“Pre-Chum,” by Cody Adams

Aug 20th, 2023 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Tropical sun rays glinted off turquoise waters, beckoning her brown skin to a richer shade of chocolate, turning mine from a wintry white to a pale pink that stung slightly, like a lovebite that lands right at the threshold between pleasure and pain. We waltzed in waist-deep lagoons while slurping rummy cocktails out of coconut halves. Sometimes twice in a single day we found ourselves tangled up in clumsily wonderful sex (clumsy because we waited, and wonderful because, well, we waited). Nestled in a hammock strung between two palm trees, massaged by silver moon beams, I wondered if it could possibly get any more clumsy or wonderful.

It did.

The best part? Our honeymoon trip wasn’t even halfway finished; that sad date of departure that haunts the final days of every vacation seemed lightyears away. Edenic euphoria titillated every inch of our joined skin and spirit as we settled into a Bahamian paradise wrapped in ribbons of pristine beach that seemed to stretch into forever.

The first few days were ultra relaxing. We lounged around the resort mostly, winding down after the chaos of the wedding. On the fourth day we’d scheduled a guided excursion. From Nassau, it was an hour-long ride to the Exuma Cays, a string of tiny islands dotted along the Caribbean that, based on the aerial shots from the brochure, looked like tiny splatters of lovely volcanic spittle.

About 75 of us loaded into the luxurious speedboat in the warmth of dawn. It was full, but not cramped. Amber and I took stock of the people we’d spend the day with, an eclectic bunch of folks from various places across the globe. We sat on bench seats behind the captain, in between a couple from France and a fellow traveling alone from Bulgaria. The French couple didn’t say much to us or each other. They looked close in age to us, late 20s, early 30s. He was short, skinny, and wore an eye-brow raisingly scant swimsuit that failed to fully conceal a triangular perimeter of curly black hair. She was at least 6′ 3″, thunderously robust at every junction, and boasted an even smaller swimsuit that consisted of a series of golden strings. With white sunglasses, she hid gorgeous eyes of translucent aqua. They both had prominent outie belly buttons that left me wondering how, biologically speaking, that occurs. When I asked where in France they were from, the man, without turning his face even remotely toward me, responded, “Not Paris. You would not have heard of it.” The pot-bellied fellow from Bulgaria took approximately 30 selfies during the boat ride and just seemed really happy to be there.

The sleek vessel flew across the glassy surface, slicing through the sea so that thin sheets of spray misted our sunglasses and cooled our cheeks. The shade of water was indistinguishable from the cloudless blue sky. The two identical blues met at some invisible line along the horizon, but it was impossible to tell where. It just looked like a vast azure curtain, a big blue heaven that we penetrated as if we belonged.

Our first stop was an itty bitty island swarming with iguanas. The dinosaur looking things flashed around in a mosh pit of orange, green, and black scales. Rainbow colored spikes swayed along their spines as they scurried across the shore; they seemed all too familiar with the excursion’s operation. The tour guides distributed wooden skewers bejeweled with fat, purple grapes at the tip. The lizards scampered toward us, snagged their treats, and hurried away again. The old plump ones had eyes that were pale blue and cloudy; I guessed they were blind or slow or both. Amber felt sorry for them, and weaved through the crowd of leaping lizards to get some fruit into the old-timer’s mouths.

From there, we were shepherded back to the boat for a short trip to the main island where we’d spend most of the day.

After docking the boat at our final destination, the captain made an announcement: “Listen up here peoples. Welcome to our little slice of paradise. We call it Crooked Tanlines Cay and it’ll be your own private island for the day. You’re welcome to swim on the beach, but you should know that it’s best to avoid water that’s more than a few feet deep. There’s lots of wildlife here. This ain’t a zoo. They are wild animals. We feed the sharks almost every day, so they’re accustomed to meat in the water. Don’t be their meat. I know we made you sign those release waivers, but don’t be scared, we’ve almost never had any injuries. The most important rule is to party hardy, okay? Okay, see you all tonight.”

