THE CRUISE

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THE CRUISE

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        It was madness! How had I come to this?

        I had been so happy alone in my ocean view suite on the grand cruise ship Merrow. I was going to see the entire Pacific Rim.

        I remember that I was sitting in my suite sipping a flute of champagne for my breakfast. I was gazing out over the enclosed private teak veranda. With deep respect tinged by awe I was watching the great ocean consummate its marriage to the vast sky.

        I had my very own butler for the cruise, Hao, who entered the room with a box of La Palina cigars in his white gloves. I still could hardly believe that those cigars were provided at my request

        With earnest precision Hao prepared a cigar for me.

        “Mister Young, sir, you like I start streaming ‘Dirty Harry’ as you request?”

        “That would be perfect, Hao. Thanks, man.” He really took care of me. I exhaled a bouquet of smoke that was redolent of sweet cocoa and coffee. Yes, I was just a punk who felt lucky.

        “Pardon me, Hao.”

        “Yes, Mister Young, sir?”

        “What do you recommend for later this morning?”

        “Oh, sir, you be very happy to go to Mermaid Casino. She is to be very lucky for you.”

        “Hao, did you know that a casino in the United States is often called ‘the boat’?”

        “No, sir, Mister Young, Very interesting to know. Thank you, sir.”

        “That name dates back to the paddle boat era,” I added in summation. I was getting drunk and I always became erudite just to prove I wasn’t drunk.

        I do enjoy the classics. When “Dirty Harry” was concluded I sat in respectful silence until the ash of my cigar fell and smudged my spa robe.

        “Gawd-DAMN!”

        I had wanted to get up and get going anyway. It was a matter of pure will. Time was an archaic formality on this cruise.

        I ran the bath water hot and I therein poured the Ferregamo Body Lotion. I gingerly swirled the bath water to dissolve the lotion. I desired to be gilded with lotion over every pore, crease, and cranny. I settled into the spacious bath tub and scuttled myself. I used the Bvlgari Bath Soap between all my toes.

        I had googled “smart casual” and confirmed my attire with Wikipedia. I looked pretty snappy when I entered The Mermaid Casino.

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        I saw her immediately. It was as if everything else in that place suddenly became just a frame for her full dark hair, heart-shaped face, burgundy lips, and emerald eyes under those sprays of black lashes. She posed imperiously in a silver dress.

        I remember approaching her at the roulette table feeling like I was on a moving sidewalk. There was a space beside her and I filled it. She turned to me and …, my God …, her eyes took hold of mine and she asked, “Well, do you feel lucky, punk?” She smiled devilishly.

        “What?”

        “You don’t play roulette, do you?”

        “No. No. How, how did you know?” Oh, that was very smooth, Mister Young, I thought to myself. I felt flushed and disoriented.

        “I shall be your Lady Luck tonight, Mister Y…,” I could swear she almost said my name but she then asked, “What is your name?”

        My eyes were wide and I stuttered, “Alen. Alen Young. Alen.”

        “You’re sure now?” She laughed. “I am Jeanette. Jeanette De Long.”

        I blurted out, “Jeanette, have we met before?” and I knew it could never be possible.

        “Do you use that line to catch fish?” she mocked.

        “No. No. I didn’t mean…, I don’t know why…, I’m sorry…”

        Jeanette put me out of my misery with a smile and a sympathetic touch on my shoulder, “I’m teasing, Alen. I am quite sure that we have all met in previous lives.”

        She was no Call Girl. What was I dealing with here? I now understood what people meant by “enchanting”.

        “Alen, I will now show you how roulette is played. Place your bets alongside mine each time.”

        I obeyed. In a whirl of hours the two of us won thousands of dollars! I was giddy. And I was also impossibly at ease with her. I was… in Love? Well, Mister Young, who wouldn’t be? Certainly not any of these guys gathering around us, and probably not even those women there.

        One slick and groomed lothario who looked to be cut right out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly was caressing Jeanette’s arm with his knuckle and whispering into her ear.

        Jeanette turned toward me, “Let’s get out of here, Alen.”

        I faced that lothario as I gathered our chips and I made the most obnoxious “well, there you have it!” face that I could pucker at him. Man, I did not want this crazy dream to end anytime soon.

        And it didn’t.

        Jeanette asked me as we exited the casino, “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

        “Sure. Of course,” my God, she was radiant, transcendental, and I was with her.

