I waded out of the muddy water onto the sand. Dead things were everywhere: decaying seaweed, bloated fish, mollusks decomposing in their shells. Palm trees fringed the beach, littering the ground with rotting fronds.
Something rustled in the undergrowth, and I crouched to get a look. Two dark eyes, sunk in a pink, wrinkly face, stared back. A baby macaque, too shy to come out. He looked hopefully at my string of croakers.
“You like fish?” I said, holding them up.
The foliage erupted, and the macaque’s mother leaped out, lunging at the fish. I fell on the sand and edged backward like a crab. The macaque screeched, baring her teeth.
“Whoa, mama,” I said, rising slowly and backing away.
When I reached the water, she relaxed, slumping onto her haunches, still eyeing my fish. I retreated down the beach.
Crazy-colored boats, their prows painted with leering eyes and toothy grins, bobbed in the lagoon. There was a shack covered with blue tarps at the verge of the jungle. I went up and stuck my head in. A white guy with dreadlocks stood behind a plywood counter, cooking something on a camp stove. Another guy was lounging in a hammock. An Asian girl, short and plump and smiling, emerged from the shadows. Her t-shirt read “Priority Boarding.”
“You’re in my picture,” she said, holding out her phone.
“My picture. I thought that monkey was gonna kick your butt.”
I looked at the phone. There I was, sprawled in the sand at the mercy of an angry macaque. I asked if she could email it to me. She gave me a funny look. “Email? You’re on Monkey Island, man.”
“What’s that you got?” said the cook. “Fish?”
He seemed incredulous, as if he had no idea there might be aquatic life swimming in the trash-strewn waters of Monkey Island.
“Croakers,” I said.
“I’m just making SpaghettiOs. You’re welcome to have some. And there’s water, cheap.”
I paid him and chugged a bottle of water.
“You will sweat that out in five minutes,” said the guy in the hammock.
“Guess where I’m from!” said the girl, bouncing merrily in place.
Hammock dude sighed. “She does this to everyone.”
“Guess where I’m from! You’ll never guess!” Her dimpled cheeks were red from the heat.
“France,” I said. “I detect a slight French accent.”
“I get that all zee time. Haha. But no. Guess again.”
I tried to think of places the French had colonized. “Cambodia.”
“No, but I go to school there.”
“So, how’d you wind up on Monkey Island?”
She laughed. “I had a holiday! I was only supposed to be here a week, but I just couldn’t leave. It’s been a month now. Or almost a month. Hasn’t it, Juan?”
Juan squirmed in his hammock and groaned. “Probably more than a month. It seems like very much more than a month.”
“He’s joking!” said the girl. “He really loves me. Don’t you?”
She flopped onto the hammock, and it dipped low. “Stop!” said Juan. “You will break it again!” The girl rolled off, giggling. “Look,” she said, flailing on the ground. “I’m making a sand angel.”
Juan turned away from us and assumed a fetal position. The cook stirred his SpaghettiOs. I stepped out of the shack and looked down the shoreline. A Muslim family was in the water, the father splashing around with the kids, the mother lazing in the shallows in a sodden burka.
The girl crept up and pounced on my back. She wrapped her legs around my waist and shook my shoulders. “Hey, man! You haven’t guessed where I’m from yet! You have to keep guessing until you get it!” She hopped down and attempted a cartwheel, failing badly.
“What are you on?” I said.
“Everything! This is Monkey Island, man! Keep guessing.”
“China,” I said.
“C’mon. They don’t even call it that anymore.”
She jumped up and shimmied spastically. “You’ll never guess! You’ll never guess!”
“I give up.”
She shoved me. “No! You have to guess!”
“Suriname, Nicaragua, Mauretania, San Marino, Vatican City.”
“No, no, no!”
“Just tell me already.”
“Oh, fine. It’s Russia. I’m from Russia. Told you you’d never guess.”
“But you’ve spent some time in the States,” I said.
She was spinning around in circles when the cook hollered, “Slop’s done!”
We went inside for SpaghettiOs. Shrunken meatballs, pale rings of pasta, and a couple of flies floated in orange sauce. There were no plates, so we took turns dipping spoons in the pot. “Last can,” said the cook. “What’ll we do for supper?” They gawked at my fish.
“Absolutely,” I said. “There’s not much meat on these guys, but I’ll fillet what I can.”
“You just earned yourself a beer,” said the cook, throwing me a cold quart.
We drank for a while, watching boats depart. People climbed aboard and woke their captains, who jumped onto the sand, threw the anchors on deck, and pushed off. I was supposed to meet my own captain at 6:30, so we could make it back to the mainland before dark.
I found a log on the beach and laid out the fish. They were small, but I had a compact fillet knife, very sharp. As I cut, monkeys crawled out of garbage barrels, sniffing the air. “Get away!” I said, waving the knife. They scratched themselves and scowled.
The Russian girl appeared, yelling loudly, scattering the monkeys. “Better not mess with me,” she said, and then, “Hey, where’s the fish? We’re starving.”
“Coming right up.”
While the cook prepared the croaker fillets, we talked about a hurricane that had recently smashed the Caribbean. Well, I talked about it. They hadn’t heard. It was Monkey Island, after all.
The fish turned out pretty good, pan-fried with no breading. I kept drinking beer, and when I looked outside, it was dark. I ran to the water. All the boats were gone. I was drunk enough not to care and even imagined remaining on Monkey Island indefinitely, fishing and boozing with my new friends. After a year of drifting, maybe I’d found a home.
When I returned to the shack, the croakers had all been eaten. “No more beer,” said the cook. “Sorry, dude.”
I told him I’d missed my boat.
“No worries. There’ll be plenty tomorrow.”
“Actually, I was thinking of staying on the island a while.”
“Yeah. You can sleep under the canopy where the locals’ party. Don’t mess with their chickens, though.”
“Chickens? Couldn’t I just crash here?”
“Nah. No room.”
They were all staring, waiting for me to leave.
“Well, what time’s the first boat tomorrow?” I said.
“Early. The roosters will wake you up. But don’t get any ideas about a chicken breakfast. We don’t want the locals pissed off at us.”
“Yeah,” said the girl, nudging me toward the door. “And watch out for monkeys.”
“They wouldn’t bite a sleeping man, would they?” I said, half-jokingly.
“Sure,” she said. “It’s Monkey Island.”
About the Author
Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. His creative work has appeared in Hobart, Hawai`i Pacific Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly, failbetter, Lowestoft Chronicle, and elsewhere, and he’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.