cruise ship 172784The crowds cheered as the ship left Southampton, relatives and friends waving from quayside to stern.

For Sylvia though, there was no-one waving to her. Her only living relative had already gone to their cabin. To unpack, relax, watch TV, if there was one in the room. She’d forgotten to check when she’d booked, last minute, a Caribbean cruise to get him, Ronnie, off her back. It had been his idea for a holiday, hers to take a cruise, knowing that he hated planes. Hated anything that moved, so it had taken some persuading to get him here and that’s why she’d left it late. So he’d have no choice. Turned it round so he’d thought it was his idea; he’d congratulated himself in the end.

Long after the passengers had gone to their rooms, Sylvia was still standing on the deck. She’d leave him as long as she could, hoping he’d be too engrossed in a political memoir or thriller to notice her absence. Save what little conversation they had left for another time.

*

Timing her return just short of the evening meal, he was already dressed in his dinner suit when she opened the cabin door. “You look smart, dear,” she said, despite thinking it more appropriate for a funeral.

“You’re late.”

“Sorry dear. I’ve been taking in the view, it’s…”

“You’re going to get changed aren’t you?”

“Of course dear.”

“Well, hurry up.”

“Yes dear.”

 *

They took their places at a corner table, Ronnie choosing to be away from the other passengers. He hated crowds and even more so glaring lights. Sylvia would have rather been surrounded, even yearned to have been on the Captain’s table, to be part of the chatter, but knew what made for an easier life.

With so much food on offer they were spoilt for choice although with Ronnie’s gammy leg, Sylvia did all the choosing and carrying.

“Bit plain this food,” was his first response so she’d gone for something more interesting the second round. “You know I don’t like spicy” then made her tone it down and by the time they’d had everything on offer, Ronnie one to get value for money, Sylvia noticed that the room was almost empty.

“Nearly midnight,” Ronnie announced.

“Is it dear?” Sylvia asked, images of the dancing still playing round in her head. She’d liked to have joined in but she knew he would have refused and been even worse had someone else asked her. She’d had snippets of conversation at the buffet tables but then had to leave the talk half-finished when the plates were full.

“Come on then,” he barked, and got up to return to their cabin, leaving a wake of plates scattered around the table, having been neglected by the waiters who’d been concentrating on the fuller parts of the room.

“Let’s take a walk along the deck,” she suggested, following Ronnie out of the large dining room.

“What for?”

“To get some fresh air.”

“We live in the country, you’re surrounded by fresh air.”

“But this is the middle of the ocean.”

“Exactly. Nothing to see. Besides, it’s November. Too cold.”

“Please Ronnie. For me.” She didn’t play the ‘for me’ card very often because it didn’t usually work but he must have been in the holiday mood because, although he sighed heavily, he veered away from the direction of the cabin corridors instead heading towards the outer deck.

Keeping close to the railing, Sylvia breathed in deeply. “Isn’t this lovely Ronnie?”

Ronnie grunted.

“Come look Ronnie. At the sparkling water.”

“You know I’m not keen on water and that I can’t…”

“It’s alright darling, there’s a rail all round.”

“Well…”

 *

“No, Ronnie! No! Help! Please someone! Help!”

A middle-aged suited man ran to Sylvia as she peered over the edge. “Madam! What’s the matter?”

“It’s my husband! He’s fallen in the water. Please, do something… please hurry.”

The man leant over the side of the ship looking in every direction. “Are you sure madam, I can’t see anything.”

“Please! You have to do something. He can’t swim.” Sylvia was now sobbing.

The man dug in his pocket, pulled out a tissue which he gave to Sylvia then tapped some numbers into his mobile phone. “Henry Stephens here, I play the piano in the… yeah. There’s a lady here on deck who says her husband’s fallen over the side… OK, thanks. At the back, by the tennis… please, she’d doing her nut. Cheers.”

Continuing to look out at sea and calling Ronnie’s name, Sylvia wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening behind her until she heard her name being called.

“Mrs Peters… Mrs Peters?”

Sylvia swung round. “Sorry?”

“I’m Captain McHugh, Mrs Peters, you say…”

“Yes, it’s my husband. We were just standing here admiring the view when… he… he can’t swim and he was looking down at the water when… I couldn’t stop him… it all happened so quickly. Please do something.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Peters, but… your husband, you say?”

“Yes. Ronnie.”

“We don’t have your husband listed on the ship’s…”

“I remember you,” a woman said from behind the Captain. She stepped forward and looked at Sylvia. “We were chatting at the buffet table. You were filling two plates but then told me you were on the cruise alone, and that having two plates was force of habit. That your husband had died recently in a boating accident. That you hadn’t adjusted yet and were still doing things as if he were still alive.”

Silently, Sylvia nodded.

“Well, there then,” the Captain said gently. “That explains it. You must have seen something that reminded you and… the mind can play tricks you know.”

Silvia nodded again. “Thank you. You’ve been so kind. I’m just being a silly…”

“Nonsense,” the pianist butted in. “It’s quite understandable. It must be very raw.”

Sylvia smiled weakly.

“Take her back to her cabin will you…” the Captain said to the pianist.

“Henry,” Henry told him.

“Yes, thank you Henry.”

Turning back to Sylvia, the Captain said, “And you must sit with me tomorrow evening”.

“Thank you, that does sound lovely,” Sylvia whispered.

The group dispersed and Henry walked Sylvia back to her cabin. “Are you sure you’ll be alright?” he asked as she put her key in the lock.

“I will, thank you. I’m sure it’ll just take a bit of time to get used to…”

Henry smiled, then continued down the corridor.

Sylvia went inside their cabin, now hers, shut the door behind her, then giggled like a child.

***

This story was taken from my Story A Day May 2011 collection. Photograph above courtesy of morguefile.com.

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