Connie balanced on an imaginary line along the Caribbean shore. Her foot slipped and her toes sank under the lapping water. She laughed, brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Slanted palm trees bristled in the early morning sun. Out to sea, past the dock and palapa, waves broke over the barrier reef. Beyond the reef, a catamaran slide across the horizon. A figure dressed in white stood behind the wheel.

A flowy robe trailed her back to her bungalow. Inside, sheer curtains ebbed from open windows. In the canopy bed, a sun-kissed man rustled as she dropped her robe to the ground and slid under the covers.
It had been six months since she first landed in Belize City.
***
Connie was against the trip to Belize to celebrate her fortieth, but Jill and Stacy insisted.

“I don’t know,” she said over Zoom.“Belize isn’t the safest, and I’m still getting over the divorce.”

“First,” Jill replied. “It’s going on two years. Second, you don’t know shit about Belize. San Pedro is very safe.”

“It’s true, Connie,” Stacy chimed in. “Well, nineteen months, but she’s mostly right.”

“Thank you, Stacy,” Jill rolled her eyes.

“You two aren’t taking no for an answer, are you?” Connie sighed.
***
Before Thomas’s affair, Connie imagined she was different. Thomas always said she could overcomplicate an evening walk. Maybe he was right. Thomas ran off to Spokane, of all places, with her, the 25-year-old barista from their favorite coffee shop. Kelly? Kelsey? Until the discovery, she’d been Connie’s favorite barista; consistently able to get her complicated order correct. Yet she still didn’t know her name.

Following the discovery, Connie’s thoughts barely changed, she was just missed her favorite coffee shop. When she received word they’d left town, she returned and while happy to be back, she lamented the fact that her order was consistently wrong.

Connie felt no vengeance. She took the view that a terrible mistake was avoided. Though she did find solace in believing it was Thomas who would suffer the more devastating pain. He was 44, 19 years Kelly or Kelsey’s senior. Their future was laughably impractical. If he kept her through her 20s it would be a surprise and by the time it unceremoniously ended, he would near 50, lovesick and out of options. Still, it was not lost on her that in this scenario, Thomas was still enjoying, for at least some part of those five years, the spoils of being in a sexual relationship with a 25-year-old.
***
In the days leading up to the trip, Connie wavered on baggage. Airline rules dictated a carry-on and a personal item. After several agonizing days, Connie chose a backpack, a checked bag, and a camera case as a personal item. Checking in online, a $25 seat upgrade presented itself. She accepted and was offered an earlier flight for $75. Concerned that her flight landed an hour after Jill and Stacy’s, she complied. She watched the confirmation wheel spin, certain another option waited to torture her. Instead, a thank you screen and an option to print her boarding pass appeared. She slid the boarding passes inside her passport then stared at the baggage, thinking of excuses for missing the flight.
***
The flight was uneventful. Connie found the ramshackle Belize City airport charming. After clearing customs, she passed a line of drivers holding signs with handwritten names. She read them like her own name might magically appear.

The only trip abroad she and Thomas took was to France. Thomas proved inept at the basic fundamentals of foreign travel. He broke down almost immediately upon arrival when they exited the train at the wrong stop, and he was unable to ask for directions. Connie took charge and did so the remainder of the trip. They made love once on the month-long trip, in Nice, after a night out by the beach. Thomas ejaculated onto the mattress of the twin bed and though she covered it with a sheet, she couldn’t stop thinking about how uninspiring the sex had been and how difficult it would be to remove the stain.
“Connie!”

Jill approached in a flowing skirt and too tight halter-top. Bug-eyed glasses threatened to swallow her face. She carried a bottle of Belizean rum.

Stacy was on her heels wearing long shorts and a loose tank top. Wayfarers connected to a strap around her neck.

“I got the taxi ticket,” Stacy waved a piece of paper. “Twenty-five bucks. Want to pay me back now or later? Jill said she’d buy me a rum punch.Do I want a rum punch?”

“Probably,” Connie said.

Jill grabbed Connie by the shoulders.

“Jesus, that Yoga keeps your body banging,” she said, undressing Connie with her eyes.

Connie and Stacy shared a look.

In the cab to the water taxi, Stacy gripped Jill’s headrest. Connie snuck a peek and laughed.
Jill swigged from the rum, flirting with the driver, who kept responding, “yes, mama.”
They reached a roundabout where cars entered from all directions. It was more dirt circle than roundabout. Nothing stopped cars from barreling straight through. How it functioned was a mystery. Jill offered Connie the rum after they survived. The cab sliced through the decrepit streets barely avoiding pedestrians until they reached the water taxi that would to the island of Ambergris Caye and the town of San Pedro.

