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Saudade

As his taxi raced toward the dock Lee could see the water between buildings and at the end of streets, filling the space around and beyond distant spits of unfocused land. The ocean smelled like a liquefied cellar. His last time near the ocean was that summer at Myrtle Beach when he was nine. He’d hated the way the sand got between his toes, in his swimsuit, in every private crevice.He’d gone into the water to get rid of the sand, and been alarmed by the volume and the pull of it. Its murky gray was the color of everything dissolved, everything disintegrated, eaten, and disappeared. He never went into the ocean again.

It wasn’t too late to turn around. But his girls wouldn’t get their money back. And worse, they’d be disappointed in him.

“Dad, it’ll be like riding the bus.” Jane had tried to be reassuring, but how could she know? Neither she nor her sister had ever been on a cruise. All they knew was from the TV commercials and the colorful brochures. Lee and his late wife had raised their daughters to be skeptical, but it never quite took.

His cell phone began playing that discordant ring-tone Cynthia had programmed to identify her. He fumbled with the buttons and answered. “Hi honey. I’m almost at the dock.”

“Great! I’m sorry we couldn’t be there to see you off.”

Jane shouted in the background, “Bon voyage!”

“Tell her thanks. How’s the internship going?”

“It’s going well, Dad! We’re impressing everybody! You’ll be proud.”

“I’m already proud. You sure you have enough money? You spent so much on this trip.”

“We have savings, remember? All that stuff you used to say about the real world? We listened.”

Lee felt himself tear up. It happened easily these days. “OK then. I’ll send postcards.” He heard inarticulate yelling, laughter in the background. “Cindy, what’s going on?”

Cynthia laughed. “Jane wants you to promise you’ll warn us first if you’re bringing home a new wife.” Lee didn’t react, and they said their goodbyes. He wished they hadn’t pushed him into this.

Stuck in traffic only blocks from the pier Lee pulled out the brochure. Senior Singles Cruise. The words embarrassed him. But it had been over five years, and he was very much single and feeling older every day.

If the taxi were late it wasn’t his fault. The welcome packet stressed that the ship always sailed on time—it was your responsibility to get on board, both at the start and at all stops along the way. The very idea of being marooned in some Caribbean port—he might just stay on board the entire trip.

But the taxi made good time over the remaining blocks. Dilapidated warehouses were the rule on one side of the road. On the ocean side small and mid-size boats were anchored or dry-docked for repair, their hulls chewed with corrosion, the upper parts and edges stained a coffee color.

At the terminal he waited for hours with hundreds of others on brightly-colored chairs, an experience not mentioned in the brochure. Eventually he found himself heading for the gangway with a large group. A pretty young photographer offered to take his “Bon Voyage” picture. It was only then he realized the looming white metal wall was his destination. He consented only so he’d have one to give the girls. He smiled as if he were already having the best time of his life.

Once inside the ship a small olive-skinned man with a thick accent offered to take him to his cabin. “My bags?”

“They wait for you,” the little man said, “Please watch your step,” and rapidly led him through various openings and a maze of corridors. After a few minutes he had no sense of location or being on the water at all.

The cabin was like other small rooms he’d stayed in at cheap hotels. An undersized bed and a cramped bathroom, a tiny table and chair beneath twin portholes. He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped for—something exotic perhaps. But Lee was used to disappointment.

A printed schedule for “Senior Singles” was on the table. He read it with increasing alarm. Dinner was a “Meet Someone New” event. An equal number of women and men at each table were somehow guaranteed. He’d made a terrible mistake in agreeing to this.

After breakfast there were classes on dance and casino games, Bridge, tennis, other “deck sports,” and “Social Skills for Seniors.” After a small-group lunch (whatever that was), “cruisers”—oh, please—were encouraged to change into sun or swim attire and relax in one of the countless deck chairs. A good quality sun screen was highly recommended. His daughters had bought him enough extremely high SPF products to protect him from anything short of immolation. In the evenings, after the awkward-sounding dinners, live entertainment was offered, and the optional “romantic stroll around the deck.” Lee dropped this schedule into the waste bin. He he’d brought plenty of books.

He glanced out one of the portholes. The ocean appeared to be in a slow spin around him as the ship headed out to sea. He sat down, struggling not to weep.

For the first two days Lee asked for people’s names and occupations. He listened to their stories and laughed at their jokes, and told a few harmless stories of his own. But “his” stories were stolen from people he knew and had nothing to do with him. He wasn’t sure why he lied, except he thought these tales more generally appealing. With each small deceit he felt worse.