Amber and I turned to each other with wide eyes. After a second, we shrugged our shoulders in unison and stood up. We stepped off the boat onto a wooden dock that turned into a tiki shack. The excursion package included an open bar and I intended to get my money’s worth.

We sucked down a couple cocktails as quickly as we could before the group was made to form a single file line along the beach. Excited whispers snaked down the line as we realized it was time to feed and swim with the pigs that inhabited the island. The ocean activity guide guy–an extremely dark skinned Bahamian dude so muscle-strapped that he looked like he could defeat a great white shark in combat–told us that some of the swine were quite large, and that we should hold our carrot sticks at an arm’s length away from our bodies while feeding because last week a woman had the bones in her big toe pulverized after Oreo stampeded by with his “big fat pig foot.”

The pigs were even more finely programmed than the iguanas, sprinting from their pen straight to the orange batons waving in the air. This “swim with the pigs” activity is on the list of “things to do” in the Bahamas. My wife was more excited about it than I was, but they turned out to be cuter than I expected. They swam well, which I suppose makes sense. Pudgy hoofs paddled their barrel-esque bodies, bodies loaded with blobs of buoyant bacon. We enjoyed their little parade until they started to shit big brown globes that bobbed up and down in the shallow water in which we stood. That’s when we headed back to the open bar for a rum punch and piña colada.

We sipped our drinks near the bar, staring into ocean that looked more clear than that top shelf bottled water that only bougie people buy. What held our gaze was a reef shark lurking just below the dock; its tail lulled us into hypnosis as it tread in the same spot with subtle wavy movements, hovering as a singular gray muscle designed precisely to manipulate water like a prehistoric Poseidon, patiently waiting to pounce using a mouth packed with a trillion tiny tridents.

Amber finally broke the silent spell cast over us, “I’ve never seen a shark up close like this.”

“I have. But only through thick glass. Like at an aquarium” I said.

Most folks were still playing with the pigs–our Bulgarian friend seemed determined to take a selfie with Oreo the Toe Smasher. The gargantuan French girl with pretty eyes posed for a photo while holding a hefty pig directly over her head; with one hand she hoisted the pig, the other hand perched powerfully atop her mighty hip. The pig’s pastel pink skin matched the crescent of nipple that peeked from behind her swimsuit of strings, but I watched her face: her mouth flirted with the idea of smiling for the camera, but couldn’t quite commit. The flying pig thrashed its legs violently through the warm breeze and squealed bloody murder.

Amber and I watched from under the shade of the tiki shack with the bartender, an extremely slim and somewhat tall man with an infinite number of deep wrinkles that criss-crossed his leathery face so that it was impossible to tell his age. I was pretty sure he landed somewhere within the 40 to 70 range, but didn’t feel confident narrowing it down beyond that. Apparently, he’d come to the Bahamas on a college spring break trip decades earlier and never left. He didn’t enjoy talking much, but fed us drinks steadily. With four and a half piña colada’s swimming through her, my wife reached under the bar, slid her hand on my thigh, and hovered there for a moment like the shark below us. As soon as the bartender turned his back to wrestle open a new bag of ice, her hand squirmed inside my trunks and gave me a squeeze that left me shaky. She giggled, guzzled the rest of her drink, dropped the ice cubes down my trunks, and skipped back to the beach. I fished out the cubes and watched my favorite parts of her bounce away. I finished my drink, ordered two more, and followed her.

The wildlife guide that looked like the Bahamian Hulk gathered the pigs back to their pen and distributed raw shreds of mahi mahi to each guest.

“Alright now people, we’re gonna feed the stingrays. This is a bit more dangerous than the pigs, but if you listen carefully, you’ll be fine. Hold the bit of fish I gave you between your fingers like a cigarette. Kneel down in a few inches of water and reach your hand out in front of you as far as you can, placing it flat on the sand underwater. Now if you’re holding it properly, your bit of fish is gonna float above your hand as you pinch it between your fingers. The stingrays will come down the line of hands and snatch the snacks away. You’ll feel them sucking and that’s fine. Whatever you do, DO NOT touch their tails. They’re friendly, like water puppies, but if you touch their tails, they’ll shoot venomous barbs straight through one of your organs. Understood? Alright now, snacktime!”

