My husband of 17 years had an announcement.
“Astronomers are saying that one of the stars in Orion is fading and will explode sometime soon.”
We were looking up at the sky after a delicious dinner in Western Australia. Our home for several years, we are currently back for a short visit and trying to hit up our favorite spots. This one is perched on a hill overlooking the bush. Once we saw a mob of kangaroos jump by, but not tonight.
He continued, “It’s been fading for a few months and is going to supernova.” He was carrying a box of wine that we had just purchased and was now balancing it on one knee while digging in his pocket for the car key.
I imagined Orion weaving his belt through and missing a loop. Also, I didn’t know whether or not supernova could be used as a verb and decided I would look it up later. But I never did, because the minute I opened my laptop I began to reread the article about the shark net.
The only thing that appears to have changed in Perth over the last 18 months is the addition of a black and yellow shark net at Cottesloe Beach. Like the Salesforce tower in San Francisco, this addition is unnerving. What is that doing here? Made of thick plastic tubing, the barrier extends from the seabed to the surface to protect swimmers from sharks, and also to catch tourists when they drift out to sea.
I find the net surprising, and my family is sick of hearing me talk about it. Australians are brave, nonchalant, risk-takers. The net feels like a betrayal, an unexplained submission to common sense. What’s next? A temperature warning on fish and chips?
Cottesloe Beach is a milelong stretch of west-facing white sand and turquoise water. The shark net covers a relatively small portion of the ocean, which means it is still possible to swim directly next the net, unprotected. When faced with the question of where to swim, my teenager recommended inside the netted area. “I mean,” she said squinting at the water, “now everywhere else looks dangerous.” She was right. A previously picturesque beach, Cottesloe incessantly reminds us it is a death trap. Two swimmers have been killed by sharks in the past twenty years at Cottesloe, and my guess is more people have been killed crossing the beach parking lot. But now it feels like another attack is imminent, like sharks had to be shooed off in order to install this net in the first place.
The shark net is the reason I am staring off into space lately, and the reason I can’t think too much about the evolution of the night sky. And anyway, Orion’s star is very far away. There is the possibility that it has already exploded, and we just don’t know it yet.