Staff were always interrogating him, asking if he was having a good time, offering snacks, providing dozens of fluffy white towels every day. Others ran around with buckets of white paint, coating the barest suggestions of corrosion. Every day there were new brown spots, red streaks of oxidation, holes needing to be plugged before passengers noticed.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you out on the deck,” a tablemate named Sylvia said at one night’s dinner. “But it’s the quiet ones you really have to watch out for.” She winked at him and laughed. Lee couldn’t remember the last time a woman had winked at him.

“Oh, I’ve heard that saying,” he replied, not knowing what else to say. What in the world was she talking about?

The ever-present waiter interrupted. “Is everything perfect?”

Lee looked up and forced a smile. “It was a very good meal.”

“Was there something that did not suit you?”

He had no idea what to say. His tablemates spoke of textures, presentation, and the blend of flavors. Surely they were making it all up as they went along?

When the waiter hustled off, that woman, Sylvia, grabbed his arm. Lee stared at her thin fingers, a large ring on each one. “Don’t tell me you’ve found someone already, without giving the rest of us girls a chance!” He looked into her red-rimmed eyes and realized how much wine she’d consumed.

“Sylvie! You’re terrible!” her companion exclaimed, blushing and glancing his way. Suddenly he was in high school again, not understanding what his classmates were getting at. He was unable to speak the rest of the meal. He embarrassed too easily. Had he ever been able to do this? There had been moments, surely, otherwise he could never have married Ann, and raised those two beautiful daughters.

After dinner Lee took an elevator to an upper deck for some air. The motion of the ship was more pronounced at this level, sometimes with a roll that forced him to shift his weight from one leg to the other, or a pitch that almost made him fall, or float off into the air. He knew suicides were sometimes a problem on these voyages, but perhaps some were hapless victims of unintentional flight. He wondered if the onboard shops sold heavier shoes.

At this height the ocean was a boundless expanse of black, borderless width and bottomless depth. There should have been more reflections—the ship was brightly lit. It made a shushing sound cutting through the liquid dark, and the troublesome whispers underneath.

Tonight’s moon was low on the horizon, its gleaming reflection painting a path across the water into its very heart. He felt a desire he had no words for.

If he stared into the water long enough he could distinguish blacker areas within the black, moving independently. As the clouds drifted rapidly away and the waves began to rise he saw another cruise ship in the distance, all lit up like an upside down chandelier. Then an arm of the ocean covered it and it disappeared. He waited for it to reappear, unsure of what he had just seen. Finally he turned away, thinking he had misapprehended.

He heard a broken cackle from the deck below, followed by sobs, reassurances. That woman Sylvia and her friend. Lee took a few steps back in case they looked up. He saw a woman a few feet away in a pale yellow gown leaning on the rail. There was something about the set of her shoulders, a certain absorption. From this angle her face looked wet. It alarmed him enough that he was willing to risk embarrassment. He walked over and stood beside her.

The sky was now remarkably clear—a field of stars extended over hundreds of square miles. “You never see this many stars from land,” he said. He should have followed that with something, but he had no idea what. The stars ended in a region near the horizon line where lightning rhythmically fractured the emptiness.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” She turned her face slightly and she didn’t appear to have been crying. Her eyes were large and outlined in black—make-up or not—he couldn’t tell. She smelled of some exotic spice, not perfume, but perhaps something she’d eaten. The rest of her was in shadow. He thought she must be both beautiful and unusual. Still, she seemed untroubled. He had misunderstood everything.

“I’m sorry to have interrupted you.”

“You thought, perhaps, I was going to jump.”

“Oh no, I was just . . . ”

“Attempting to measure my mental state. Do not be embarrassed for a kind urge. People do end their lives on these . . . frenetic vacations. They insist that you enjoy yourself. And when you do not respond as programmed, a certain desperation ensues.”

“I was thinking that very thing earlier. I didn’t want to come, but my daughters gave me this trip.”

“And you do not wish to disappoint them. You are part of the seniors group, the ‘cruisers’ I believe they call themselves.”

“Terrible, isn’t it?” Then she wasn’t part of the group. In this light he couldn’t tell how old she was—maybe he was making a fool of himself.

“Loneliness is terrible. Loneliness deadens the spirit. A man who has lost his wife knows much about loneliness, I think.”

“How did you . . . ”

“A band of discoloration on your ring finger. You might have removed the ring as part of some ruse, but you do not seem the type. So either a divorce, or a passing, and I see no signs of divorce in your face.”

Lee looked down at his hand. He couldn’t see anything–it was too dark for her to have seen. He had taken his ring off over a year ago. “As I’ve told my daughters, I’m doing okay. I don’t need some . . . intervention.”