Connie couldn’t get the water taxi’s wi-fi to work. Stacy had a book. Jill prattled on about an islander she met on her previous visit. They hadn’t exchanged numbers, but he chartered a boat. She found him on Trip Advisor, and they planned to meet.

“If he bails,” Jill said. “I’ll just find another long-dicked islander.”

“Isn’t this trip supposed to be about Connie?” Stacy said.

“Yes, Stacy,” Jill said. “But you don’t come to the Caribbean just to sun on the beach. It’s hot and steamy and it makes you want to fuck. I’m getting us all fucked.”

“I’m not sleeping with anyone here,” Stacy laughed.

“Less work for me,” Jill muttered.

Through a porthole, Connie glimpsed the first jungle-like Caye. Staggered docks jutted into turquoise water. Conch Republic flags whipped in the wind. A tremor of freedom rushed. When they docked on San Pedro, Connie was confused by the beaches. Twenty feet of sand led to shallow water dotted with sea grass. The bars and restaurants appeared decades behind, but their subtle charm surprised Connie. The breeze felt good on her neck. The sun warm on her skin.

“Let’s get the golf cart,” Jill said. “The resort is a trek.”

They walked through town. Tourists zipped by in golf carts. Islanders hawked jewelry and blankets. Reggaeton drifted from barber shops.

Jill secured the golf cart. Stacy climbed in back with the luggage. Jill hopped in the driver’s seat.

“I’ll drive,” Connie said, sliding Jill over.

Connie started slow. The streets were packed. Jill pointed down a dirt side road flooded with giant puddles.

“I bought weed off a guy back there,” Jill said. “He lived in a cement block with no electricity or running water. I watched him feed a raw egg to a Coatimundi.”

“What’s a Coatimundi?” Stacy asked.

“It’s like a raccoon, but they evolved from five different animals.” Jill said. “And their demeanor is different. Much more aggressive.”

“I love Coatimundi,” Connie said and pressed the gas. The top speed was low, but Connie felt like she was flying. She didn’t notice a speed bump and they soared over it.

“Jesus, Connie,” Stacy said.

Jill seemed impressed.

Connie spotted the next speed bump but didn’t slow. In the air, she let go of the wheel and spread her arms out free.

12 Comments

  1. Georgiana Nelsen

    Hi Wilson,
    Seems we are all reliving or imagining travel today. Loved your descriptions–this trip to San Pedro is a welcome relief from this endless winter! Since you began with Connie enjoying all the creature comforts of the tropics, the balance of the piece gives us the backstory of how it came to be. It looks like it could be a longer story, even part of a novel, but if you want to keep it as flash, i think you could cut all the way to “the flight was uneventful.” The ex, the 25 year old barista and the cost of upgrades don’t really add to the sense of the independence and freedom you are painting for Connie. I’d like to see more of the Coatimundi … I think you want us to make the leap of more aggressive demeanor to the renewed Connie… maybe a little more scene between the flying golf cart and the man in her bed?
    Great characters here.., would love to read more of them.
    G

  2. David O'Connor

    Wilson, great set up here, feels. like a slice of something longer, bigger, you have the ingredients, well-set up, just zips along, well done, can’t wait to see where it goes…

  3. Len Kuntz

    Hi Wilson,

    You’ve developed some great characters and complications here. This reads wonderfully, like one of those epic Michener novels, though more grounded. Your detailed descriptions are terrific and adeptly transported me to the tropics, so much so that I could almost smell hibiscus. I loved the ending, the spreading of the arms, the receival of freedom and rebirth. It left me wanting more, which is always good. You might have the beginning of a novel here. Well done.

  4. Jonathan Cardew

    Wilson,

    Thank you ever so much for taking us somewhere warm. Reminded me of my time in Cape Verde–the beaches, the rum, the sun, the freedom.

    As always, your clear-eyed cinematographer style led me along without a false beat. You never go too far with your descriptions, but you never hold back: “Through a porthole, Connie glimpsed the first jungle-like Caye. Staggered docks jutted into turquoise water. Conch Republic flags whipped in the wind.” I love your minimalist style and approach, you cut in and out of things, but you build a preponderance of these moments so that we feel like we are soaking into the narrative.

