The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes on Cruise
Hank Mancuso and his wife Catherine were getting ready to go to dinner on the first night of their Alaskan cruise.
“You’re going to wear a jacket, aren’t you?” she said to him.
“What’s wrong with a sweater?” Hank was a man in his sixties, short and stocky with grey hair and moustache.. “I thought you only had to go formal for the captain’s dinner.”
“It’s the first time we’ll be meeting these people. I don’t want them to get a wrong impression of us. Your sweater is at least ten years old. Wear that nice sports jacket I bought you.”
Hank hadn’t said anything but the sports jacket was a little tight, and he didn’t like the color, some kind of green. “All right, all right. A jacket it is.”
“How do I look?” Catherine at 58 was still an attractive woman, tall (taller than her husband), heavier than when she was young but she still had a figure. .
“You look great,” said Hank. “You’ll knock them dead.”
Hank knew from Catherine’s downturned mouth that she was disappointed in the two couples who’d been assigned to their table for dinner. He supposed she expected a handsome stock broker or at least a silver-haired banker. One of the couples was younger, in their early forties, Hank guessed, and they were African-American. The husband was a large man who might well have been an ex-football player. The wife was by contrast a petite woman, quite pretty, Hank would say. The other couple was old, at least around 80, both short, round and white-haired and somewhat resembling each other. The African-American couple were the Jacksons, Leon and Roberta; the old couple were Alan and Alice Baker..
“Have you been to Alaska before?” asked Alice Baker, directing her question to the Mancusos. “No, we haven’t,” answered Catherine. “This is our first cruise. I couldn’t get Hank away from work before, but now he finally retired.”
“What kind of work did you do?” asked Leon.
“I had a grocery …”
“Hank had a chain of specialty food stores, very successful. We got a pretty penny when they were sold,” said Catherine.
“Only three stores,” said Hank. “They weren’t exactly a chain.”
“Don’t be modest,” said Catherine. At this point, their waiter came with their menus, which, typical of a cruise dinner, listed half a dozen courses and as many entrees. During dinner, a lengthy one because of the many courses, they exchanged the usual information. Leon Harris, it turned out, wasn’t an ex-football player but a Harvard graduate who was now an executive for a software company in Silicon Valley. His wife Roberta was a lawyer. They’d gone on a Mediterranean cruise the year before, had liked it and so had decided to try Alaska. Mr.and Mrs. Baker lived in a retirement community in Florida and had gone on an astounding 26 cruises. This was their third one to Alaska.
The dinner finally ended and Hank thought they’d had good tablemates, even though Mrs. Baker at one time started to address Catherine as “Kate” and had been corrected. Catherine liked to be called by her full name, and always added that it began with a “C” and not a “K.” Afterwards, they went to the cruise’s first show, held in a large theater seating several hundred people. The emcee was the cruise director and he was relentlessly cheerful. The show itself was a preview of shows to come, with a few song and dance numbers, a juggler and a magician. When they returned to their room, Hank, had decided he was glad to have come on the cruise.
Back in their cabin, he was about to tell this to Catherine, but she immediately said , “Well, we couldn’t have had worse luck in who we’ll have to eat with every night.”
“What do you mean?”
“That couple of all things and those two old fuddy-duddies. Did you notice how that big man sweated.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Hank.
“Well, he did. And that little wife of his, showing off with that low-cut dress.”
“I thought she’s a pretty woman, and nice, too.”
“Ha, you never could judge people. And those Baker people, trying to impress us with all those cruises they’ve gone on.”
“I thought they were just giving us some useful information.”
“As if I need information from people with one foot in the grave. Did you see my silver earrings? I hope that little steward didn’t take them.”
“You left them in the bathroom.”
“Well, I’m putting all of my jewelry in the safe.”
“Mind if I join you?”
Hank looked up. It was Roberta Jackson, holding a tray. They were in the ship’s buffet at lunchtime, on the topmost deck. “Sure,” said Hank. “Please sit down. Where’s your husband?”
“Splashing around in the pool, with all the other kids. Where’s your wife?”
“She’s having lunch in the restaurant. She said she’d rather sit at a nice table and be served.”
In fact, Hank and Catherine had had an argument over where to have lunch. After three days on the cruise, Hank felt so stuffed with food that he knew he couldn’t have a regular lunch and then have one of the restaurant’s large dinners, too. Catherine said she would under no circumstances go to the buffet, where you had to jostle with other people to get at your food and then try to find an empty table. In the end, she’d gone off to the restaurant and told Hank he could do as he wanted..
“Your wife is pretty set in her ways, isn’t she?”
I suppose so.”
