ALICE TOWN, NORTH BIMINI, Bahamas
25.7° N, 79.2° W
At the End of the World, all are barefoot. The sand floor is midday hot at midnight. Tropical air is thick and combustible from the airborne sweat & rum swung from the bodies of dancers. The mood is frantic, panicked and carnal with a backdrop of impending doom. It is a ramshackle bar atop of a rocky outcrop surrounded by a swelling ocean during the twilight of man’s dominion over the earth. The end is near and there is a growing concern I will not live to see the climax. This concern is based on the churning of my bowels at the sight of oncoming reckoning in the form of a vodka-drunk muscled-bulk of neckless hulk bearing down on me like a meatloaf torpedo, pointing his kielbasa index finger at the woman gyrating beside me. That’s my wife, he says. I respond in the manner I most typically do in these situations, as a cat belching feathers, expressing profound acknowledgment of this philosophical quandary. Oh, I say. Okay.
It appears I have meandered too far down the Queen’s Highway. I calculate my chances. I can likely outrun this brute and if I can reach the docks a seaplane could have me back in Miami in thirty minutes, but the only flights at this hour are tree-top flyers evading customs while spreading narcotic unto the world. Such pilots would likely lack any sympathy to my cause. Before I can even consider initiating an escape, I need to locate which lean-to wall keeps the front door, which continues to evade me.
Let me buy you a drink, my reckoner insists. The offer is especially vexing given my proximity to the spouse he claims: she who continues walking like an Egyptian in tune to the Bangles banging out over the jukebox. I look to her for help, but she’s oblivious both to my plight and her alleged husband, who, judging by his furrowed-brow, is a cousin half-removed from Neanderthal. I do the diplomatic thing and shrug. Sure, I say. Let’s have a drink.
He finds us a pair of overturned milk crates to sit atop. The End of the World Saloon and Snack Bar is little more than graffiti holding together plywood and corrugated tin. It is one of the few places on North Bimini which caters as much to the local Biminites than Florida yachtsmen. The rum drinks vary from strong to naval strength, depending on what you order and how the alignment of planets is impacting the barmaid’s menstrual cycle. The jukebox does play, but your six quarters might not be heard from until tomorrow as the machine cycles through backlogged reggae, rhythm & blues, misplaced country western and out-of-time 80s.
Bud is my reckoner’s legal name, or at least the name listed on his passport, ahead of Pulawski. He’s a fencing man out of Chicago. Occasionally, Bud dapples in walls: brick, cement, stone, whatever your druthers. If you need a barrier, Bud’ll find a way to bar access. He’s in Bimini for the wahoo. In turn, I give a name, “Johnny Catfish”, and I give him a raison d’être en Bimini, “I’ve come to look into the abyss.” If this isn’t the end of the world, we’re at least at the edge staring 6,000’ down.
“That’s fucking deep, brother.” Bud calls me “Johnny Flashdance”. I am doing him a favor, he says. I am saving him from having to dance with his wife. His head is a bald, sunburnt, wrecking-ball. His eyes are reverse raccoon pale, evidencing a sunglass tan-line. He is disarmingly charming; alarmingly so. Flashdance, he tells me, you’ve got some moves. I explain, my speech coming in fits and lurches (having ingested much rum), an old flame of mine (formerly illuminating, now extinguished), once described my freestyle dancing as the byproduct of a complete lack of hand-to-eye coordination. My dancing was not as awesome as appearances, she explained, it was merely my flailing limbs failing to grapple with gravity.
“You a sportsman, Flashdance?” I’m a sporting man, I suggest, already taking a gamble by sipping on the cup of Kalik Bud provided without testing it for Rohypnol, rat poison or radiation. I am mid-sip when I spot Mrs. Pulawski stepping out of the crowd, though it may be the breeze she has surrendered her body to which has blown her into our corner, gently settling on the sand between us. I offer up my milk crate, but she is unaware of the gesture. Off the dance floor, Mrs. Pulawski’s hypnotic trance is replaced with exhaustion, like a heliotropic flower fades when the sun goes down and the cocaine wears off. She is over-tanned and not young enough to get away with it. Her windblown hair has lost its salon coloring from the salt water and sun-bleaching. She absent-mindedly chews at fingernails colored in chipped pink paint and ringed red with fishgut after a day angling. I figure she stepped of the boat and right into the bars, never changing out of her bikini, only putting on a tank-top and jean-skirt over her swimwear. At some point she untied the bikini string at the neck to release the tension of keeping her breasts so tight to vest. Doing so had hindered her on the sandy dance floor, forcing adjustments as things fell out of place, but she did so without losing rhythm. She was quite graceful, really.
