by Robert P. Bishop
The man and woman sat at a table on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the beach and the sea. The water glittered blue-green in the afternoon sun. The woman pulled her hat brim low over her eyes to block the sun’s glare. White shore birds following the thin edge of a receding wave plunged their beaks into the wet sand in search of small crustaceans then retreated up the beach as another wave rolled in.
“Do you want a drink?” the man asked. He was staring out to sea, his face shaded from the sun’s harsh reflection by the bill of his cap.
“Yes,” the woman replied. She watched the shore birds chase the edge of another receding wave.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t care. You decide.”
“I’m going to have a guaro. Do you want a guaro?”
“Yes, a guaro is all right.” The woman looked at the sea then at the shore birds probing the wet sand with their long slender beaks.
After the waiter had brought the drinks and gone away, the woman said, “Well?” She still did not look at the man.
“What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to enjoy my guaro, that’s what I’m going to do.” The man raised his glass and peered at the colorless liquid before taking a drink.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“I mean, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know what you are getting at. We’re here. Shouldn’t we try to enjoy ourselves?” The man finished his drink and looked around for the waiter. “I want another one.”
“You always want another one.” The woman finished her drink. “If you’re having another, I will, too.”
“Don’t you want to be here?”
“You wanted to come here.” The shore birds chattered as they scampered on thin pink legs over the dark, wet sand.
“You said you wanted to go someplace exotic, someplace tropical.”
“Yes, I said that, but I didn’t say I wanted to come to this place. You’re the one who decided we should come here. You didn’t even ask me before you bought the plane tickets. You said it would be a surprise.”
The woman felt a bead of sweat run down behind her ear and along her neck. “It’s too hot.”
“Well, we’re here now. Let’s not fight. I don’t want to fight. Let’s enjoy ourselves.”
“I don’t want to fight either. It’s no use fighting anymore.”
“Then let’s not fight.” The man smiled. “Can we do that while we’re here?”
“So, what do you want to do?”
“Why do you keep asking me that? I don’t know what to do. You planned this trip. You should know what to do.”
“We can look at the brochures in the hotel lobby, maybe go on a day trip into the rain forest.”
The woman turned her attention to a man with a tattered straw hat low over his eyes and a canvas bag slung across his chest. He walked along the beach then turned toward the terrace where the man and woman sat. He walked by them and stopped at another table where a man and a woman sat under an umbrella.
The man reached into the canvass bag and pulled something out. He held it toward the two people under the umbrella and started talking. The distance was too great for the woman to hear what was being said or see what was being shown.
“What are you looking at?” the man asked her.
“That peddler. He must be a local. I think he’s trying to sell something to those people at that table with the umbrella.”
The man turned around to look. “I hope he doesn’t bother us.”
The waiter approached and put their drinks on the table. “What is that man doing?” the woman asked.
The waiter looked at the peddler. “That is Señor Cristóbal. He is a wood carver.”
“But what is he doing? Is he trying to sell something to those people?”
“Yes, he carves the cocobolo wood. His carvings are very beautiful,” the waiter said before leaving.
Señor Cristóbal put the object in the canvas bag and turned away.
“He’s coming toward us,” the man said. “Is he going to try to sell us something? Christ, I bet he is.”
“Don’t be rude,” the woman said.
Señor Cristóbal stopped at their table, smiled at them and pulled a carving out of the canvas bag. “El tiburón, the shark,” he said and put the carving on their table. The shark balanced on its pectoral fins. Señor Cristóbal tapped the tail fin and the shark rocked up and down on the pectorals. “It is very beautiful, yes?”
The man didn’t say anything. He picked it up and rubbed his fingers along the smooth dark wood. “Do you like it?” he asked the woman.
“It’s all right.”
“Do you want it?”
“No, I don’t want it. If you want it, buy it.”
“I think I will. It will be a souvenir. How much?”
“Seventeen dollars,” Señor Cristóbal said.
“Seventeen dollars? No, that’s too much. I’ll give you seven dollars for it.”
“It is a very fine carving.”
“But it isn’t worth seventeen dollars. That’s too much money.”
“I must have seventeen dollars for it, Señor. It is worth that much.”
“Not to me, it isn’t. Seven dollars.”
“I cannot sell it for less than seventeen dollars, Señor.”
“Seven dollars is my offer. Take it or leave it.” The man put the shark on the table.
“Stop it, just stop it!” the woman said. She reached into her purse for some bills and counted out seventeen dollars. “Here,” she said and handed the money to Señor Cristóbal. “For the shark.”
“Gracias, Señora.” Señor Cristóbal took the money and bowed slightly to the woman.
The man and the woman watched the wood carver walk away. Several minutes passed in silence. The man tapped the tail of the shark and set it rocking on its pectoral fins. He stared at the shark for a few moments then said, “Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” The woman looked at the sea and saw the color of the water had turned from blue-green to blue.
“Why did you give him seventeen dollars?”
“Please don’t ask that.” The woman picked up her glass, drained it and held it up for the waiter to see.
The man picked up the shark then put it down. “He was going to let me have it for seven dollars. I could see it in his eyes. He was going to cave. He needs the money.”
“God, you are awful.”
The waiter arrived and put two drinks on the table.
The man swiveled to face the woman. “We agreed not to fight. I thought we were not going to fight.”
“We’re not fighting.”
“Yes we are.”
“Fine. Have it your way. We’re fighting. Do you feel better now?”
“No, I don’t feel better. I don’t know what we are doing.”
“We’re deciding what to do.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
They didn’t say anything for several minutes. The woman looked at the sea and was surprised at how quickly the water had turned from blue to gray. They sipped their drinks in silence, staring out to sea.
“I could have had this for seven dollars.” The man picked up the carving. “You paid way more than it’s worth. Seventeen dollars was too much.”
“Please, please stop.”
“Well, it was too much.” The man slumped in his seat and put the shark on the table.
The woman said, “I’m exhausted.” She stood up.
“What about the carving?”
“I don’t want it.”
“But you bought it. It’s yours.”
“I’m going to the room and lie down.”
The woman walked away.
The man caught the waiter’s attention, raised his glass and held up one finger. The man tapped the shark’s tail fin. The shark, perfectly balanced, rocked up and down. When it stopped moving the man tapped the tail again. The shark rocked up and down as the man waited for his drink to arrive.
The waiter put the drink on the table and pointed at the shark. “It is a very fine carving, Señor.”
“I didn’t want it, not for seventeen dollars.”
The waiter shrugged, turned and walked away, leaving the man alone with Señor Cristóbal’s shark.
The man tapped the shark’s tail again and watched it rock up and down. He finished his drink, put the empty glass next to the shark and stood. He tapped the shark’s tail once more then walked across the terrace toward the hotel.
The shore birds scampered over the wet sand, chasing the edge of a receding wave.
* * *
Robert P. Bishop, a former soldier and teacher, holds a Master’s in Biology and lives in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of three novels and three short-story collections, available on Amazon. His work has appeared in Active Muse, Ariel Chart, Better Than Starbucks, Clover and White, CommuterLit, Corner Bar Magazine, Fleas on the Dog, The Ink Pantry, Literally Stories, The Literary Hatchet, Lunate Fiction, Scarlet Leaf Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine and elsewhere.