“I don’t think she cares much for black people. I could tell.”
“I don’t think it’s that. She just hasn’t known many before; well, probably none.”
“Are you enjoying the cruise so far?”
“I am. It’s funny, Catherine was the one who wanted to go and I don’t think she’s having such a good time.”
“I noticed that. I’ll tell you a little secret. Leon and I are on this cruise because we wanted to spend more time with each other. With our jobs, it seems we never see each other any more. To tell the truth, we were having a little rough patch.”
“I know what you mean about your job taking up so much time. I used to spend all my time with my stores and Catherine always complained I was never home. Well, are you and Leon, er, okay with each other now?”
“I think so. How about you and Catherine?”
“I really don’t know.”
After finishing lunch, Roberta went outside to sit by the pool and Hank found a quiet lounge where he could read the book on Alaska he’d bought at their stop in Juneau. He had become fascinated by the gold mining days in Alaska and by the hardships men would endure hoping to strike it reach. . When he returned to the cabin he found Catherine and their steward Ernesto there. “I can’t find my topaz ring,” said Catherine.
“I look all over, under the bed, everywhere,” said Ernesto.
“Maybe you left it in the bathroom,” Hank said.
“No, I looked there.”
“How about the safe? Remember, you put all your jewelry in the safe the first night.”
Catherine gave him a disdainful look. “I looked in the safe, of course.”
“All right, all right. What about your purse?”
Catherine’s purse was always Hank’s prime suspect whenever she lost something. It was large with numerous pockets and he thought of it as a Bermuda triangle where things disappeared..
“Why would it be in my purse?”
“I don’t know, but take a look anyway.”
During this interchange, Ernesto had been looking at first Catherine and then at Hank, like a spectator at a tennis match.
“All right, just to humor you.” She delved into the purse, then let out a little shriek. “It’s here. I remember now. I took it off when I put my hands under that sanitizer they have before you go into the restaurant. I didn’t want that stuff, whatever it is, to get on it.”
“So all is good,” said Ernesto, with a big smile. “I put an extra chocolate on your pillow tonight, Mrs. Mancuso, because you were so upset.”
Catherine seemed speechless so Hank said, “Thanks, Ernesto, and thanks for looking.”
It was their last afternoon at sea. The ocean, going from Victoria to San Francisco, had been a little rough and some passengers had reported being seasick. Hank was in one of the ship’s lounges, still reading about Alaska’s gold mining days. Catherine had found a bridge game and she’d been playing the last few days, seeming a little happier with the cruise since then.
“Hello, Hank. Still reading?” It was Alice Baker, with her husband Alan beside her.
“Yes, it’s pretty interesting.”
“How are you holding up with these rough waters?”
“I’m okay so far, Catherine too. She’s off playing bridge somewhere.”
“That’s good. We always take mescaline. It’s like Dramamine. We wear these sea bracelets, too.” She held out her hands for Hank to see.
“How’d you like the cruise?” asked Alan.
“It was fine. I learned a lot about Alaska. You know, this is the first time I’ve done any traveling. I think I’d like to do some more. I was tied down with running my stores all those years. There’s a lot to see out there.”
“That’s right,” said Alan. “That’s why we’ve taken so many cruises. We’re told old to travel any other way any more; it’s too tiring.”
“But you’re young,” said Alice. “You should go while you can. That’s been our motto.”
After the Bakers had left, Hank put down his book and considered. Yes, he’d like to travel more, but did he want to do so with Catherine? Somehow, maybe because he’d had his nose buried in his work, he’d still thought of her as the lovely young woman he’d fallen in love with and married. He hadn’t realized how much she’d changed over the years. When had her mouth developed that pursed look, which now seemed to be permanent? When had she become so disapproving? When had she become such a bigot? He’d have to think this over carefully.
When he returned to the cabin he was surprised to find Catherine in bed.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I was playing bridge and I felt nauseous. I’m seasick.”
“I was just talking to the Alan and Alice. They take something all the time for seasickness. I can go down to the store and see if they have some.”
“No, please come over here.”
Hank sat on the bed.
“Hold my hand. I’m sorry I’ve been such a crosspatch. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’ve spoiled your trip.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Hank, you aren’t going to leave me, are you?”
Hank felt he couldn’t look directly at her. “What gave you that idea?”
“I don’t know what I’d do if you left me.”
“It’s all right. You’re just feeling bad. I’ll go down and see what I can get for you.”
Outside of the cabin, Hank leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. He thought about Leon and Roberta. They’d had a rough patch in their marriage and they seemed okay now. Maybe he and Catherine could do the same. He’d really have to think this over carefully when they got home.
© Martin Green July 2010