The moment I set eyes on him at the captain’s soirée, I knew this was it. At least six feet tall and lean, his gray eyes, deep suntan, Hemingway beard, black suit and bowtie gave him an air of mature distinction. My singular mission had found its sudden fulfillment. Quicksilver rushed pell-mell to a boiling point. On the dance floor, he was masterful. It amazed me how easily we flowed together. But it was then that I observed, I thought, a bit of dandruff dusting his shoulders. I blinked and looked again; there was nothing there. I was imagining things. “There we go again!” The mercury was rearing its ugly head again, its obsession with trivial flaws – a pimple, a stray strand of hair, a word, a turn of phrase, an inflection of the voice – anything could signal the onslaught of disdain and sabotage a good thing even before it began. I was my own worst enemy and I knew it. The cruise was meant as an escape, a chance to make a change. I resolved to try harder.
It was earlier on that clear August day in Fort Lauderdale when, elegant and picture-perfect in summer white, I boarded the Carnival Destiny bound for a week in the Western Caribbean. I was a woman on a mission now that Lee-Ann, my only child, was safely installed in her college dorm. Tired of hearing how youthful and modelesque I looked, a divorcée of fifteen years, I still drew a blank in my attempt to find a workable relationship and possible re-marriage. I swore I was not leaving that ship without a life-sized souvenir. But first I had to rise above the vicissitudes of my mercurial sentiments, if I were to give myself a chance at happiness. I took a deep breath, refreshed my lipstick, and rejoined the soirée. But my Adonis was nowhere in sight.
Next morning, I-Pod in ear, I was doing my warm-up exercises on the Deck Thirteen jogging track when he showed up. Mercury immediately asserted itself. I tried to stay calm. As if by design, we jogged together, not saying anything, but with a natural synchronicity in our strides. After twenty laps I pulled up to do my cool-downs. Off in the distance, I could see a vague outline that looked like a long coastline or a cloud; I was not sure.
“Cuba,” he said, standing so close I could feel the heat of his accelerated breathing. It was as if he had read my mind. Like me, he had an unmistakable West Indian twang. I wasn’t sure which country; certainly not Bajan, Trini, nor Guyanese.
“I’m Crucian,” he said. “You’re Jamaican.”
It was not a question. Although he was right, I balked at his presumption and the mercury threatened a descent. The first drops of rain gave me the excuse I needed to leave. I did not look back. I had to get that mercury under control somehow.
I didn’t see him again until day three, our first full day at-sea. We were headed for The Caymans. In khaki Bermuda-length shorts, green polo, and brown Bruno Maghlis, he was demolishing the competition in the First Mate’s Invitational golf-putting contest, until some slicker half his age and with twice his skill swept past for the prize. He didn’t seem in the least perturbed, pumping the hand of the winner vigorously. The mercury soared at his show of good humor. I was observing unseen from the railings above, or so I thought, until I heard that voice behind me.
“What did you say your name was again?”
“I don’t recall saying.”
“I’m Troy, in case you were wondering. And you?”
I started walking down to Deck Three to buy a latte. He followed. When I sat down starboard-side to read, he sat across from me and spoke briefly on his cell phone.
“My son,” he explained. “Going to get my Jag detailed. Left him in charge of my construction company in Miami.”
Strangely enough I wasn’t put off by his bragging. It couldn’t have been easy for a self-made small-island man to make it in corporate America. Despite its initial trembling, I felt the mercury right itself. Troy sat studying me while I tried to read Toni Morrison’s Paradise – not an easy task at the quietest of moments. I knew it wouldn’t work. I could feel the fingers of his mind playing havoc with my senses. I sat there, locked with him in a vortex of magnetic attraction. As soon as I could move I jumped up and hurried to the elevator.
That night he was already in the dining room when I entered. I noted with approval his navy blazer, white polo, and gray slacks. I tried not to stare. Two minutes later, the waiter handed me ‘his business card with a note on the back, “May I join you?”
He didn’t wait ‘for my reply. Soon we were chatting about everything. His eyes never left my face, and I barely touched my food. After dinner, he walked me to my cabin; I didn’t invite him in. He kissed my hand and said, “There’s so much I’ve got to say to you, but there’s tomorrow.”
That tomorrow brought me crashing down to earth. I was draped on a lounge chair on Deck Twelve, watching a Beyoncé concert, when I saw him sitting next to a frail, sallow-skinned woman in a wheel chair, her legs draped with a pastel-blue blanket, matching the shawl about her emaciated shoulders. H holding her bony, blue-veined hand, he was saying something to her and while she looked up at him with eyes brimming with tears. In the way he looked at her, I saw a softness I had not associated with him. Feeling very much the intruder, I averted my gaze.
I fought back angry tears – angry mainly at myself. I stayed in my cabin for the next two days, emerging only to scour the buffet and then flee. On the last night, around Nine, I heard a knock on my cabin door. Troy stood there, still wearing the dark suit he’d obviously worn to the captain’s farewell dinner. I blocked the door with my body, although his eyes urged me to invite him in.
“Alone tonight? And did you chuck her overboard?”
He smiled, pushing past me. “There are some things I wanted to tell you, but since you won’t come out, I had to come to you.”
I got a whiff of his Obsession, but tried to ignore it.
“I don’t deal with married men.”
His smile vanished. He closed the door behind him, standing so close I could hear the rapid pulsing of his heart.
“You can believe what you want. But five years ago, Leona asked me for a divorce. She wanted to marry another man.
“Someone you knew?”
He nodded. “Used to be my golfing buddy.”
“But why are you still together?”
“But why are you still together?”
“Soon after the divorce, she was diagnosed with the early stages of bone cancer. No treatment has worked. She’s dying. I couldn’t abandon her the way he did. I blame myself. I spent too much time building my business; I neglected our marriage. I must do what I can for her now.”
“How much time does she have?”
“Don’t know. She’s in constant pain these days. Our son arranged this cruise as a surprise. Everything was going fine . . . until I met you.”
The mercury was bubbling and there was nothing I could do about it now. He read the questions that swirled in my mind. He held me but made no attempt to kiss me and I was glad. I never dreamt parting could be so painful. Neither of us wanted a future built on the anticipation of another’s passing. We exchanged phone numbers but promised not to call except in an emergency. That night, in the solitude of my room, I commanded the mercury to chill out. Now that I was capable of holding it constant, I knew that when it rose again, it would be forever. And, hopefully, with Troy.
© K.P. Lewis (Kalypsoul)