Life Here's No Different
Make yourself available. That’s the one seduction trick I’ve come to trust. I’m putting it into practice right now with Jenny and Elsa. I’m here for them, hovering around, staying handy for when one of them (or both!) realizes what a welcome diversion sex would be. You could even say it’s my job, being available for the girls.
Since we’ve arrived here, it seems everybody’s taken a job. Shipwrecks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I expected our inhibitions to disappear within a couple of hours of our being washed ashore in blissful abandon of social conventions. We should have been screwing from day one. Instead, we carry on. We give ourselves little roles, try to fit into our new broken society, make ourselves simpler, like little wooden squares and circles in a toddler’s puzzle. It must be the result of a lifetime of conditioning; there’s no logical reason why five castaways on a tropical island should busy themselves with jobs that fit one-sentence descriptions.
Adrian is the scribe, our historian. We probably don’t need one, but he has taken it upon himself to chronicle our life on the island, our diets and dire needs and fears, as well as the damn cruise that sank us here. He sits like a lonely bullied schoolboy in the shade of a palm tree, looking up now and then from the rippled sheets of the notebooks from the ship’s giftshop, flashy palm-tree-print things that floated ashore to us, and casts his pensive glare a-sea. What a ponce. I was afraid at first he might pass as romantic in the girls’ eyes, but they don’t seem to care much for him, and apart from meal times he hardly talks to anyone.
Adrian is no threat—it’s Sam I’m more worried about. He’s the provider, the hunter, the builder. It’s him who built this bamboo shelter we lounge in for most of the day, me and the girls. I have to admit it’s pretty good craftsmanship—it keeps us safe from the sun, and the view on the beach and the wide-open ocean behind is quite something. Nearby stands the solar shower he made using a black jerrycan, one of the many flotsam treasures every tide brings in. When he’s not busy turning our beach into bamboo suburbia, Sam goes hunting. He brings back monkeys, mostly, and sometimes fat birds, and some kind of rodent. Not rats, but a cute member of the rodent family. Cute enough to eat. He kills his prey with an ever-evolving range of techniques, each manlier than the next: stoning them, spearing them, jumping them from a tree. Of course the girls respond to that, hormones do their work, and they eye Sam and value him as a provider. I believe though, or hope, that their civilized sides are stronger than their primitive instincts. When Sam comes out of the forest with a mangled piece of fur in his arms, blood all over him, bloodshot eyes and a madman’s grin on his face, I can feel the girls shrink away from him a bit, their gratefulness buried under nauseous fear.
Elsa gets over it faster than Jenny. She’s pretty much the female equivalent of Sam. She does stuff. Girl stuff. She’s the only one who cooks. She slices the flesh off monkeys’ breasts and beats it between rocks to make it tender, then barbecues it on bamboo skewers or boils it in coconut milk with some kind of root Sam discovered during his ventures inland. We eat quite well. I am not giving up yet, but sometimes the way her work complements Sam’s makes me think my dream of a threesome on the beach will not come true. She furnished the shelter he built, sewing sarongs into sheets to cover the foam mattresses we salvaged. Sarongs seem to be the most common gift from the sea these days. Of course, half of the three thousand passengers were women, and probably every single one of them had one or two. She turned them into mosquito nets for our beds and a curtain for Sam’s shower. A perfect little housewife.
But Elsa can marry Sam for all I care, so long as I have Jenny left. She’s much prettier and much more like me. She doesn’t seem to want to do anything, and we spend the day in the shade, Elsa usually with us, sewing away. Now and then we go for a dip, rinsing off the salt that plasters our skin. Sometimes we get together behind the shower curtain, cleansing ourselves in the trickle of soup-warm water, splashing each other playfully. Once I took her in my arms and tightened my grip, pretending to squash her. She laughed, in a way that may or may not have been sisterly, and if she felt my boner against her stomach she didn’t let on.
So I wait. I’m available. Three weeks now we’ve been here, and sooner or later Jenny, or Elsa maybe, will have enough of the whole pretense and will want to have sex, simply sex. And I will be there then. Not Adrian, that writing fool, and not Sam, king of the jungle. That’s my job. That, and being the coconut guy. That’s about as far as I get in terms of providing. It might not be very nutritious, but it’s good for the spirit. I pierce the hard husks with a long, pointy rock I found, and slip in one of the thousand red straws that washed ashore on the second day. Kind of like the days after the full moon parties in Thailand. For a twisted second after waking up and seeing the red flood I actually thought we weren’t alone, that thousands of ravers were living it up somewhere on the island.
The girls like my coconuts. They like my humor, too. Sometimes. They semi-laughed when I came with a coconut in each hand, shouting “CO-co, CO-co, who want dem CO-co?” the way touts had on our last island stop. The first time. A lifetime will drag on if they can’t semi-laugh at the same joke twice.
Anyway, despite the airs our two prima donnas put on, being the coconut guy is about more than tepid refreshments. I’m a portal, the link to the world we lost, the proof that life can go on. I’m the captain who doesn’t jump ship, unlike our scribe and our hunter, who forsook coconuts and the fun promised by our cruise to turn our shipwreck into a bore.
