Fiction Romance Contemporary

A cruise. If nothing else, she would get out of town, out of bleak mid-western winter, away from friends who meant well, but who could do nothing for her but stuff her full of comfort food: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pot roast and potatoes, and every so often a big, greasy slab of lasagna. She had gained ten pounds since Glen died six months previously; the only thing that still fit was her shoes. And so, because it was winter and the boys thought it would help and because she was sick to death of comfort food, she had signed up for a singles cruise where she would float around the Caribbean, stopping at Grand Cayman (they’d been there on their honeymoon, the only cruise they ever took; Glen was horribly seasick) and Jamaica and some other places. She’d paid the extra money for a single room. She couldn’t imagine getting ready for bed in front of some strange woman.

The flight to Ft. Lauderdale was delayed, and she almost missed her transfer. Then her luggage was lost, and she was determined not to go to dinner in her wrinkled, smelly traveling clothes. So, she ordered room service (FISH!) and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Anymore wine than that and she might randomly start crying, which she had resolved to stop doing. She picked up the ship’s daily program: the captain would address the guests at eight, after which all were invited for a casual meet and greet and a free glass of champagne. “Completely informal!” the program read. “Come get acquainted with your shipmates!”

Not in these clothes, thought Mary Fay. But then her steward knocked at her door and announced, “Madam, here is your luggage!” She thrust a fifty-dollar bill at him because he was so genuinely happy for her, but he waved it away, “No, no, Madam Mary Fay. I cannot accept. Have a wonderful evening!” And he was out the door.

She dithered over what to wear, finally settling on a caftan that she had once thought would change her life, but which hadn’t. Gazing in the mirror at her seventy-five-year-old self, she dropped onto the bed, her face in her hands. The caftan did not cover all the sins—her blue- veined hands,  (“you have the prettiest, softest hands,” Glen had told her), the crisscrossed wrinkles that she had inherited from her grandmother.

Finally, she went to hear the captain and have a free glass of champagne and keep her chin up. No one spoke to her, and she spoke to no one. Laughing and chatting, they all looked so merry in their singleness. As she climbed the stairs to her room, a man came down, and they both said, “Excuse me.” She only glanced at him—a gray, short ponytail; tan, well-toned legs in cargo shorts; a t-shirt that read “Make my knees great again.” She smiled at that.

Before going to sleep, she tried something her grief therapist had recommended. “Think of ten good moments from your day. The whole day doesn’t have to be great. But ten good moments.” She reviewed the possibilities: The trip to the airport— uneventful. The flight delay— maddening. The lost luggage— predictable. The room service meal— just so-so. The meet-and-greet—a non-starter. Adam, the kind steward—ah. A good moment. The t-shirt sentiment—yes. She would like her knees, and a few other parts, to be great again, too. So, two out of ten. She’d had worse days.

The next evening, she forced herself to attend happy hour. Happy hour! On a ship full of divorced people, widowed people, people who had never…Mary Fay decided right then to count it as a good moment. Irony was good.

Soon, the t-shirt man plopped down on the rattan bar stool next to her. “Tell me to just go away if you’d rather drink alone,” he said, but he looked settled in. “What’s your poison?”

“Oh, just some white wine. But, please, don’t buy me a drink. One is my limit,” Mary Fay said and winced at her own—what? She seemed to be impersonating a tall, thick wall topped by barbed wire. Maintaining boundaries, that’s my game.

“Well, OK then,” the man said, grinning. He seemed to be mocking her and sympathizing with her at the same time.

“A glass of wine for you, sir?” asked the young bartender.

“Hell, no,” he said. “Give me a double Jameson on the rocks.”

Mary Fay stopped breathing, feeling the dreaded tears begin to rise. It would have been so much easier if it were Glen next to her. They always had so much to say to each other.

Take three cleansing breaths, she heard her therapist say. She inhaled the ocean air.

“So…tell me about yourself. Where do you work?”

“I’m retired now. I was an electrician. I kind of putter around, doing stuff for people. You know, fixing toasters, washing windows, changing air filters. There’s people that are old or sick or just inexperienced, you know, and I help where I can. What do you do?”

“I am—or I should say, I was—an English teacher.”

“Oh, boy, the grammar police. I had a teacher in high school that was just death on dangling—umm, what are they? Metaphors? Or modifiers?

“I’m going to guess modifiers. Or perhaps mixed metaphors.”

“Boy howdy, we’re in deep water now. I don’t know whether to mix or dangle. ‘Run to the roundhouse, Nelly, they’ll never corner you there.’”

Mary Fay started to laugh, but then the tears flowed over and down her cross-hatched cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she said, searching her purse for a tissue.

“Oh, ma’am, don’t you be sorry. I’m guessing life might be kinda hard for you right now. Me, too. Lost my Emma two years ago. My kids talked me into this cruise. Seems like a waste of money to me, but, you know, you just have to just keep plugging along. You sure you wouldn’t like another glass of wine?”

Mary Fay hesitated. How much could it hurt to have another? You aren’t driving home. She gazed for a moment at the friendly stranger beside her. Not really her sort of man, she guessed. Short, for one thing, though he did have lovely calves.

“At least you’re thinking about it,” the man said and smiled. His slightly yellow teeth were not perfectly straight, but he had a merry gleam in his eye. “Hey, you’re an English teacher. You probably know this one: ‘Wine comes in at the mouth/And love comes in at the eye/That’s all we shall know for truth/Before we grow old and die./ I lift the glass to my mouth,/I look at you, and I sigh.’ That fella Yeats.”

He turned to the bartender. “Another glass of whatever the lady is drinking.”

March 25, 2023 21:35

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Doug Joseph
22:36 Apr 05, 2023

I love the relatability of this story. I think we all know someone who may have been in these shoes (might even be ourselves). I also love the meeting of the dismissed or unconsidered. I'm not much of a writer, but if I were to make any suggestions, it would be to try to reduce passive voice and show how the benevolence of friends and family was slowly killing her rather than just stating it. It feels like there is too much telling at the onset. All in all, I'd say very well done and great job!


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Helen A Smith
20:17 Apr 03, 2023

I like this story. It’s the start of a journey of hope and a chance for a new life. The MC takes a leap of faith and is courageous.


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Philippa Hibberd
17:54 Apr 01, 2023

Sweet love story! I rarely see elderly protagonists in romance, so it's nice that this story shows it's never too late to rebuild your life or find love. I like how different Mary Fay and the stranger are, and how utterly unlike her deceased husband he is, but there's chemistry between them nonetheless.


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Unknown User
14:43 Apr 02, 2023

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