The boat arrives at sunset, pulling in under a fruit salad sky. Pineapple, melon, grapefruit and mango, all layered under coconut clouds. The wind whips the waves up into a meringue froth, and I wonder if they eat pavlova in the Pacific. The boat bounces up alongside the dock and I move from fibreglass deck to wooden jetty, my stomach grumbling a thank you. Much longer, and I’m afraid I would have added my own gastrointestinal rainbow to the crystal water. All the while I am serenaded by a three-piece band—guitar, ukulele and percussive, clapping hands—and cries of Bula and Welcome home!
It’s a short walk along the shore to my villa, a postcard-perfect timber building with fly screens and shutters in lieu of glass windows, and an open-air bathroom carved into the cliff face behind. There are flowers and palm trees and, apparently, toads.
Don’t mind the toads, they’re attracted to the water in the shower. They might come watch you bathe. They’re friendly.
Or so the staff tell me.
I clean up quickly and head to dinner in the restaurant, where it’s immediately clear that solitude is a luxury reserved for the villa. I’m drawn into conversation with a grey-haired chorus—Americans, Canadians, and Brits—who wear matching pastel polos and come pre-tagged with seasickness patches below their ears. They nod at my four-hour flight and raise me twenty.
And what do you do? I ask, as is expected.
Finance. Real Estate. Law.
They recite long resumes at firms with surnames strung together like a roll call.
And what about you?
I’m a writer.
Eyes well versed in Excel sparkle as they consider this new novelty.
And what do you write?
A little of everything—some poems, short stories, a novel.
Magical! Wonderful! Marvellous!
The choral echo is overwhelming.
I read a James Patterson novel on the way here. Oh yes, I’ve got a Dan Brown going. Brown? Is he related to Brené? I love her.
Their voices morph into one, the lilt of their respective accents merging into a singular Northern Hemispheresound.
Are you working on something now?
Yes, that’s actually why I’m here. I have a manuscript that’s overdue. I was hoping a change of scenery might inspire me.
Naturally. Of course. How could it not?
I just have to hope they don’t Google me and see that I haven’t published anything in five years, or that I’m best known for a kids’ book about a talking cupcake. For once, I’m grateful for the lack of WiFi.
And what do you think of it here? Did you know it used to be a coconut plantation? Better watch your head! You know statistically you’re more likely to die from getting hit on the head by a coconut than from a shark attack. The odds of both seem much higher in a place like this. Paradise is dangerous. They’re offering package deals for both travel and funeral insurance these days. Two for the price of one. Exactly!
It seems that the input required from me is minimal. At best, I’m a minor character for bouncing dialogue off.
Someone orders another round of Bay Breezes, and I excuse myself. I step out of the restaurant and into a full-fledged ocean wind. Palm trees list over the walkway, their fronds rattling. It’s called Bogi Walu. It literally translates to Eight Nights. Eight nights of blustery wind. Perfectly aligned with the duration of my stay.
I push against the wind, walking at a seventy degree angle all the way back to the villa, keeping my eyes up with the coconuts. It occurs to me that there might have been more than a kernel of truth to the chorus’s jokes.
I sleep soundly with the wind and the waves, then wake early the next day to sit and stare blankly at my computer screen for two hours. My eyes shift back and forth from the white page to the blue horizon.
The cursor ticks.
I stare. Type out a ‘The’. Delete it.
The cursor ticks.
I give up. Perhaps another round of intergenerational banter will summon the muses.
On my way to the restaurant I find some of the staff playing volleyball on their break. They invite me to join in. The fates interceding, or a deus ex machina to save me from my own incompetence. The Greek allusions are coming thick and fast. Maybe I can turn the novel into a play? Some kind of revisionist myth? Oedipus in Paradise has a nice ring to it.
Set, yes set!
We play on a pitch pot-holed by fallen coconuts. Up above, they hang like cluster bombs, primed and waiting for the next airstrike. I barely touch the ball. Most of my attention is on the wrong spherical(ish) objects—which gets laughs from the locals, and a few grimaces from the boys who invited me to play on their team—but it proves warranted when a coconut falls in the middle of the court right as I serve. The thud makes me jump, and the ball hits the net. The locals laugh some more, but there’s a nervous edge to it now. One of the boys rolls the coconut to the side, but it’s made an impression, on both the ground and me.
When the game is over I go and pick up the coconut.
Can I take this? I ask.
Drinking fresh from a coconut feels like a rite of passage, if a little cliché. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
Could you chop it open for me? I ask.
I’m short a machete, and I can’t remember how Tom did it.
We’ll have to husk it first. I’ll show you how we do it.
I think he’d prefer to stay for another game, but one of my teammates leads me over to where they have a special spike lodged in the ground. He lines it up with one of the coconut’s ‘eyes’ and drives it in, making a hole. He rips the outer layer off, leaving the furry skin beneath. When that’s done he pulls a machete from a nearby trunk and makes three quick chops, taking the top off and leaving a perfect sized drinking hole.
I’m sweating—and I’m sure that would draw judgement in the restaurant—so I take my prize back to my villa. It occurs to me that drinking my coconut while in my outdoor shower might be a near perfect ‘paradise’ moment’, so I take it out there and strip down. A toad watches from the shade of a nearby fern. We stare each other down, neither of us blinking, then it opens its mouth and snaps up a passing bug.
I crank the water on, give my amphibious friend a splash, then step into the flow.
Double rainbows dance around me in the shower, light catching the spray as it bounces off my shoulders. The colours are accompanied in my head with the first ukulele strums of Iz’s ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, and I can’t deny the feeling of manufactured relaxation. I’m just a tan away from being in a Visit Fiji commercial. I take a swig from the coconut, and am surprised by the slight fizz—like maybe it had started to ferment—but it’s warm and sweet, and refreshing.
The juice spills down my front as I tilt the coconut back. My eyes drift up the cliff face, and I realise there’s another palm that grows outwards from the forest, extending its reach over the villa. Another bushel of coconuts is suspended directly above the shower, a dozen yellow-green orbs hanging there, like the proverbial gun on the wall.
Not a Greek tragedy, then, but a poetic ending nonetheless. And I’m sure there would be worse ways to go than death by coconut. It would definitely be quick. There might be a boom, or a crunch, but you wouldn’t hear it.
I close my eyes and take another sip, luxuriating in the warmth and the water and the sweet-fizzy taste on my tongue.
I have an idea. Not for the novel I’m supposed to be writing, but for my new play. It’s a good one, playful, lyrical, a little weird.
I can see it now: a tropical island set on stage, a painted backdrop imitating a fruit salad sunset, with a cellophane and Styrofoam sea. A lone writer, sitting on a beach—we’ll splash out for real sand—with a typewriter balanced on his knees and a coconut dangling over his head.
And just when you think it’s going to drop—
END OF SCENE: STAGE LIGHTS GO DOWN
Seth Robinson is an award-winning writer, podcaster, producer, and emerging academic. He is the author of Welcome to Bellevue (2020) the first full-length novel in Grattan Street Press’s original fiction collection. His short fiction has been featured in publications such as Everything All at Once (The Ultimo Prize Anthology), Resilience (The Mascara Literary Review 15th anniversary collection), Aurealis Magazine, Meniscus, [untitled], Intermissions (the GSP Flash Fiction Anthology), and the University of Sydney Anthology, among others.