“Greatest real estate in the world, Flashdance!” Bud Pulawski continued whatever he was saying with his arms embracing the Bahamian night. “It’s a 7 mile long fishing pier just outside American jurisdiction. It’s the Wild West out here, Brother! A man could conduct his business free of consequence.” Slightly less boisterous, he admitted, “Not much dry rock for fences, though…”
And underwater before long, I thought. I first came to Bimini twenty years ago. In another twenty years this town will be picked at by parrot fish, inhabited only by eels and mermaids.
An associate of Bud arrives, casting a shadow over our already dark corner. He is a lanky and twisted sort, resembling the gristle one pulls from their mouth after failing to chew into submission. Bud introduces him as “Alonzo Schlanger, aka Yacht-Club Lonny”. Lonny’s dull eyes suggest joylessness, except in witnessing the despair of others. Lonny possesses an air of relevance which was not apparent, as if he kept hidden a secret significance, whether he had sister-wives locked in his basement or a legacy as the great-great-nephew of a villain who strangled every little boy in a sailor suit in the Weimar Republic. Alonzo Schlanger’s presence irked me, even if his nose sniffed more in the direction of Mrs. Pulaski’s breasts. I was certain he was a harbinger of bad shit. But then I think the same about most folk.
Lonny asks what sort of bullshit name is Johnny Flashdance. I tell him it is the only bullshit name he is going to get. Bud Pulawski guffaws. Lonny wants to place a bet I was fired from the balloon animal clown guild. I tell Lonny jellyfish are spineless and shit out of their mouths too (albeit, I said the line two minutes later when the moment had passed and no one knew what I was on about).
“Hey Flashdance, hold tight, eh? Lonny and me gotta take a call.” Bud Pulawski rises up off of his milk crate, which had sunk 6 inches into the sand. “Hey!” he says, lightly patting my shoulder. “Don’t fuck my wife while I’m gone.” Startled, I look to his face to find it deathly serious. Bud goes on, “If you do, get a receipt!”
“He’s a fucking asshole.” Mrs. Pulawski says over the Bob Marley wailing on the jukebox. She takes the abandoned milk crate beside me. Before this moment passes, I try to say something witty, if we’re not to fuck, can I buy you a drink? I am running the words through my mind when Mrs. Pulawski beats me to the punch, asking if I am going to buy her a drink first. First, implying there would be subsequent actions taken. I take flight to the bar to order a pair of rum-runners.
As I wait for the concoctions to materialize, I gaze back over-shoulder to find Mrs. Pulawski gone. When the rum drinks arrive, I take them and find a lean-to wall to lean against. I’m scoping the crowd, looking for the sundrenched Midwestern woman who, thirty minutes ago, had licked my neck while we danced to Madonna’s Like a Virgin. I can be patient.
