When it come to business Mister Z he don’t mess around and he know what the people want, what is bananas. Now me myself I’m as close near to native of this island as possible, been here since its inception twenty year prior, and in personal opinion I am sick of bananas, these heavy green clusterfucks considerable high out of reach, smelling like old shoes pulled out a croc’s mouth. That why lunchtime is my favorite time of workday when we all squat in the banana leaf shade with black soil pushing between our toes and no one of us eat bananas. I’m getting seasick again say Joze, the most sensitive among us. Her always-upset stomach has started to cave like a wheelbarrow with her hips handling out to either side, what not any of our other women look like so sometime they call her a skinny ho. Please can I have that yam? Melz want to know. He is a boy thirteen-fourteen just got here and still learning the rules of the place. He got no one yet and make his own lunch of bread scraps and overripe fruit and carrot he stole out a garden. Joze snatch up the yam what she will bring home and make sure it get into the mouth of one of her own. Us people we look out for our own here and she is a good woman that way.
I eat fast to squeeze in a swim before the man he tell us to get back to work, so I jump hunched-over Melz and race past the trees for shore, not bothering to throw off clothes for all that’s on me anyhow is a raggedy pair of shorts and a bracelet someone I don’t know who gave my pop once.
The sea salt stings my palms as I throw my head beneath the waves that break tall over me. I don’t see no jellies with their electric bite so that’s good for I been zapped more’n once and it’s about as fun as having to compost the toilet, what is to say no fun at all, until soon I turn for shore. Now if you isn’t from around here you don’t realize getting ashore is the tricky part, for if you do it wrong you snared beneath the island and then you would surely drown. This island is not what a typical person would think when you say Island for this island is man-made in its entirety. What we did we made a base like a huge shallow bowl out of floating synthetic material that will last much longer than you or I put together, then we sunk six-seven of the biggest anchors you can imagine and hooked these to hold the thing in place, what is why the island at times move a little like a ship, what is why Joze’s belly complains, then we heap this bowl with the richest soil, then in that soil we set banana trees little baby ones what growed riotous fast as a wink from all this fat soil, so today that’s why all I do all day is harvest them bananas. Undoubtable Mister Z had the right idea you got to admit because the mainland bananas don’t look near as good as these since the soil dried out like a old woman back in twenty-nineteen, though I don’t know how the island bananas taste seeing as I vowed to never eat another banana again, but people say they’re good. Plus before the island, bananas took over nearabout all the land and the people including my own pop angered over bananas pushing them off their land and there was some violent acts, none I wish to observe at this moment in time. Anyways it’s dangerous as all coming in from swimming, for you could try to launch yourself ashore and instead get caught beneath the bowl and under there you would surely drown.
Back to work right on time since uncommon luck get me a job here as Mister Z quite particular and make new lives for a select few only, so I am careful with keeping to time.
The workday over I get home to Mama to our house crooked on the soft soil seeing as they didn’t think ahead to a good house-building place on the island and instead filled it with land only a banana could love, and she Mama say Don’t you look at your sister that way! even though I’m not looking at the girl at all. Mama think just because I’ll never make enough money to marry I’ll done go and fiddle my sister, well, the girl’s big as Mama already though no more’n twenty I guess, plus she’s not my sister just some girl come here with no one so we took her in for we all came from everywheres with nothing and fit as well into families as we can, but I would never no how think to touch her.
Tonight is a special night and I will tell you why. It is Saturday and not just any Saturday, it is the one that is Mister Z’s birthday, and while he do not spend most or hardly any of his time on the island he like to spend this one day here at least, I think because the bananas growing on trees is like he see money growing there, what would be a beautiful sight to any man who know the money is his and not just something he got to pick. So we all dress as best we can and don’t bother to cook supper, for this one evening someone else will cook, though that is not all for also there will be wine and music and dancing, three things I would have each and every night if I could.
Me and Mama and the girl I haven’t in seven years easily called Sister, maybe things would be different if Pop had been around, but he gone and that is that, we three head down the shore to the festivities, what already is started up even though we thought ourselves had jumped the gun early. I zip to the wine table and get me a glass, then over to the buffet and what do I see but bananas bananas everywhere. There is banana bread and banana pudding and fried bananas and banana curry and banana salad and banana chicken, even, what I am tempted to take, for no animal live here what might foul up the bananas and I can’t recall what chicken taste like, but the smell is yellow bad and I turn veer away.