        “I’d like to go back to my suite and freshen-up. Have your butler reserve a table at The Sea Châteaux and call me with the reservation time. I will meet you at my room, Suite 555, one half hour before dinner. Alen?”

        “Yes? Yes. What?”

        “Are you… Are you having a good time with me?”

        All I could do was joke, “Duh?”

        Jeanette asked, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we, Alen? These cruises can be interminable without someone special.”

        “Lonely in a crowd,” I agreed, “Believe me, I understand.” Sure. I understood about me. What the hell did I understand about her? I watched her wag away down the hallway.

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        There always seemed to be a uniformed Courtesy Assistant at each major intersection to guide passengers. They somehow knew where I belonged because without my asking they either blocked or facilitated my passing.

        But only their mouths smiled.

        I entered my suite at last and said, “Hey, Hao, my man.”

        “Hello, Mister Young. You have good time, sir?”

        “Hao, you magnificent …I could kiss you.”

        “Very sorry, sir, no kissing guests. Big trouble, sir,” and he grinned.

        I laughed.

        “Mister Young, you feel pretty good, yes, sir?”

        “Hao, no joke, I had the best time of my life. I think I’m in Love.”

        “You very lucky, sir. I know this.”

        “Hao,” I asked regally, “could you please make a dinner reservation for me and a Miss De Long at The Sea… Shadow?”

        “The Sea Châteaux, sir, yes, very nice place. Very romantic.”

        “And then call Miss De Long at Suite 555 to confirm the reservation, please?”

        “Yes, Mister Young. Ve-rrrrry romantic.”

        Then it hit me and I frowned.

        “No romantic, Mister Young, sir?”

        “No dinner jacket, dammit.”

        “Mister Young, sir, I bring dinner jacket for you already.”

        “You did? Hao, are you psychic?”

        “No, Mister Young, sir, I feel pretty good.

        “No, no. Not ‘sick’. Psychic. I mean: how did you know?”

        “Oh, I told you you very lucky today, Mister Young, sir.”

        “Chinese wisdom, Hao?”

        “Yes, I think so, Mister Young, sir,” and Hao bowed and departed with a smile. He left behind for me a silver tray with a gin and tonic, a cut cigar, and … a Magnum condom. I laughed.

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        Jeanette was ravished by my eyes as soon as she opened the door to her suite.

        I shook my head, “You look… You look…,” then I just held my hands apart and made a clownish face like I had been hit by a mallet. I wasn’t really clowning, though. Her dress was a dance of skin-tone sinuous sheer veils that gave the impression of, well… a nymph in a misty waterfall

        “You’re sweet. Thank you.”

        The Sea Châteaux was elegant and private but it was no reason to take my eyes off of her. For our dinner she recommended the masterpiece seven-course “Celebration of the Pacific Rim”.

        As we dined and I delved into her I kept thinking, “Jeanette, if you were a dinner, this would be you.” And then her tomboyish attitude toward her beauty put the zest on our desert.

        There had been very little “small talk”, thank God, something at which I was lousy. But, in fact, Jeanette had become quite philosophical.

        “What do you know about Physics, Alen?”

        “Oh, I’ve called the Physics Hotline a couple times.”

        “I suppose you wanted to hear about those bodies in motion, right? Seriously, do you know anything about Quantum Mechanics?”

        “Well, I do remember a documentary once that was saying Quantum Mechanics is very much like the ancient Chinese I Ching. Very Zen, counter-intuitive, you know, like ‘there is no such thing as energy, energy is not a thing, but a relationship of things’, and ‘nothingness is the source of everything’, and…”

        Jeanette sat forward, animated, “Yes. Virtual particles. The bedrock of our existence: tiny particles appearing out of nowhere for an instant and then vanishing. They think that the ‘Big Bang’ was one of those tiny particles that…, that…,”

        “Went public?”

        “Alright,” she smiled, “And it could happen again, any time.”

        “Whatever time is,” I winked.

        Now tell me, who talks like that over a romantic dinner with a beautiful woman?

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        After dinner I walked with her back to her suite. The Courtesy Assistants politely gestured the way even though Jeanette did not need their help.

        She invited me into her suite.

