••• The International Writers Magazine: Alaska Bound
Arnold Gray looked at his watch. His wife Ellen had been in the bathroom for almost the last hour. This was the first evening of their Alaskan cruise and they’d signed up for early dining. They were supposed to be in the dining room at 5:30 and it was almost that time now.
“Are you almost ready?” he called.
“I’ll be out in a few minutes,” said Ellen.
Arnold and Ellen had been married for 48 years. In that time, he’d learned that women spent half of their time in the bathroom; at any rate, if Ellen was an example, that was the way it seemed. Finally, Ellen emerged and they went to take the elevator down to their dining room. As Arnold had expected, all of the five elevators were going up. He’d found on previous cruises that while on land elevators behaved normally, going up and down, on a ship they always went the opposite way of the direction you wanted.
They finally reached their dining room at about 5:45 and were led to a table which held two other couples, both considerably younger. Introductions were made; both couples were from San Francisco, from which their ship had left that afternoon, and both had heard of the retirement community where Arnold and Ellen lived, outside of California’s state capital, Sacramento. In the course of their conversation, Ellen said that she and Arnold had met in San Francisco and that they were married almost 50 years. In their retirement community that wouldn’t have seemed unusual but both couples expressed amazement that anyone could have stayed married that long.
After they’d eaten, Arnold remarked that while the dinner was pretty good the quality of the food on cruises had steadily gone down. Ellen said that no matter what, she was happy as she didn’t have to cook or clean up, something she was fond of saying to people they’d just met. This always annoyed Arnold as during the past few years she’d cooked less and less, usually just two or three times a week, and didn’t exactly slave away in the kitchen every night.
From the dining room, Arnold and Ellen went to the ship’s theater, where, as usual on the first night, the ship’s cruise director, came out and told them what a great time they’d be having the next ten days. He then introduced a comedian whose idea of humor was telling off-color jokes. Arnold was ready to leave after five minutes of this but Ellen insisted some of the jokes were funny so he had to suffer to the end.
When they went to bed that night Arnold lay awake for a while. The truth was that he hadn’t been sure about going on this cruise. He’d had hip replacement surgery the year before and, although the pain was gone, he walked, as a friend had put it, like an old man, maybe because of arthritis in both knees, or more likely because he was an old man. Ellen’s knees were no better than his. After much discussion, they’d decided to go because their anniversary would be during the trip; it was to be their anniversary cruise. He hoped it would turn out okay.
Arnold sat by himself on the buffet deck of the cruise ship. It was their third day out and they were “at sea,” meaning the passengers had to fend for themselves. It was almost half-past two in the afternoon and the buffet was half full. He was supposed to meet Ellen at two o’clock and he had no idea where he was. He was nibbling on a sandwich and sipping iced tea to kill time. Ellen, he knew, was unfailingly late to anything but this was bad, even for her. Worse, he hadn’t brought a book with him so had nothing to do except to look out at the ocean as the ship moved quickly along or observe the other people in the buffet.
He’d noticed that he and Ellen weren’t the only senior citizens onboard who hobbled along. Many of the other passengers used canes, others had walkers and a few were in wheelchairs. He supposed that for them, as for him and Ellen, going on a cruise was still a way they could travel. He’d just finished the sandwich and had decided to go back to their room, cabin, he corrected himself, when Ellen suddenly came in. She’d been on her way, she said, but had run into one of the couples they’d met on their first night and had to explain that she and Arnold had decided the 5:30 seating was too early for them and that they’d gone to “anytime” dining and that’s why they hadn’t sat with them, not that they hadn’t liked them. Ellen went to the buffet and Arnold had some more iced tea while she ate.
It was the last night of the cruise and they were once again on their way to dinner. The cruise, Arnold thought, had turned out not too badly. He’d survived the formal dinner nights that Ellen like because they gave her a chance to dress up. They’d celebrated their anniversary at the ship’s steak restaurant and were serenaded and given a cake on top of their regular dessert, just what they needed. They’d met some nice people at their anytime meals. The food was still pretty good and the entertainment, after that so-called comedian the first night, was passable. And their knees had held up. As they walked along the corridor he had a sudden picture of the time many years ago when he and Ellen had visited his parents in Miami. They’d gone to dinner and were walking back to his parents’ hotel. His mother and mother were walking ahead, two short bent-over figures, oldsters. They were holding hands. To anyone looking at them now, Arnold thought, that was how he and Ellen must look, two oldsters hobbling along. He took Ellen’s hand.
© Martin Green September 2017
Paul Lerner opened his eyes and looked at the bedside clock---8:15. He’d made it through another night, he told himself. Since his last birthday, 87, he’d found himself thinking this every morning.
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