Joze come over eyeing the food in awe. Well someone went overboard I say, but she think I mean overboard in a good way, what I choose not to correct for she appear to be having a time. I ask if she want to dance and she say okay sure so I take her small warm hand and pull her over to the other few couples pushing each other back and forth, their feet tramping down the lush earth. Joze in her green sarong that make her eyes look a little green, not singular brown, maybe like a bruised avocado, she look scrumptious good tonight, and yes I imbibed another glass of wine so I tell her I could eat her up, to what she laughs and that lovely tinkling sound must be what first attract Mister Z over. He say May I cut in and What name did I assign a gorgeous girl like you and he step in front of me, of course I have to let him seeing as he doubtless own everything I think of as mine, and he put one fancy arm on Joze’s hip and the other on her hand and swirl her in a fashion that look plain silly to me and everyone watching.
I bump into someone and it is Melz he hand me a full cup of wine and say Who is that guy you gonna let him take your woman? I sure am I say and tell Melz who it is. He ask me if I would be mad if he ask my sister to dance and I say Go ahead it’ll be a kick and he say No really she’s the best girl here don’t you think? and I say Naw. The wine trickles down my throat as I watch Melz walk over to Sister who laugh in his face when he reach for her hand set atop a mound of thigh, and then a man shove the boy Melz aside and grab my sister like she a steak and I wonder if maybe there something to what Mama keep hinting.
She’s no good anyway I tell Melz when he come back head hanging, and he say Yeah whatever a man has got to try his luck. In the tiki torch light Melz is looking more and more like my best friend or maybe the brother Mama lost and I say Hey, this is a party, we got to do something fun. Melz say Yeah okay what so I say We should go for a swim there’s nothing like warm water to hold a man up when he feel down. Melz say I’m not down and I say I’m not neither but it’s fun anyhow.
We lope through the land that always smell like shit though there’s no animal to shit over it not even a quail or agouti or snake, so I can’t never look something not human in the eye, and then we cannonball and we in it the water and everything bad float away in a happy memory for some reason I am sentimental tonight, remembering when my pop threw me in and said he’d get me a monkey if I swimmed back to him and I did and he did, though that monkey knuckled away after a few days never to be found again. This is great I yell the water make me feel free, though I am not sure that Melz hears me. Pretty soon I decide that I am drunk and that swimming drunk is quite the delight, but then a wave slam me down for I am drunk and not paying attention, so I start for shore plus I want to see if I can find another girl to dance with and maybe more than dance with later. Melz see me and he turn around too and we splash in together the water breaking white around my arms, and then onshore I knock the sea from my ears and go for my clothes where I hung them in a banana tree since they is my best clothes and there no use getting them wet, not if I’m courting lady tonight, but by the time I dress I look around and realize no Melz. I stand on the lip of the bowl and don’t see no Melz out in the water neither so I start screaming his name, running up and down the mucky shore and I guess my screams is loud enough to carry over the party music for pretty soon people stand on either side of me asking What going on? I jump in. Other people be telling me Get out get out it’s no use. I keep scooping through the deep deep water hoping my hand will latch on to another hand, what don’t happen. After a empty long time someone hook me in his arm and pull me ashore. My best clothes is soaked and salty the sight of what make me want to cry, but I bite my cheek until it bleed. Fake Sister lead a crowd back to the dance floor. Joze say Maybe a jelly stinged him. I say It was not a jelly no it wasn’t it was my fault entire. No she say and touch my arm, but I shake her away for the particular only contact I want right now is a punishing sort. Go back to Mister Z I tell her, for Mister Z still partying no spectacle for him likely he cannot bear unpleasantness. And the people do go back to the festivities even my mama every single one of them and I am left alone on the shore all alone for Melz was new a kid with no Pop or Mama not even a fake Sister and that mean no one to revenge me for losing him no matter how long I wait here because these better times is still hard and no one care but about their own.
M. S. Coe has a novel, New Veronia, forthcoming from Clash Books in 2019 and stories published or forthcoming in Antioch Review, The Cantabrigian, Electric Literature, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Matador Review. Coe, who is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, earned an MFA from Cornell University and acts as the co-editor of Eggtooth Editions.