“We have a word in Brazil. Saudade. Estou com saudades de voce. I miss you. But it means much more. It is a profound, melancholic longing for an absent something or someone one loves. However much you attempt to think of other things, it lingers. But you may never have even possessed the thing, or the someone, before. The one you yearn for may be a complete fabrication. We Brazilians are passionate, and we are in love with—how do you say?—tragic frames of mind. Saudade is part of our national character. Saudade, I suspect, is why many of these people are here. They hunger for something, someone. What is it that you long for, Lee?”

“How did you?” But she shut off his question with a kiss. Her lips were damp, and unpleasantly cold, but the sensation pleased him. It had been years since he’d kissed anyone on the lips. He pulled her closer into him, seeking more warmth, and found none. Instead, to his alarm, he could taste bile coming up into his throat. He turned away, gagging. “I’m so sorry!” He’d experienced no seasickness since coming on board. He’d been inordinately proud of himself. To have it come now, at the most inopportune time, made him despair.

It took him some time to recover. At some point he was forced to his knees. When he could finally look up she was gone. Who could blame her? He’d embarrassed her as much as himself.

When he regained his feet he searched for her to apologize. The deck glistened where she had been standing. He heard the shush and scrape. He turned—one of those ubiquitous deck hands was cleaning up after him, avoiding his gaze. “Aren’t you supposed to put out barriers when you mop? Someone might slip and fall!”

The little man looked terrified. “So sorry, so sorry!”

“I . . . I didn’t mean to snap at you,” Lee said, and walked away.

He wandered around looking for her, having no idea what he would say if he found her. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but she had kissed him, hadn’t she?

He took the elevator down and walked up to the bow. Balcony after balcony piled up behind him—when he turned he saw a few people watching from above, one shouting drunkenly. With both feet planted Lee could feel the ship’s engines throbbing inside him. He walked around the edge of the deck, paying particular attention to any women standing by the railing, until he’d made his way to the stern. Here he could see the wake of the ship, the furrows of water turned silver by the moon.

An opportune place, if he were so inclined, to leave the cruise and everything else behind. But how horrible to be alone in all this water. After a few hours you would beg to die.

Lee spent the next morning in bed, not quite able to pull himself out of dreams he could not remember. Even with the Do Not Disturb sign out there were numerous knocks on his door. Finally he woke himself up enough to yell “Read the sign!” He felt satisfied by the sounds of rapid retreat, but had he missed an opportunity to see the woman from last night? Somehow she had known his name, so it would be no surprise if she could find his door, or had he misunderstood all that?

He needed more sleep to drain any residual sense of unreality, but blasts of the ship’s horn made that impossible.Defeated, he stared at his cabin walls.A series of prints conveyed an attitude of eroticism, while still far from explicit so that no one could complain—curves and blurry flesh-colored swatches of color, some lines hinting at a highly-abstracted embrace. Highly abstracted embraces seemed the most he could hope for at this stage of his life.

These images recalled a series of Chagall prints Ann chose for their bedroom. He didn’t know much about art.Their titles contained words like “lovers,” “marriage,” and “kiss.” With clouds of color that spread across the lines of the forms, it was as if the passion those couples felt extended to everything they touched, everything they saw. It was too much, or at least he had thought so at the time. Now he envied their enthusiasm. The figures were so full of emotion they floated—they’d lost all sense of decorum or gravity.

He remembered those kisses—necks impossibly elongated, their swimming bodies in extremis as they wrapped around each other. Ann had loved them, and he had loved them more than he would say. But they promised so much—had anyone ever felt such passion in a normal marriage?

Yes, yes they had. Feelings he didn’t have words for. After Ann passed away he took the prints down and stuck them in the back of a closet so he might forget they were there. When his girls asked what happened to the prints he said he wasn’t sure. He had no idea what his life was now, but it wasn’t about that anymore.

The kiss last night had been nothing like the kisses in those prints. But it still had been surprising, although not exactly pleasant.

When Lee finally left his cabin he encountered the ship’s activities director, her fixed smile more predatory than friendly. From the beginning she’d made him feel bullied. “I’m so glad I was able to run into you. You haven’t been sick, have you?”

“Out too late,” he said, “I suppose having too much fun. You must have hundreds of people, don’t you, to be concerned about?”

“All equally important. Tell me, how can I make sure you have the time of your life?”

The very phrase the time of your life depressed him. “I’m doing fine, easing into things. Relaxing. There’s nothing wrong with that is there?”

“Of course not! But I’m sure we can do better. I know four lovely ladies eager for some male company at lunch.”

He began his retreat. “Too much fun to do today, I’m afraid.” He turned his back and practically ran.

“You’ll leave empty-handed if you don’t make it happen!” she shouted after him. He felt dizzy and struggled not to fall as the floor appeared, briefly, to melt.