If I’m being honest, the stingrays scared the piss out of me. Their flat fins, waving like flags underwater, were beautiful to behold from a distance. But when those same fins flapped against your groin as they sucked fish flesh from your fingers with mouths you can’t see–it was unsettling. And always we kept our eyes on the lethal tail that followed each creature. For the first time on the trip, we felt more alive than relaxed. All the stingray adrenaline overshadowed the buzz we were trying to build, so we refueled at the bar, grateful to leave the beach without poisonous daggers gored through our livers.

The noonday sun hung directly overhead now, illuminating the paradise in lustrous brilliance. We’d both grown up relatively poor and only seen water like this on screensavers. It’s one of those rare things that seems too good to be true, but exceeds what you even dared hope.

Lounging in the impossibly clear shallows, we noticed Hulk with a snorkel. He kept disappearing underwater for a minute at a time, scouring the seafloor. After about 20 minutes, he hauled a basketful of conch shells back to shore. We gathered around him while he demonstrated how to prepare conch salad. First, he cracked the shell with a hammer to make a quarter-sized hole. Then, he slipped a butter knife into the hole to force the conch muscle into relaxation. From here, he slid the conch out of its shell and wielded a massive machete like a surgeon’s scalpel to remove squishy white globules of flesh. My eyes zipped back and forth between the conch and this behemoth of a man. His biceps seemed to double in size with each passing moment; rivers of sweat poured from the tip of his bald head across the veiny topography of his bulging arms. After removing the guts and the eyes from the conch, he smothered it in salt and rubbed his hands around the surface of the muscle to remove a goopy film. He rinsed off in the ocean and walked to a cutting board. Every eye on the beach clung to him as he diced tomatoes, peppers, and onions for the conch salad. After incorporating the raw veggies into the diced conch, he added more salt and squeezed fresh lime halves over the salad. He passed around big plastic shot glasses packed with the finished product.

The conch salad was cool, light, and crisp, a marvelously balanced amalgam of seasalt, acidity, and juicy fat. It was just the appetizer for lunch, a buffet befit for Caribbean kings and queens. To the employees on the island, we were less like royalty and more like little sheep to be led here and there. In this manner, they lined us up single file yet again; now, we were the animals being fed. Awaiting us was a pyramid of charred sausage, stacks of lightly fried red snapper fish, a mountain of the cheesiest macaroni and cheese ever concocted, and gigantic bowls of juicy watermelon, pineapple, and mango garnished by the rest of the grapes the iguanas didn’t gobble up.

Amber asked the chef what kind of meat the sausages were made of.

“Pork,” he responded.

We looked at each other with wide eyes, shrugged our shoulders in unison, and loaded up our plastic plates to the point where their structural integrity had been challenged.

Our Bulgarian friend sat next to us and showed us the selfies he took with Oreo. “I’m gonna show you all the filters I can do on this photo. You say ‘STOP’ when you see the one you think is the best one” he instructed.

“STOP,” I said after the very first filter.

“Coolness my brother!” he says. “She is the most adorable piggy on the planet, right?”

“Absolutely adorable,” said Amber.

“Delicious, too!” I mumbled with half a sausage link munched in my mouth. Amber whacked me upside the head, and looked to gauge our Bulgarian friend’s reaction. He was lost in a seemingly endless scroll of selfies with Oreo.

After finally putting his phone down, he wadded bread into dense balls and tossed them to the flock of seagulls perched atop the tiki roof. They attacked the airborne bread balls with more fervor than any creature that had eaten that day. With her sixth piña colada in her, my wife had graduated from tipsy to whatever comes after that. She figured if the birds liked bread, then they’d love sausage. She chucked a chunky link toward the roof of seagulls, but it fell way short and slapped Frenchie square in the face.

With a shiny streak of grease smeared across his forehead, he leapt to his feet and shouted, “What in the fuck was that you dumb American bitch?!”