A young woman near me, along the wall, says twice she likes my shirt (I couldn’t hear her the first time). Oh yeah? She has a bull-ring in her nose and her eyeliner is a bit intense, but she’s cute. I like her linen dress, I say. It fits her nicely. Hedging my bet, I offer her the extra rum drink and she gladly accepts it. Her name is Dusk. Cool. She mentions again how she likes my shirt. I remind her of her father, Dusk says. Nice. Dusk’s boyfriend arrives, he’s a local dude, a jitney driver named Joe who nods at me, “Who dis?” Dusk doesn’t even know and the questions begin. My friends call me Johnny Flashdance, I say. Dusk wants to know what kind of person I am. People who come to Bimini from the States are fishermen, scuba dudes or degenerates. A scuba degenerate, I admit. She giggles. Encouraged, I begin to ramble to her and her boyfriend Joe. I am an observer of end times; a spectator at the fall of the Anthropocene. Where better to witness the end of our civilization than to explore the remnants of the last? I talk about the Bimini Road, the submarine path which may or may not have been a part of an Atlantean civilization. Really, Dusk asks. I nod, too vigorously, as the movement has loosed things within my skull. Earlier in the day, descending into the abyss, I failed to adequately equalize pressure and came away with 3 ounces of seawater swishing around in the labyrinth of my sinuses. It isn’t until now that the liquid shook itself free. Without so much warning as a sneeze, the saltwater pours out my nostrils, as if a faucet had been twisted on, and into my rum drink. I gaze at my cup of saltwatered-down rum drink and first wonder, “Shit, did anyone witness nose juice shoot out of my face?” Secondarily, I ponder, “If no one noticed the three ounces of Atlantic Ocean splashing into my rum drink… should I continue to drink said drink?”
“Well mudda sick.” Joe critiques my nasal flow with a masterfully raised eyebrow.
“Yeah.” I set my drink aside. “That was gross.”
Joe leaves to chat with friends and I fall into conversation with Dusk, speaking about the Ottoman navigator Piri Reis who 500 years ago had a map showing the coastline of Antarctica which was unlike anything man could have witnessed in our current era of recorded history. Meaning what, Dusk asks. Meaning… have you ever opened up the refrigerator to find leftovers which shouldn’t exist? Like, leftovers from a previous tenant when you thought you were the first to live here? Hearing myself speak, I begin to realize the extent of my drunkenness.
“Manatees have fingernails.” Dusk tells me. “That fucks with my head, y’know? I mean, I wonder… there were literally all of these mermaid stories, right? In the Bahamas and in Europe and everywhere, but then the stories stopped, like, where did they all go? And, uhh, I had a sailing instructor in St. Thomas who told me he thought mermaids evolved into manatees.”
“Dugong!” I laugh. Dusk blinks.
“Hey.” It’s a breathy greeting from Mrs. Pulawski who stumbles into me. She’s holding onto my shirt for balance as she gives a sideways stink-eye towards the younger woman, Dusk. Sorry, Mrs. Pulawski says, she had to go pee. Naturally, I say with a shrug, using both hands to hold her steady. She asks for her drink. Her drink, of course, is still being held by all ten of Dusk’s bejeweled fingers. My drink, however, is conveniently set aside and still filled to the brim with rum, drink mix, melted ice and a splash of Atlantic. Here’s your drink, I say to Mrs. Pulawski, picking it up and handing it over.
In minutes I had gone from having two rum drinks to having none. And in that time I had gone from having no romantic prospects to having two maybes… And in another 30 seconds, I was back to none as Dusk got the hint and scattered and then Bud Pulawski returned. That’s enough, Buttercup, Bud says as he takes the rum drink away from his wife. She’s had one too many and Bud’s had one too few, is his reasoning. He thanks me for watching over his dearly beloved. Mrs. Pulawski ducks out of his reach and departs, crab-walking sideways in a crouch, as if dodging landmines, finding her way back to the lavatory. Bud nudges me and offers a proposition. If I am willing to follow his wife into the bathroom and hold-up her hair as she purges, he will let me keep her for the night. I hope he is jesting. I laugh, Bud laughs. He drinks from the rum drink and grimaces, “It’s salty.”
My night is not over, but this stage is complete. I leave The End of the World Saloon and Snack Bar, crossing the Queen’s Highway to continue west, crossing the King’s Highway to find refuge on the Atlantic beach of North Bimini where I rest against a seagrape tree facing the Florida Straits and mainland America beyond. I’m not far from the haunted location where the Compleat Angler once stood. It was a glorious house where I spent a long weekend twenty years ago. Hemingway had lived there half a century before me. When the place burned down in 2006, Old Bimini faded away with it. The new Bimini would be a place of international hotel chains climbing the sky as that was the only direction to develop. An end of the world, of sorts, had already come and gone.
I listened to the waves and waited, hopeful, for dawn. I needed the affirmation.