Criteria for Cocktail Hour on a Tropical Atoll by Louise Mangos

I am told with a variety of hand signals the nursing shark is not dangerous. But the lithe blue-grey body swaying sinuously through the water instils panic. Its mouth hangs open with an overbite that is far from comical. Pinking shear teeth sit in a neat semi-circle ready to pierce a delicate human limb. My delicate human limb.

We are suspended in another world, the steady hiss and gurgle of our regulators interrupting the sound of a million cellophane sweet wrappers untwisting in our three-dimensional aqueous cinema theatre. As we approach the reef, the sound intensifies to frying bacon in an overheated pan, and it thumps at my chest through my thick wetsuit. But no, I realise the thumping is the beat of my heart. I think we might die down here, and once the shark has had its fill, a thousand biting creatures will pick my flesh and clean my bones.

The ting-ting-ting of my dive buddy’s metal carabiner against her air tank tells me it is time to ascend and gather for decompression. She is the resort’s diving guide, married to the captain of the dive boat. We hang below the shadow of the vessel, counting the minutes and checking our air supply. And watching for sharks. And then my hands are gratefully grabbing the sides of the swim ladder, and I am launched onto the deck of a safe world.

Dario says the crackling is a million tiny pistol shrimp snapping their minuscule claws. Matthew interjects and tells me it is the parrotfish gnawing at the coral. As it was Dario who came to the top of the ladder and hauled me on board by the straps of my scuba tanks, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt. The cylinders feel like they weigh a ton out of the water. Matthew takes over and helps me from the swim ladder to the bench in the cockpit.

As the boat skims back to the atoll, I consider whether to choose a Dark & Stormy or a Sea Breeze at the bar at happy hour. I wonder whether I will share the moment with Dario or Matthew. Pistol Shrimp or Parrotfish.

I wonder if there’ll be any other single men at the bar.


Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and been read out on BBC radio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter @LouiseMangos, or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons.

Image: Chen Irene