Between the booze and his accent, it took me a full five seconds to comprehend what he said before I could respond: “Hey Frenchie, what in the hell did you just call my wife?”

I jumped out of my seat and threw my rum punch in his face. I heard the ice cubes bounce off his forehead. He launched his bony body into mine like a harpoon and we flew off the dock in a tangled mess. We thrashed in the shallow waters just below the tiki shack like clumsy morons. My nose got busted and poured red like a faucet from a horror film. Almost immediately, everyone had their phones out to record what would be the highlight of their vacation. A hurricane of voices gathered over us like a storm cloud, including a thunderous and throaty scream from Frenchie’s big lady, but Amber’s words were the only ones I discerned: “Kick his ass, Cammy baby!!!”

The chum from my nose garnered the attention of a few reef sharks nearby. They swirled slowly around us in shrinking circles. Unbeknownst to me, the smallest one darted into the skirmish and latched onto Frenchie’s flat ass. Hulk jumped off the top of the bar into the turquoise-red scrum. With one hand, he took the little shark by the tail. His other hand transformed into a mammoth fist that punched the shark’s snout. Of course, my French foe was more than a little distracted with three rows of shark teeth implanted in his tush, but, at that point in time, I had no idea he was being attacked, so I began to think the tide of the fight was turning; Hulk swung his fist behind Frenchie, so clearly he had my back, and I was landing some shots that I thought might be at least close to his kidneys. I knocked him in the nose once so that it bled like mine and asked, “Have you had enough? Apologize to my wife right now, damn it!”

“You idiot! There’s a fucking shark eating my ass!”

“Oh Shit!” I noticed the other two sharks circling and literally pissed my pants–which isn’t a huge deal since I’m in the ocean, but it’s strange because the piss sort of clears the pipes from the fooling around under the bar with Amber earlier and it feels really good which isn’t usually a problem, but in that particular moment I knew I should be focused on other things.

One of the sharks stopped circling and sort of squared up on me. The rum swirling around my brain stirred up a unique hybrid of courage and stupidity so that I decided to charge the fish. My plan was to knee it in the nose because I’d heard they’re sensitive there. I was waist deep in the sea, though, so my knee floated toward the shark in the slow motion of underwater movement like an astronaut walking on the moon. The shark gladly received my kneecap in its open jaws. Amber shrieked from the dock and whipped sausages at the hungry fish. I didn’t know if she was trying to distract it with separate food options or if she thought the projectiles would harm the predator. Regardless, most of the sausages hit me. The dozens of teeth buried in my lower quadricep should have hurt more than it did. The shark thrashed away with furious jerky movements, trying to tear muscle from bone. I noticed its nose poking just above the surface of the water. So I dropped a few elbows down and must have hit the sweet spot because it let go immediately. Frenchie and Hulk had conquered their shark, and the third was wise enough to swim away. I became conscious of the salt water stinging the oozing holes in my leg. The three of us stumbled back onto the beach, greeted by boozy cheers from the adults and terrified tears from the few children that were present. Our Bulgarian friend had shots of rum prepared for us, and, of course, managed to snag a selfie with “The crazy shark boys.”

Amidst a storm of applause, our ladies wrapped beach towels tightly around our wounds. A tsunami of testosterone replaced whatever blood we’d lost. I threw one arm around Frenchie, and with the other I held the shot of rum toward the heavens and shouted from the deepest, most primal part of my gut, “Cheers to pig shit, flying sausage, and shark fights!” Frenchie smiled for the first time that day and shouted something in French. Hulk informed us that they were essentially baby sharks and that we should calm down. We took our shots anyway, pretending not to hear him.

What followed afterward is a bit blurry. But I’m certain it was clear, blue, rummy, and wonderfully clumsy.

Cody Adams is an English teacher and writer from Buffalo, New York. He lives in Toronto because he fell in love with a girl that lives in Toronto. With more talent, Cody would be a wealthy author, film director, and professional football star. But yea, he’s an English teacher (and loves it).

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