Their key slid to the left of the lock, leading to Nick fumbling both with his wife, flung bridal-style over his arms, and the knob. The door gave too easily and the pair nearly fell into the darkened room. Bonnie slid, laughing, down and around his side like she was descending a firefighter’s pole.
“Welcome to paradise,” Nick said sarcastically.
“Hey, at least it’s got a door,” Bonnie said, kicking the scrunched floor-rug with her sandals. “And…a view?”
The porthole that sat just below a decorative coconut-fibre mat was nearly opaque with smeared grease and scratches. Bonnie stepped closer to peer through the muddied glass and yelped, jumping back. Moisture pooled at her feet, seeping from a point roughly at waist-height. “Nick, it’s wet.”
Nick nodded. “Health hazard. Hello, first class.” He peered around the cabin. “None of the outlets are at floor level, though. They’ll probably just send someone to seal it, move us and throw us coupons for the buffet.”
‘Oh, Nick.” The statement had no follow up. Bonnie hung listlessly to her husband’s side as he hung a waterproof coat on the cabin door’s hook. The hook immediately came away, startling laughter from the both of them.
“Remind me,” Nick said, “didn’t we say no more cruises, ever, after the last time?”
Bonnie clicked her tongue. “We also said no pizza after Atkins and no more road trips to your brother’s.”
“Yeah, but last time should have been the capper. Remember that disaster?”
“I try not to,” she said blithely, picking up the coat and hanging it on a drawer knob, “anyway, you don’t know. It could be fun.”
The upper deck smelled faintly of feces and spoiled food. Posted signs warned guests about consuming water directly from the boat’s taps and reminded that bottled water was available plentifully and for a modest price in any of the restaurants. Nick wadded up a gum wrapper and flung it at a sign, which unstuck from the wall and slid awkwardly to the ground. Nick grunted and shook his head, using his free arm to gather Bonnie to his side.
“Come on, vacations are supposed to be relaxing.” Bonnie was pushing the last of her stray hairs underneath the bathing cap she insisted on wearing to protect her dye job. “So relax.”
“Sure.” Nick leaned casually on a railing and his hand came away sticky. Bonnie laughed.
“”What gets me is how new this place looks. What possessed me to book a cruise on an untested ship? Nothing ever goes right in a new tourist trap.”
“So? I bet the first people into Disney World don’t regret it.” Bonnie paced to the edge of the non-slip tile surrounding the deck pool, shedding her towel like a cape. “Coming in?”
Nick shook his head. “Stinks too much like chlorine. I’ll sit this one out.” He scooped up her towel and went to claim an empty chaise lounge.
Bonnie set off into the pool to prove him wrong. The chlorine did sting her eyes a bit, no, a lot. Four minutes into her swim, she spotted a lone turd floating past.
“Too cold?” Nick asked airily, towel already out. Bonnie dried herself hastily, trying not to retch.
“Remind me to bring more hand sanitizer to the next cruise.”
“I don’t think there will be a next cruise.”
Someone’s boisterous child ran past, kicking over Nick’s thermal coffee cup and splattering their feet with milky coffee. The couple exchanged looks.
It seemed like every other light installed in the ship’s hallways was set to permanent flicker. Nick could feel a headache welling up deep in his skull. Bonnie’s attempt to purchase painkiller from the drug store only turned up a bland generic which did not dent the pain. As they strolled past yet another out-of-order elevator, Nick squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.
“What even is the point,” he said, “why do we do this? We’ve turned all our control over to this company, all our money, and for what? So we can be in a bubble everywhere we go? Why can’t we just travel like normal people?”
“So we can take part in the class-action suit,” Bonnie joked without conviction. Her corns were beginning to throb.
“But that’s the thing, people never win those. The companies settle out of court, nothing changes. We’re under marine law out here, they could kill us and we wouldn’t have any recourse.”
Bonnie stopped. “Don’t say that. Don’t joke about that.”
“I’m not joking, I’m—” Nick stopped to rub his eyes against the strobing onslaught of an overhead bulb. “God. Can we just go back to our room?”
Maintenance had been by and left a placard on their door, apologizing for not having the proper tools to fix the problem until the next port. Management left another, smaller, finer-print card apologizing for the inability to move them as the ship was booked full and invited them to partake in the complimentary fruit basket left for them.
