“Cruise” by Linda Wang

Althea shook off snarls of hair into the trash can. She could go everywhere and meet herself, again and again, in the newest of places like a haunting. “Chase me away from myself,” she whispered, remembering the image of some boat with a rainbow sail drifting across the blue years ago. In the beach house of one of Dan’s old colleagues, was it? On Long Island. She’d looked up, and there across the room was the boat with the mauve sunset fading into the sea, framed perfectly by the little window over the sink. They’d been eating Neapolitan ice cream, and the colors somehow matched, sweetly sickening.

The tropical sea would like to stun her into forgetting everything. Blindingly, blindingly blue, it could sear through the layers of her mind like a dose of radiation. Clever subterfuge. “I always forget it actually does look like that, not just in the advertisements,” she said to him as they boarded the ship: a skyscraper slumbering on its side, a floating city of carnival screams. She patted her shoulder bag. “I think I have the sunscreen.”

Their cabin had a balcony. Oh, this wasn’t necessary, she said, but the box of chocolates on the white bedspread drew her over. She picked up the card. “Happy 20th anniversary!” Funny, how commercially romantic, how individualized; her lips twisted into a scornfully playful smile. He looked so satisfied with something, standing there by the porthole window, very out of place. He’d crawled out of some book cellar. She laughed to picture the sun touching that fish- white belly, that poor limestone nose. You’ll crumble to dust, she thought. And they’d been young once in that New England sea town that looked ever more solemn and real than this place.

Dan Lamond turned on the TV, awaiting the captain’s broadcast. There was a countdown to when they’d set sail. He wanted to be off so he could let go. Her hair had gotten longer, falling over her neck in a matronly bob. He was about to be stranded, he suddenly thought. At once, the force of her mind grew invisible tendrils that curled and crept up the walls, lacing across the floor to brush his toes. He couldn’t sit still; it would cover him up. He missed his son.

“Oh!” Althea said as they boomed the horn. The ship awoke. They began to slide. She looked at her husband, shyly, expectantly, reluctantly sinking because there was nowhere else to go except to regress into sappiness like smoothing youthful makeup into the wrinkles of an old crone. It was dehumanizing; her mind kicked out, flailing weak arms. She went under, expecting to choke and sputter. But she could breathe. She thought she even felt happy. They’d made the railing on the balcony chest-high.

Her mind buoyed above their inundated bodies. It saw the six nights and seven days of escape before the sea flung them up and out, crashing down. A long time, it comforted. Enough time, perhaps.

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