    Your characters, too, are well-wrought and you never treat them with a heavy hand. You just keep feeding us with tidbits, enough to open up a whole world of story and possibility. I love the confusion of the name (Kelly, Kelsey) and I love Jill, the party animal, there’s always one person like this in a group!

    And the title! I love an unusual name for a title–and you place this coatimundi as the central metaphor or totem very brilliantly.

    HOW ABOUTS:

    1. Longer? I think this has all the hallmarks of a 3 – 5k long story, and perhaps you could dive deeper into this piece.

    2. Coatimundi. I want to know more about this curious animal. What does it look like? What are its habits? This is a first draft, of course, but you could really flesh out the part involving the coatimundi; there’s so much potential for cross-pollination between the animal and the MC’s experience of divorce and freedom. I’m fascinated by the idea that this animal is a weird evolutionary thing–could tie into the idea that we evolve as people in mysterious, multiple ways (to survive and adapt), which brings us to a character learning to adapt to a new life.

    3. Structure. I like the way you start 6 months later and then go back. We see Connie free in the opening, and then we go back to see how it happened. I wonder if you could play around with this a little more. I feel like there needs to be a greater climax at the end of this story (something involving the coatimundi, an incident of some kind that propels Connie into this freedom, more payoff). You could also play around with a braided approach, flick between the 6 months in the future, the build up to the vacation, and the vacation. Certainly, the 6-month in the future Connie needs a little more attention.

    I love soaking into your stories, Wilson. I’d love to see where you take this. I really feel like this could develop into some of your best work, and I would urge you to consider building this slowly and then thinking of some fabulous venues. Let’s brainstorm!

    Cheers,

    General Cardwallis

  5. Al Kratz

    Hey Wilson, totally agree with Cardew’s comments. I loved this story and sitting with these characters and this world. It really did feel to me like something longer and that could really pace and develop beyond the flash constraints.

  6. Jennifer Todhunter

    hey again, god, i miss travelling, and am thankful for the escape you gave me this morning through this story. for me, for flash, if that’s what you’re going for, it feels like it needs to be trimmed and the focus honed a bit to give us that slice of a moment, rather than the whole enchilada, which this sort of feels like, and while i am down with what you’re cooking up, i think, if that’s the direction you’re heading in, that you could slow down and develop the moments a little bit more largely. which i guess is a really long way of saying the pacing feels off and maybe that’s because you haven’t decided where you want this piece to end up – something short or something longer. at any rate, i wanted more coatimundi in all it’s brilliance, so either way, give me more of that lol. great stuff, as per usual.

  7. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Nice slice of life and nice lead up to arriving in paradise (I love Belize) but I feel like this tale is just beginning. A pilot episode for full season or even a longer series. An intro to a novella. I’d love to see how these characters enjoy and maneuver through Belize, both individually and together. I could see side stories and side chapters. Great world-building and jump-off point!

  8. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Wilson, thanks for the trip to Belize with Connie and her cohorts (sort of wanted them to be a lesbian couple, but that’s just me!) I feel you have a terrific start to a longer story, as has been intimated by others. I have vacationed on Ambergris Caye so I’m excited to see some more of those details like the golf carts flushed out. Overall, the tension in back story is terrific. Maybe one or two more surprising elements added to layer Connie slightly more. Does she lie to Jill about something? Does she steal a Coatimundi and attempt to make it a pet? OK, I’ll stop now.

  9. Kristin Bonilla

    I second (or third) the Coatimundi chant! I want more and that includes more story. Of course you could trim and make this flash but it really does feel like it’s the kind of story that wants more room to breathe. Great stuff here!

  10. Todd Clay Stuart

    Wilson, I agree with others that as good as this is, it feels like it wants to run longer. In workshops like this, we write to order, imposing word limitations, but some pieces just want to run longer and we don’t know it until we write one if it’s going to run or not. With readers investing in a significant amount of backstory here, I think to do this justice, you should consider making it a full length short story. The pacing already seems tuned for a short story, so you’re already on your way. Nice work! I look forward to meeting up with this again in the future.

  11. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Wilson, Thank you for the trip to the Caribbean. Loved the ambiance and especially the post-divorce thoughts of Connie, the protagonist. One thread in the story did leave me wanting to know more. Who was the sun-kissed man in Connie’s bed in the first paragraph. We get the end of marriage very clearly (love the barista), but I’d love to see more development of that sun-kissing note. A one-night from a bar, a sequence of one-nighters, or the beginning of a longer stay, dumping the return home ticket? Has the suggestion of great possibilities. Thank you.

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