        The room was warmly and seductively lit. I could smell an orange blossom fragrance diffusing throughout. She turned and put her arms around my neck at kissed me. Then she pushed my hands down to her bottom and kissed me deeply again. I lifted her veils and devoured her for hours. I had never been so… insatiable, unstoppable. When at last we just held each other and I stared at the ceiling I had a sweetly disturbing thought: this is the happiest I will ever be.

        It must have been late. I was awakened by another woman in the room. I placed a pillow over my exposed personality. Jeanette’s private female butler was unfazed and kept her eyes averted. She was a porcelain beauty, wearing a clinging red silk dress embroidered with gold floral designs. She stood at the foot of the bed with a spa robe for Jeanette.

        Jeanette arose and let the woman wrap the robe around her. Yes, yes, I arose too watching that little scene. As Jeanette then walked toward the bathroom she said back to me, “I’m taking a bath,” then to her female butler, “Mai, please keep Mister Young entertained.”

        When I looked over, Mai was already stepping out of her dress. Naked she slipped beside me before I could move a muscle (except the one that she reached for). I stopped her arm and then rolled off of the opposite side of the bed.

        “Mai, what are you doing? Jeanette! What is going on?”

        From the bathroom Jeanette called out casually, “I want you to be satisfied, Alen.”

        “What?!”

        I stomped into the bathroom. She was already submerged in bubbles. She looked up at me as I stood indignantly naked over her.

        “Aren’t you happy?” she asked with innocent sincerity.

        I climbed into the bath with her, “Jeanette, all I want is you.”

        “I hope you are sure.”

        “What does that mean?”

        “There must be no regrets between us.”

        I took her hand and kissed it, “You must never doubt me, Jeanette.”

        “And you must never doubt me, Alen.”

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        I watched Jeanette dress. She put on a black laced evening dress-suit. I didn’t even think to ask her where she might be going at that hour until she asked me, “Do you want to go up to the Observation Deck? There is going to be a meteor shower.”

        “Then I suppose I should put my clothes back on?”

        “You wouldn’t want that to get hit by a meteor, would you?”

        “I’d knock it ‘out of the park’,” and I swung my hips.

        Jeanette covered her face and said, “Ahhh!”

        A half-hour later we were strolling down the hallway but when we came to the turn that Jeanette apparently wanted to make the Courtesy Assistant stood in her way. She just brushed past him and he frowned but he then stood aside with his eyes down as I followed her. That happened again and again until we opened the door onto the Observation Deck.

        What a night this was. The stars were like sparkling frost on the dome of the dark sky. You could tell where the ocean began only because that is where there were blurred reflections of the stars.

        “The moon will rise soon,” Jeanette told me.

        The door closed firmly behind me.

        We strolled between a semi-circle of people there sitting cross-legged on the deck and an individual whose back was toward the ocean and leaning against the railing facing them.

        “Star gazing class?” I asked them. They seemed excited to see us.

        “Hello, Jeanette,” said the lanky bearded fellow who was sitting at the focus of the semi-circle, leaning against the railing. He stood up. He was naked except for thick round glasses and a college “mortar board” hat!

        “Hello, Guru Bill,” said Jeanette, nodding, “I offer my heart like a bouquet of flowers,” and then she gestured towards me, “You know Alen.”

        I thought she was joking. Who the hell was this clown?

        Guru Bill said, “But I am always glad to see Alen.”

        “What do you mean by that?” I blurted, “What is this?”

        “This is my Meditation Class, Alen. We are all here to witness.”

        I thought he was referring to the meteor shower.

        I looked ahead for Jeanette. She was standing with both hands on the railing and looking down into the undulating hills of the ship’s wake. As I approached her I heard her say, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”

        “What?”

        She turned her head toward me and repeated, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”

        “You’re being poetic, right?”

        She stared intently into my eyes, “No.”

        I got a chill, “You’re scaring me, Jeanette, stop it.” I tried to chuckle. I reached for her and placed my hand on top of hers.

        She released the railing and gestured for my other hand and I gave it to her and she faced me, “Alen. Listen to me. Can you remember anything before this voyage?”

        “What?”

        “Can you remember anything about your life before this cruise?”

        I smiled, “I love you so much I don’t think I can.”

        “No, Alen. Try to remember. Tell me something.”

        “Well, that’s ridiculous, of course I remember.”

        But my memory quickly reached an impassable grey wall. I suddenly became terrified.

