Fiction: Cuda by Lorette C. Luzajic

His secret is no secret, really. He simply gives the rich white ladies what they want. It’s the best approach, maximizing his scores. The underwater touch on the upper arm, a comment on their hair, or the style of their swimsuit. By now he knows they are ashamed of their pale fat bodies. Some of them wear long t-shirts into the ocean instead of a bathing suit, then tell him it’s to keep away the sun. So he uses that inroad, comforts and reassures them. Makes them feel desirable throughout their snorkeling experience.  Makes the attraction look like it is his idea, not hers.

Manuel knows European women like to be asked their opinion. The American ones love to show off self-righteous indignation for the environment. For these types he casually brings up the conversation about conservation. He’ll mention recent news about the destruction of the reefs, and if he can’t recall the details, he’ll make them up. He only needs to broach the matter. The women will take over the topic quickly. They will feel important and validated for their trailblazing virtues and astonishing insights.

The next move in his arsenal gives each snorkeller the chance to express herself. As he is doing the safety checks and quick demo on how to use the equipment, he asks each lady what fish she is hoping to see. At least one in each group will say “seahorses,” and after a pregnant pause inform him it’s her favourite fish because the male is the one who gets knocked up.

This is sort of true, but he doesn’t get into it.  That will ruin his tips. He will explain instead that it’s rare to see them in the reefs. Seahorses don’t like commotion, and they tend to prefer vegetation nearer the shore.

Other women will invariably mention angelfish, or the stingray.

Those who have done their homework and really love fish will mention the cowfish or lionfish or the fairy basslet. He is more drawn to these women, because they are actually looking at the world around him and not just at him.

Once he has gone over the obligatory best practice stuff and checked if everyone’s gear is in order, they all board the boat for the short ride to the reef. Here is where he’ll show something more if he thinks he could stand to sleep with one of them. He will hold her hand a bit longer as he helps her with her balance, sweep his eyes up and down and past her with a practiced nonchalance.

It is what all of them are here for. Not the yellow beaugregory or the trumpetfish, but the dark diver, the bronze and brawny sun-drenched frijolero. He will show off his sinewy and strong body, and let his trunks slip just so to reveal the jagged scar under his navel. This long-ago stabbing is a goldmine- it always increases his tips. Even the toughest of tourists are unbelievably sheltered and can’t get enough of his scars.

If there is one thing he has learned in all his years of diving and grifting, it is that women love a man with a secret wound.

Sometimes he will bring out the big guns before the girls get into the boat and scare them a little bit by predicting they will see the barracuda.

The ferocious barracuda, only third down in fear royalty from piranhas and jaws. Predator of the waves. The terrifying cuda.

This won’t work on everyone. He has learned that the sturdy, flat-footed Germans aren’t afraid of anything. Not cartel bosses, not jihadis, not gonorrhea. Unlike the Aussies and the English, they’re never ashamed of their ugly calves or their wrinkles. They are as pragmatic as doctors. They are simply not frightened by the four-foot, wieldy-toothed carnivore fish.

Same thing with the Texas broads. One brassy blonde actually pulled a mini revolver out of her deep-sea nylon carry all pouch. Will this work if I see the cuda? she asked, taking all of his power out of the moment.

But it works wonders on the tamer targets. Throw a little fear into the water, and those bikinis are practically fighting to free their buoys.

The barracuda is not as terrible as he seems. He preys on reef life, so of course he is found where the food is. He seldom comes for tourists and even less for locals, and he has only swallowed a few fingers in his day.

When Manuel tells this story, chances are that one or more of his charges will make her move. Tuck an American twenty into his hand, invite him to the hotel bar.

Finished with today’s tours, he waits now for the French woman and her friend to finish showering.

This won’t be as bad as usual. French women are attractive, even the older ones.  They have a reputation here of being stingy with their wallets, but in Manuel’s experience, they are generous with the sugar when satisfied. And doing two at once means a little novelty, so he can more easily feign a thrill.

He wishes he was home, sure, showing his young son how to season tamales, or drawing cartoon cudas with his little girls.

He’d rather not go through with it at all. But for tonight, for this time, at least he’ll be able to get it up.

Lorette C. Luzajic is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to literature inspired by art. She earned a degree in journalism, but went on to pursue a more creative path. Her prose poetry and small fictions have been published widely, including at Flash Boulevard, New Flash Fiction Review, Unbroken, Cleaver Magazine, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and more. She has been nominated for several Best of Net and Pushcart prizes. Her flash story recently won first place at Macqueen’s Quinterly, and another was long-listed at Australia’s Furious Fiction Prize. Lorette’s most recent of many books are Pretty Time Machine: ekphrastic prose poems (Mixed Up Media Books), and Salt, a greatest hits collection of poetry (Cyberwit Books in India.) Lorette is also an award-winning visual artist with collectors in 25 countries from Estonia to Peru. Visit her at or

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