“The Vim and Vigor Twilight Cruise”

On the last afternoon of the Vim and Vigor Twilight Cruise, many of the short-timers spend their days naked. It isn’t in the rule book, or even a suggestion of the director, but rather a tradition started by a group on the first ship who thought it prudent to be bare on their final day.

Elizabeth isn’t interested in nakedness; she will be modest to the end. But, her fiancée, Egbert, lounges in the sun sipping a red and white Lava Flow, straw to his pursed lips, penis slack and uninterested. Occasionally he recrosses his legs and Elizabeth watches behind her sunglasses the changing shapes of his testicle wrinkles.

“Disgusting” She says, trying to look away. “I’m no longer engaged to you.”

Egbert takes the straw from his mouth and covers his penis with the tropical drink. “But, I really love you.”

“You’ve only known me since breakfast.” She finds herself again interested in Egbert, now that his manhood isn’t so present. “It was a good omelet though.”

Egbert snatches a towel off the sleeping woman’s legs in the next chair over and wraps his waist. “Lets not wait until tonight. Let’s get married now, so at least we have a few hours to call each other husband and wife.”

Elizabeth ponders Egbert’s too-black chest hair and saggy-sad nipples. “Compromise. Four pm starboard.”

“Lovely!” Egbert lights up and orders another Lava Flow from a bouncing-by waiter.

Elizabeth adjusts her gold beaded one-piece complete with embroidered anchors, “You’re in charge of arranging it with the Captain. I want yellow tulips, a three-piece string ensemble, and-” She scans the deck for ideas for outrageous demands and noticing a waiter struggling with a full tray, “a juggler.”

Egbert sinks back, looking deflated.

Elizabeth takes a sip of Egbert’s drink. “I hate jugglers. I’m kidding.”

“That’s why I’m marrying you.”

The captain rushes toward the bride and groom and then slows down as the violin player starts the music with an elegant note.

Egbert presents the ring, size 6, bought in the jewelry shop on the first deck. “You don’t want to make love do you?” He whispers to Elizabeth as he slides on the ring.

“Gosh no. This is my best dress.”

Egbert nods knowingly and kisses the bride.

They dance until dinner. He is not the type she would have dated before the cruise, let alone marry, too minty-fresh, too cornball-jolly. He would have been a good neighbor, or husband of a relative, the kind she could sit by at family gatherings and know she wouldn’t leave annoyed.

However, he holds her with respect, not too tight, not limp. He doesn’t eye the other women in the room and follows the number one ship rule: he doesn’t ask the question of why she is on the cruise.

He tells hammy jokes at the table. He gets everyone to laugh, and pats her hand several times. She is quiet. Of all the mistakes she’d made in her life, ignoring men like him is the gravest. He glances at her frequently with merriment in his eyes. She moves closer toward him and he puts a warm arm around her shoulders. “It’s been a good marriage, hasn’t it?”

When the sun lounges long in the sky, not quite dusk, people gather on the top deck. The music is playing and Egbert and Elizabeth dance their way toward a line that forms along the rail. “Why are you here? Is it illness?” Elizabeth whispers.

“Shhh.” Egbert whispers in her ear.

The jumping takes a long time, there are at least two hundred people, all with a variety of endings. Some are drunk, some cry, some shout, some sprint, a few are dragged by the kindly crew. Elizabeth and Egbert slow dance through it all.

Elizabeth keeps her eyes closed until Egbert swipes her tear with his thumb like a father to a small child, “Goodbye my beautiful wife.” He holds her hand in his and brings it to his temple, smiles gently and then walks the plank. He shouts to the crowd, “For my final act!” takes four quick steps and balloons off the plank into a clumsy fat-man somersault and then he’s gone. She doesn’t even hear the splash.

Then it is her turn.

Her legs shake and tears flow. Sobs. She gasps and pants.

The captain holds her arm firmly and helps her up the ladder to the plank.

She grasps the ring with her other hand, turning it over a time or two as she walks swiftly toward the ocean, not wanting to be too far apart from Egbert’s final act. He might be only a wave or two away.

Stefanie Freele

About Stefanie Freele

Stefanie Freele was born and raised in Wisconsin and currently lives on a river in the Northwest US. Her short story collection, "Feeding Strays" released by Lost Horse Press is now available and has recently been announced as a Finalist for both the Book of the Year Award and the 2010 Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Stefanie is the fiction editor of the Los Angeles Review and the 2010/2011 Healdsburg Literary Laureate. She has a MFA in fiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop in Washington.