Nick threw it at the wall. Kiwis and pluots, fruits that they were both allergic to, rained down on the wet floor. The cabin smelled like mold.
“First thing when we get to port,” Nick said, struggling on with his shirt in the damp air of the cabin, “first thing we’re doing is catching a plane back. This is ridiculous.”
Bonnie was squinting through the porthole, hands paused in the act of knotting her sarong. “Are you sure we didn’t port last night?”
“Yeah. Why?” Nick looked over at her.
“I just…remember waking and the boat was very still for a few hours in the middle of the night last night.” Bonnie looked over at the full-length mirror hanging beside the bed, petting her collarbone.
“That’s crazy. Why make port in the middle of the night, when no one’s awake?”
Bonnie looked into his eyes, just looked and looked. The question hung in the air between them.
They made their way up to the third deck, where the fire show was supposed to be taking place. Nick sucked air over his teeth when he saw the line. He put a hand on Bonnie’s arm. She huddled over and assumed a look of martyrdom.
“Sorry folks,” Nick called to the queue as they walked past, “MS flare up. I just need to get her sat down.”
They scored a table right up near the stage. Ten minutes passed as the other guests filed in. Twenty minutes. Nick sipped water out of a glass covered with fingerprints. It tasted how the air smelled. Half an hour. Finally a cruise employee came out and apologized for the cancellation of the show, passing out vouchers for the buffet. Nick shot an ‘I-told-you-so’ look to his wife.
The pool was crowded with unruly children. Bonnie watched one launch a snot rocket directly into the water and decided against entering. Nick spotted the blue stripe of an island vanishing into the boat’s wake and hunted down a docking schedule. Yes, they had made port in the middle of the night. The attendant who provided the chart promised to inform him of any future stops, scribbling their surname and cabin number in an illegible hand.
The couple killed a few hours wandering hand in hand, marveling at the various cracks in the cruise’s facade of pefection. Doors stuck. Surfaces were unsanitary. The mixed odor of everything unpleasant had only gotten stronger since the first day. They decided to brave the buffet, splitting their menu to sweeten the odds. Nick went with the chicken tandoori, reasoning that it would have been scorched to a temperature reasonable enough that would kill any hitchhiking E.coli. Bonnie stuck with fruit and the vegetables no one took, heaping her plate with raw broccoli and cauliflower.
As it happened, Nick lost the draw. He spent the rest of the night alternately hunched over or sitting on the toilet, which stopped flushing after the third visit. The card on their cabin door apologized yet again for the lack of repair, but they had attempted to stem the leak and broken the light in their efforts. The door stuck when they went to bed down, Bonnie’s hand slipping and cracking her customized vacation nail tips right through the palm trees.
Stomach subsiding into grumbles, Nick lay beside his wife in total darkness.
“…I mean,” Bonnie said, “if this is all this bad, imagine what the lifeboat are like.”
Nick sat up. Bonnie had put her finger on something that had been bothering him, niggling at the back of his head like a spawning migraine.
“You remember the last cruise,” he said slowly, “remember how we said we’d never go on another one…”
Bonnie laughed in the dark. “Yup. I said ‘if we ever get out of here—’”
“—‘if we ever survive,’” Nick interjected.
Bonnie was silent.
“They were calling us out to the lifeboats. We were listing to port and they were evacuating,” Nick said, worrying the memory like a splinter.
Bonnie gasped. “And we said I had muscular dystrophy, got us on one of the early boats. I remember. The sea was so choppy, there was this old woman wailing every time we went over a wave. Why would we book another cruise after that?”
Nick said grimly, “we wouldn’t.”
The air in the cabin was thick and wet.
“Why doesn’t anything work here?” Nick turned to her, unable though he was to actually look at his wife. “Not a single thing has gone right for us, why is that?”
“Nick,” Bonnie said in a hushed, urgent tone. She sat up and grasped his lapels. “I remember the lifeboat. I remember the water was so cold, we fell off but we kept getting back on. When did they rescue us, Nick? Why don’t I remember being rescued?”
There was the groan of thousands of pounds of steel being overtaxed. The cabin, and the couple in it, tilted to one side.
“Nick,” Bonnie said, “Nick. Nick!”
The door kicked open, and the couple behind it nearly fell into the room.
“Welcome to paradise.”
“Hey, at least it’s got a door. And…a view?” A yelp. “Nick, it’s wet.”
“Health hazard. Hello, first class…”