        “This is a stupid joke. You have hypnotized me!” I pulled both of my hands away from her, “This is not funny, Jeanette! What have you done? Why are you doing this?”

        “Alen, all I have of myself, too, is a thousand memories of being on this ship. Then I became… ‘enlightened’. I jumped from this deck into the ocean to end my,… my,…”

        “Imprisonment,” said Guru Bill. “Perception of imprisonment.”

        I raged at him, “What the fuck are you? Some kind of Charles Manson?”

        Jeanette took my face into her hands and looked into my eyes, “Alen, listen. Listen! I jumped that first time but instead of ending it I ‘awoke’ back on this ship. But now for some reason I keep the memory of each previous ‘life’ on this ship. I eventually jumped again. It was a cycle. I kept remembering each jump and I was trying to perfect my escape each time by changing something, anything.”

        “You want to die?” I cried.

        Guru Bob spoke again, “Not die, Alen. Escape the endless cycles.”

        “Then why don’t you go and jump, yourself, motherfucker!” I hollered at him.

        “Because, Alen, I have reached the highest state of enlightenment: indifference. To me, one cycle would be the same as another cycle. I no longer care. I too have tried a thousand times with Jeanette to help her to convince herself not to care. But she is a stubborn soul. She can remember her iterations and in that she is somehow enlightened but she is caught like a fly in this flypaper illusion and she struggles.”

        “Jeanette! This fucker is insane! Let’s get out of here.”

        Guru Bill said to me softly, “Do you see my ‘star gazing class’ here? Alen, these souls reached the same state as Jeanette did initially. But they were afraid to jump. And now they can’t go back below anymore.”

        I sprinted back to the door by which we had entered the Observation Deck. It was sealed tight! Then I saw my butler Hao’s face in the door’s portal. I screamed, “Help, Hao. Open this door. Let me in. This guy’s fucking insane!” I pulled at and shook the door handle hysterically.

        Then Hao spoke to me, “Very sorry, Mister Young, sir. You cannot come back anymore. I cannot let you in. But, Mister Young, sir, you must believe me! You are ve-rrrry lucky!”

        I bellowed, “What the fuck are you talking about? Open this God-damned door! Open it!”

        I felt Jeanette’s hand on my arm and I flinched and turned to her with my eyes wide. She spoke softly, “Alen, for the last hundred times you have jumped after me.”

        “Stop it, please stop it!”

        “Alen, I finally figured out that the flaw in my desire was that I was jumping alone. Believe me, please, that we have loved each other a hundred times. I came for you a hundred times. You feel it. You know you feel it. Remember how you felt like you knew me within that first moment at the roulette table? But then, here in the end, in this final moment, you do not jump with me.”

        I was just whimpering now.

        Guru Bill stood beside Jeanette, “She would jump. You could not find the desire to jump. You end up one of my ‘star gazers’ for awhile but in the end you are driven mad with anguish over Jeanette and you jump anyway. But it is too late. You have come back a hundred times yourself, Alen.”

        I slid to the deck, “Oh, God”.

        Jeanette kneeled and hugged me, “Alen, Alen. It is the two of us together. That is the only way.”

        “The only way to what? Death?”

        “The only way to a possible freedom. Why do we have this feeling that there must be more than this? Alen, remember our dinner conversation? About Physics? Guru Bill, help me here.”

        Guru Bill calmly said to me, “Alen, this cruise is the pimple on a greater reality. Why do you think you can access so much from cyberspace? There are things out there that do not exist here. This ship will never reach those shores. But, Alen, I will always remind you of your option to consider me.”

        “What?”

        “I no longer care. I am content to be the Good Shepherd for my flock of ‘star gazers’. It is only painful to stay here if you think that there is, anywhere else, an ‘Alen’ or a ‘Jeanette’ who will be any different.”

        Jeanette helped me to my feet. She left me wobbling on my own. I watched her go to the railing.

        She said sadly, “I am going to jump. With or without you. Maybe the next time we will jump together. Good-bye, Alen. I do love you. I will love you ten thousand times more.”

        She turned and put both hands on the railing. The meteor shower began. A thousand fiery scratches appeared across the dome of the sky.

        Guru Bill said to Jeanette, “This is the sign.”

        Jeanette placed one foot onto the railing. I cried out, “Jeanette! No! Wait!” and I ran to her.

        She held out her hand to me.

        This time I take her hand.

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