Angela Woodward


This is a book I read when I was twenty-six. It was probably intended for adolescents, a catalog of dangerous marine creatures compiled by a biologist after years of field work. One afternoon the scientist was strolling along a beach when a jellyfish, practically invisible and only three inches long, stung his ankle. He became paralysed, and was able only to lay his body down on the sand. Not 20 feet away, his wife sat under the shade of an umbrella, reading a book on how to organize her thoughts. He could see and hear, but not move enough even to blink. The toucans clacked in the trees. His wife tucked her golden hair behind her ears, frowning. Waves lapped his ankles. No one noticed him, not even his loyal assistant. After some ten or twenty minutes, he got up and stumbled over to his wife. But he decided not to tell her what had happened, not wanting to alarm her. In truth his lips were numb: he was afraid he would not be able to form human sounds, and he went past her, over to the cabana, and sat on the stool there for a long time. At lunch his wife ordered wine, but he was afraid to drink it, in case his shocked nervous system should re-succumb. She wanted to have sex in the hammock later, a rarity, but he could not. What's wrong with you? she said, and she returned to her beach chair, leaving her book behind.
      Another time, this same scientist was swimming in the ocean off Ceylon when he was overtaken by a water snake. He was terrified as it swashed up beside him, but there was nothing he could do but keep swimming. He was still a mile from shore. He swam this way every day, to test his strength. And lo, another snake came up, and another, their pale green heads poking out of the water, their powerful bodies undulating through the waves behind. It was a school of them, you would have to call it, a pack of perhaps 300 individuals, all headed in his direction. Everywhere he looked, to left and right, their snouts appeared, and they slapped against his legs as he continued to do the Australian crawl as fast as he could, just keeping pace with this menace. He knew of course that these animals were so fierce and dangerously venomous that if a large fish dared swallow one, the snake would bite its host from the inside, wait a moment for it to die, and then exit its dead mouth. At last he dove under, and the hundreds of slinky bodies slipped over him and went on undeterred wherever they were going while he held his breath til his last molecule of oxygen was used up.
      And in another incident, safely in a boat now, he looked out across the water for the source of a ghastly stench. A hammerhead shark floated by belly up, dead, with no mark on it. Over the course of the afternoon, he and his wife counted thirty more. The corpses bobbed, white and silent, in the unnatural calm of the bay. The one they hauled in to examine showed no sign of disease. Before the dissection, he had his skipper photograph the monster, hung by its tail from a winch, he and his wife standing on either side of it. It dwarfed them.



"Danger" is part of a project I began and then abandoned a few years ago, to write my autobiography as a reading list. I suppose it's autobiography in the sense of being a "true story"—I really read this book, and this is more or less what happened in it.