about the author

Louise Phillips lives in Toronto. Her work has most recently appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Litro, Drunken Boat, and Monkeybicycle, and is upcoming in The Delinquent, Pear Noir!, and The Los Angeles Review.

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Miss Venus

Louise Phillips

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Stuart and Val are honeymooning at a couples-only all-inclusive resort called the Grand Caribbean. Stuart has started bringing his laptop to meals. He says he has to work, but whenever Val peeks over his shoulder he’s checking his personal e-mail or reading a newspaper. Stuart works for Coke. In their kitchen at home there’s a drawer filled with junk he brings home from the office. Pens, key rings, bottle openers, coasters, mouse pads, a miniature gumball dispenser, all covered in the Coke logo. Stuart gets mad if she tries to throw any of it away.

Stuart is eating a plate of watermelon slices and sausages while he reads the paper online. There are tear-shaped brown pits caught in the corners of his lips. Val rests her wrist against the edge of the table, stiffens her fingers, and lets them fall like dominoes, a gesture she repeats three times.

“What’s new in the world today?” she asks.

Stuart gives Val a dirty look. He blows the watermelon pits onto his plate.

“Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi of Somalia has removed the army chief-of-staff from the Transitional Federal Government,” he says.

They’re eating like they’re on a cruise. Val anticipated morning jogs on the beach and scuba diving expeditions, but most of her time in the water has been spent at the swim-up bar. Waiters in Crocs shoes wade through the pool holding aloft baskets of fries. Val’s toes look like figs. Last night their rowdy crowd held some sort of dirty contest. Stuart and Val have been hearing allusions to it, but no one will give them any details. Val is relieved they’d already gone to bed; they could hear the yelps and shouts coming from the pool. Yesterday, Stuart refused to talk to her for six hours after she gave Jen from Maine a lap dance, cheered on by an Australian guy Stuart can’t stand called Matt, and Jen’s husband Rich.

“You used to love it when I gave my girlfriends lap dances,” Val protested.

Stuart tells Val their wedding photographer has e-mailed the pictures, and she commandeers his computer to pore over them. The photographs are terrible. Val, who was drunk, looks visibly intoxicated in most of them, clutching a glass of white wine with a lopsided grin. She is crushed.

“What am I going to do when people ask to see the pictures?” she keeps saying. “We might as well not have had a wedding.”

Their hotel has a shuttle bus service to the dolphin sanctuary at the Arcadia Resort. It’s a very old van with sliding doors, and Val spends the journey digging into the seat crack looking for a seatbelt. Matt and Paisley from Melbourne are the only other passengers. Paisley says being towed by a dolphin is on her bucket list. Matt and Paisley were among the revelers around the pool last night, and they witnessed the dirty contest but didn’t play.

“Someone had a Polaroid camera,” Matt begins. “And the blokes went off to take a picture of their, ah...their donger. They wrote their initials on the back of the picture...”

“And the women had to guess from the pictures which one is their husband,” Stuart says.

“No mate,” Matt says. “The wives weren’t allowed to say. It was everyone else who had to guess.”

Stuart snickers.

“That’s nasty,” he says. “Isn’t that foul Val? That’s really foul.”

The Arcadia is larger and much more luxurious than the Grand Caribbean. There’s a casino, a golf course, twelve lagoons, twenty restaurants, nineteen bars, and a Starbucks. The Ptolemaic temple-themed water park has a fifty-foot vertical drop which tunnels through a shark-filled lagoon. A dozen purple Arcadia parasails stretch towards the horizon.

“This place is incredible,” Val says.

“But everything’s extra,” Stuart points out. “They’re just sticking it to you all day long.”

It costs three hundred dollars to actually swim with the Arcadia dolphins. One hundred and eighty dollars buys a forty-five-minute Shallow Water Experience with Miss Venus, the sanctuary’s most dominant female. The cost of a locker and a wet-suit rental is included in the fee. Cameras and recording devices are banned from the dolphin sanctuary.

“So they can ream you again at the end with the pictures,” Stuart stage whispers.

There was a rainstorm yesterday morning and it’s still overcast. Val feels trepidation as she watches the dorsal fin circling the pool. The trainer Casey lines them up waist deep in the water and tells Val to extend her hands. Miss Venus lunges at Val, who jerks her head back and closes her eyes. Miss Venus presses the tip of her snout against Val’s lips. An Arcadia trainer snaps a picture. Casey’s stale jokes make Val cringe.

“This whole thing is just one big photo opportunity,” Stuart says.

Everyone has their picture taken hugging the dolphin and kissing her rubbery snout. Miss Venus is a total pro. She holds her pose until the flash goes off, but she doesn’t stick around after the job is done. Casey and the other trainer remark that Miss Venus is incredibly submissive with Stuart.

“These wet suits smell like garbage.” Val says.

Discs and flash drives of the photographs are sold in packages. The cheapest option is $79 for five. Stuart tells the Dolphin Encounters people they’re amoral muggers.

“These aren’t even good pictures. I don’t know how you sleep at night.”

Matt and Paisley are incredibly moved by their time with Miss Venus. They thought Casey was hilarious and bought the package of twenty photographs, including the group shots with Stuart and Val. On the ride back to the hotel they discuss returning for the Deep Water Encounter.

“When that big beautiful girl looked me in the eye, it was like she was saying, ‘Come on over here and give me a cuddle,’” Matt raves.

“This guy’s not very bright,” Stuart whispers to Val, who whips him with the back of her hand. “Oh, they can’t hear me.”

“I hate it when you say that, ‘They can’t hear,’” Val whispers. “How can you know what they’ve heard?”

When they get back to the Grand Caribbean, Val joins Brendan and Lisa from Chicago for triple rum punch slurpees at the swim-up bar. The booze is so watered down that a triple is like a single anywhere else. Brendan tells Val they did the Deep Water Encounter last year with two aggressive males named Brando and Depp.

“Brando sprained my wrist during the boogie board push,” Lisa says, “They kept saying, ‘It’s an accident,’ but those dolphins shouldn’t be in there every day swimming with humans.”

“But they wouldn’t survive in the wild,” Val says, “Miss Venus was born in captivity and she has asthma.”

“I don’t think vaudeville routines are part of the cure for dolphin asthma Val,” Stuart calls out.

Stuart is lying on a recliner with his computer in his lap. He’s smoking a cigar which cost more than the package of five photographs that Val really wanted.

Jen wades across the pool holding her camera over her head. She clicks through the pictures she took of Stuart and Val at Ye Olde English Pub. Val looks spectacular in her ruched indigo tube top, sitting in Stu’s lap with a deep tan and a tropical flower tucked behind her ear. Jen promises to send the pictures to Val.

The bar is playing soft calypso music. They can hear gunning jet skis and crowd noise coming from a cruiser off the shore.

Val says: “That top looks so good on me.”

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