When Sam finds a diving mask on the beach, he says it’s a sign. He actually says it: “It’s a sign.” Prick. He stares out at sea, where the hull—the stern?—fuck, a bit of our ship still sticks out like a cubist islet. Then he goes back into the shelter, and picks up one of his bamboo spears. We’d seen shark fins circling around us when we swam ashore after the ship sank, and it made us afraid of dabbling any further than a few meters out. What does he think he’ll do, fend for himself with a bamboo stick against a pack of 3,000-pound beasts? It’s reckless, and I think it’s worth mentioning that we can’t afford to lose our hunter. I keep my mouth shut though, because I can see the girls are loving him right now. They don’t see him as the deranged, blood-crazed sadist he is, but as some kind of a fucking hero. Let him shine, it won’t last. And it’s true our stock of canned food has been seriously dwindling, and the monkeys are getting wise—Sam has been having more and more trouble bringing meat home. He claims they’re getting faster, and these days when he pounces on them from his hiding place they’re already a few meters out of range.
Adrian, from his lonely spot, senses something going on. He comes to join us, his notebook still in hand as Sam wades through the water. When it’s up to mid-thigh, Sam dives in and starts swimming to the wreck which seems to be a half-globe away. Elsa sobs, silently at first then more and more loudly. She goes to sit in the shelter, and Adrian goes back to his writing seat. Our little society still has a lot to learn—we should have some kind of peer support system or something. I stay with Jenny, who just stands there and looks at Sam turning into a spot, into a dot, into a speck. I stand there until I’m sure she won’t move or talk to me. Fuck, I’m losing her here.
I go to Elsa, who is still crying on her bed. To my left I can see Adrian has gotten up and he’s walking towards the shelter too. He has a single torn-off sheet of paper in his hand. He gets to Elsa just before me and he gives it to her. I just see a title, “Song for a Sad Elsa,” and lines and lines after that. What the fuck? A fucking poem? Elsa reads it, her hand to her mouth as if to keep her very soul from escaping, liberated by such beauty. Her sobs stop now and then to let little ohs out. When she’s finished she jumps into Adrian’s arms. “It’s beautiful” she says. They rock a bit, squeezing each other tight, then start down the beach. I’m still standing right here, a few steps from where this whole show went on, and from here I see them fork off into the forest. The forest! Fuck.
I stay under the shelter. There’s no point going to Jenny, who’s in a trance still, staring out at the wreck. I think I can see, if it’s not a trick of the light or the heat on the water, movement on the hull. Like a wild, primitive dancer.
I go put a sarong on Jenny’s head and shoulders, which are already burnt from standing there. She lets me do it, but keeps looking out, doesn’t acknowledge me. I go back to the shelter.
It’s late when we see Sam swimming back, surviving both the sharks and the distance. Fair play to him. Especially as I can see now he’s only using one arm, clutching something to his chest with the other. Fit fucker. Soon he’s wading through shallow water on trembling legs, with the craziest look in his eyes that I’ve see him with so far, which is something. “It’s complete,” he pants, and I realize what he’s holding on to with both his arms now, cradling like a baby. It’s a bottle of whiskey, and the captain’s severed head. Or what’s left of it—a lot of the flesh is gone, and the rest is blotted and moldy-white. Bits of flesh are stuck to Sam’s chest where he hugged the rotten head too tight. The captain’s cap still looks good, though.
"It’s complete,” he keeps saying, breathless, and he doesn’t stop but ambles on towards the forest. Jenny glances at me, which I am grateful for—I am not a product of my own imagination. Then she follows him into the jungle. I’m not losing her. No way. I run after them, and after a minute of struggle through the undergrowth I stop a few steps behind Jenny, who has fallen to her knees, her arms spread out in a cross. She stares at the scene facing her: Sam is placing the captain’s head on top of a six-foot pole, which has two skeleton arms reaching down. The bones, brittle things, like those of the monkeys we eat, hold with their tiny hands an empty bottle of whiskey. The bottle itself stands on a bamboo bar, and I can only take in one detail at a time, and first I realize that the bar is studded with monkey skulls, then that there is a sign above
The captain-barman-dummy, a board hanging from branches which says in multicolor letters, “The WhamBamBooBar.” It floated to us from the ship, where it had welcomed the more youthful and single passengers into its cocktail paradise. “It’s complete,” Sam shouts, and he hugs Jenny and lifts her up on his shoulder and spins around until she laughs. He puts her down then behind the bar, takes the empty bottle from the monkey captain and throws it away on a mountain of other empties, ten times bigger than the pile we have by the shelter. He takes out two martini glasses from under the bar and pours in whiskey from the fresh bottle. I turn back towards the beach; this is not my party. Fucking Sam turned guru, high priest of the boozy lunatics.
I might be lonely for a while, but it’s okay. I’ll wait. Here in the shelter. We might be stranded on a desert island, but life here’s no different than anywhere else. When the girls tire of their poets and boozy musclemen, they’ll be back. And I’ll be there, waiting for them. I’m available.