The Age of Soda

Frank Russo

 

Ash Wednesday, the island ran out of Coke[1]. Restaurants and mini-markets exhausted their stock, the next boatload not due for weeks. The islanders, used to building walls from shredded tyres, figured it divinely-imposed penance and added abstention from Coke to the list of luxuries to refrain from consuming Fridays. Some said it was their own fault for drinking so excessively during Carnival, as they swept the remains of water bombs from the plaza floor, and resolved instead to drink Fanta, Sprite, Inca Kola, Pepsi, bottled water and beer.

The second week of Lent the cruise ship Cormorant docked into port. Passengers dined all night on langoustine and squid sashimi. By early morning they consumed a case of Club Premium, the last of the island’s beer. For weeks the islanders survived on only Fanta, Sprite, Inca Kola, Pepsi and bottled water. Don Jefferson Zambrano said it was like the garúa of 1983, when all the island’s couples separated and the blue-footed boobies abandoned their nests, left newborn chicks to feed themselves.

The first week of April the San Felipe brought fresh supplies, ushering in the time of plenty. It was the time of Cacao Nibs and Topsy Bars. Shops reduced the price of sodas. Cruise ships docked in port, bringing hundreds more to feed and water. Each night they celebrated, vast conga lines stretching out towards the turtle breeding grounds. They drank beer as if it bubbled up from the briny rock pools that circled the island. Easter Sunday, to give voice to their gratitude, the jubilant crowd paraded the Resurrected Christ on a litter of empty soda cans; a ring of Fantas became a makeshift platform to raise the Virgin’s feet higher towards Heaven.

After the time of celebration, came the time of rations. The garúa came, a fine mist descending over the island each morning like a translucent veil. For a time, the restaurants served only beer or water. Then only beer. Some nights the restaurants served sardines, other nights only tuna, depending on the fishing nets’ hauls. For decades it had been this way, eating what the sea provided. For some visitors this was untenable—how could the island’s waters supply such limited fruits? They vowed to never return—honeymoons ruined, holidays-of-a-lifetime unconsummated.

In the third week of June the San Juan ran aground off Punta Carola as it tried to enter the harbour. Its hull crushed against the rocks, eight crew perished. Three crates of cargo washed up on the shore, bottles of Coke floated onto beaches. Children ran to collect the bottles, but their mothers told them not to touch them—the cost of this cargo was weighted with human souls.

It was weeks before the next ship came, and even then the locals drank only sparingly. They had grown accustomed to setting up fog catchers to trap the garúa mist as it condensed. Crates of Pepsi and Inca Kola sat at the back of mini-marts, still wrapped in their plastic foils, waiting for cruise ships to arrive. Don Jefferson Zambrano wept as he drank his first saucer of garúa mist. He admitted old age had made him sentimental, but said as he slaked his thirst, that he finally understood how the Israelites felt as they swallowed hoarfrost on their way to Canaan.

 


[1] The last bottle sat in Doña Carlina Lopez’s fridge for two weeks, until she divided it in equal parts between her eight grandchildren.

 

Frank Russo is a Sydney-based poet and fiction writer. He is the author of the poetry collection In the Museum of Creation (Five Islands Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in journals and anthologies in Australia and North America and has been short-listed for the Vogel/The Australian Prize and other awards.
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