stuff than us. In Daytona, you can drive your car on the sand, so people had brought huge coolers of drinks, all sorts of sporting equipment and big canopies to shade themselves from the sun. My family brought precisely one tube of 65 spf sunscreen, three towels from the hotel bathroom and an inflatable beach ball. We didn’t have so much as an umbrella to keep the sun off. Already I felt the UV rays cooking my shoulders. I made a mental note to remind Dad and Cody to go back inside after an hour. It’s exactly the kind of thing Mom would have been on top of, the kind of detail that never crossed Dad’s mind.

“Did you know sharks have the thickest skin of any animal?” Cody asked. “Did you know they hunt with electroreception?”

I opened my mouth to say something smart, but Dad gave me a look, even as he huffed and puffed to inflate the beach ball. I knew the look well. It meant, be nice to your brother.

“I’m gonna see a shark today,” Cody said. “Right out there in the ocean. And when I do, I’ll punch it right on the nose.”

I shut my eyes to avoid rolling them.

Dad asked if I wanted to go down to the water with him and Cody to play with the beach ball. I told him I’d rather work on my tan. I can only endure so much quality time with my family. After they left, I stretched out on my towel. It wasn’t a proper beach towel, so my feet stuck off the end and nestled in the sand. Actually I didn’t mind. I’d never been on a beach before, and the sand felt great. The blue sky and ocean looked beautiful, and the wide strip of sand comprising the beach seemed to extend infinitely to the north and south. I imagined that same strip ringing all of North and South America. Being from Kentucky, I’d never thought much about the beach, but once I saw it, I liked it.

Dad and Cody batted around the ball in shallow water. Cody knocked it over Dad’s head. Dad took an awkward step backward before losing his balance—arms whirling frantically like helicopter blades—and splashing down in the surf. Typical Dad behavior. I shifted my gaze to the other beachgoers. I noticed, in particular, a group of kids a few years older than me. The reason I noticed was because they looked ridiculously cool. They’d driven their own truck to the beach. That’s cool right there. The bed was stacked with surf boards—also cool. Three of them were boys who had noticeable muscles, and two were girls wearing rashguards over bathing suits. Pretty soon one of them pulled out a soccer ball, and they formed a circle in the sand and kicked it around. There it is. They were officially the coolest kids I’d seen in my life, so cool they shouldn’t have been real, a rare and exotic species of wildlife no one ever sees except in a David Attenborough wildlife special.

One of the cool kids—a boy with adorable red curls—kicked a bad pass, sending the ball careening out of the circle. It made a wobbly arc in the air before hitting the sand and rolling to a stop a few feet in front of me. I froze, terrified to break some unspoken rule of beach-soccer etiquette. The redhead pointed at me. 

“Kick it back!”

As soon as I touched the ball, my body switched into autopilot. I gave the ball a big kick, the way I would have while tending goal. The ball sailed to the redhead, who caught it and told me it was a good shot. When he smiled at me, I took it as an invitation and jogged over to join the game.

The thing that struck me after I’d kicked the ball around with them was that they weren’t any good at soccer. They looked good. They looked like a damn Nike commercial. But really, their skills were poorly developed. Every time they passed me the ball, I had to chase it down. I, on the other hand, hit them square on their chests. I was rusty from not having played for a while, but compared to those kids I looked like Megan Rapinoe. I showed off my juggling skills, bouncing it on my knees, my chest, my head, keeping it going for five, ten, fifteen touches. The cool kids seemed duly impressed. It felt good to be good at something. Suddenly I realized how much I missed soccer. I dropped off my school’s team last year, and even I couldn’t tell you why. I’d just gotten tired of it, I guess. I’d been tired of a lot of things. Maybe it was time to join again. They’d probably be happy to have me back. Probably.

After we finished playing soccer, me and the cool kids sat in a circle. The cute redhead introduced himself as Devon and told a story about a time he was surfing and thought he saw a shark, and he got so excited he fell off the board. Turns out, it wasn’t a shark, just a big glob of seaweed. I told them how my brother was obsessed with sharks and had memorized all those random facts, like sharks first appeared in the oceans 455 million years ago. One of the girls told me her brother went through the same phase, except with dinosaurs. She said it was normal. Some kids obsess about horses, others about superheroes. Devon told us he was obsessed with porn, and everybody laughed.

Just then the wind picked up. A cloud blocked the sun, transforming the ocean from blue to slate gray. I realized I’d been in the sun for a long time. I turned to look for my family. Dad lay on a towel, his chest rising and falling slowly as he napped. Even from twenty yards away, I could see that his face and belly were bright pink. 

Cody wasn’t with him. 

I scanned along the water’s edge. So many kids, but none of them Cody. My heart stopped beating. I looked farther from shore. So much water. So many people splashing around. I couldn’t find him. 

“You see that?” Devon said, pointing toward something in the water. “I think there’s a kid out there. Holy shit, he’s really far out.”

I spotted him, farther from the beach than I would have expected to see anyone. The figure was tiny like an ant, but I saw clearly enough it was a kid holding onto a beach ball. The kid was kicking to carry himself toward deeper waters. Suddenly I was back on autopilot. I sprinted across the sand and didn’t stop when I got to the water. All through the shallows, my feet kicked up water like bursts of lightning. I kept running until the water was too deep for running. I’d never considered myself a strong swimmer, but on that day, I cut through the water like an Olympic freestylist. I tried not to think about how deep it was. I swam until my chest felt ready to explode, then swam some more. When I finally caught him, I draped my arms around the beach ball because I didn’t have strength left to keep my head above water. 

Cody’s face was all scrunched up, like he was about to cry.

“I wanted to see the sharks,” he blubbered.

“Hey buddy, it’s OK,” I said, lungs heaving. “We’ll be fine, buddy. You and me. We ain’t got nothing to worry about. Just hold on, buddy. Grab my arm here, see? You just grab on, buddy, and I’ll get you home.”

Cody buried his face in my shoulder and sobbed. Gray waves rose and fell, each large enough to smash us and drag our broken bodies under. In the distance, faintly, I heard the blast of a lifeguard whistle. I knew then we were saved. I clutched tighter to my brother and the beachball that kept us afloat. No way in hell would I let anything happen to Cody. I loved that boy. Loved him so much I had to hide it away, because it was the kind of love that hurt. The one thing I learned that year was you can’t go around hurting all the time.

Alex Miller is the author of the novel “White People on Vacation” (Malarkey Books, 2022). His fiction has appeared in Flyway, Pidgeonholes and MoonPark Review. He lives in Denver.

We believe good fiction doesn’t have to have an unhappy ending.