Every afternoon the decks stank of suntan oil. Every lounge chair was full of barely-clothed flesh in various stages of destruction. He thought of Jonestown, the bodies darkening in the intense tropical heat.

These were not ugly people. They were just trying to enjoy their vacations. Lee believed there were no ugly people, but he himself didn’t have the courage to lie about half-naked, not with his aging carcass. He scanned the faces looking for his mystery woman, even though she would seem out of place in a lounge chair in the sun.

“Aren’t you going to say hello?” He recognized Sylvia’s voice, but he couldn’t find her in the sea of glistening skin, oversized sunglasses, and floppy sunhats. “Over here, in the red.”

He walked over. She wore an old-fashioned-looking red two-piece suit. He thought she looked unusually sober. “You seem relaxed,” he said.

“You probably think I look fat in this.”

“I think . . . you look fine. Most of us aren’t that slim, not at this age. We hold onto that memory of what we used to be too firmly. If you like what you’re doing, that’s what counts, isn’t it?”

“I guess—I didn’t expect you to be so enlightened. Most men aren’t.”

“I’m not enlightened. If I were, I would be dressed in swim trunks.”

She laughed. “Will I see you at dinner later?”

“I don’t really know. But enjoy the sun.”

That hadn’t been so difficult. Perhaps he knew what to say to people after all. He continued to look at faces, struggling to remember the features of the woman from the night before. It wasn’t a good feeling. No doubt she would be appalled if she knew he was searching. But he was just making himself seen. If she wished to approach him it was up to her.

He strolled through the restaurants, and stood at the back of a dance class. He looked for that yellow dress, but wouldn’t she have changed by now? He hadn’t behaved like this since high school.

He wondered what Ann would have thought of his behavior. Embarrassed for him, possibly, or sad. By sunset most of the chairs were empty. He should eat something, but he didn’t think he could. He sat down. He should be writing his daughters, letting them know how he was doing, but what in the world would he say? I’ve met someone, perhaps. Both the truth and a lie.

Both the sea and the sky appeared the rumpled gray of an unmade bed. The horizon line had been almost completely erased. Staring too long into the blurring of borders made him ill.

“You miss her—she is all you can think about.” The woman slipped into the next chair. Instead of looking at him she stared into that disorientating gray. Her dress, too, was gray this evening, or some shade of off-white.

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“You’ve lost your story, then,” she replied. Today he could see that she wasn’t a young woman. The skin of her neck was crepey, and there was loose flesh beneath her eyes. Perhaps she was his age after all.

“I just feel I should be doing something, but I don’t know what to do.” It made him feel unbearably sad to say this.

“You were in a story which worked for you for a very long time. But that story has ended, and yet you find you are still alive, and now you are in a different story you do not yet understand.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

“Live your life. Enjoy your vacation. Life may look quite differently when you return.”

“But I don’t seem to be very good at this.”

“Take a walk with me,” she said, standing up and grabbing his hand. “You can do that much.” It seemed he didn’t have a choice. She guided him down the deck until they reached a small door in the hull that said “Crew Only.” She opened it and dragged him inside.

They were at an intersection of corridors. She took him through another door and down some metal stairs. He felt like a child being hand-led like this. The air was steamy. Her gray dress clung like excess skin.

These interior walls lacked the polish of the public areas. No upholstery or shiny white paint—the metal was dirty yellow with brown rust around the seams and rivets and bolts. There were distant echoes of harsh male argument and laughter, the rattle of machinery, metal banging against metal.

Another trip down another set of stairs—the paint completely worn off the grungy treads. They hadn’t even bothered to mop up the dirt. Where were all those eager little uniformed men with their mops and smiles you saw on the passenger decks? The filth in the corners and along the edges had congealed into a black scum.

A muscular, shirtless man walked past them without a glance. Pressure was rising in Lee’s head, a thrumming against his ear drums. He wondered if they were below water level now.

He wanted to ask her name—it was absurd he didn’t know—but it didn’t seem like the time. He should have insisted she reveal where they were going but he couldn’t make himself speak. Her hand was delicate, yet she gripped his so firmly it hurt. Sweat made her skin appear gelatinous. Sweat was running into his eyes. He struggled with his free hand to wipe his face.

The next level down was packed with equipment. A wall of noise moved through him like a wave. His internal organs shook.Overhead were layer after layer of pipes, cables, gears, gauges, valves. The corridor shrank until it was no more than a catwalk—on either side he could see more machinery and more shirtless men far below, so distant they appeared to be miniatures, or was it possible the cramped working space required dwarves?

The walls of the ship were weeping, rivulets oozing down the seams and gathering in depthless pools below. The air smothered him in the stench of decay.

A narrow ladder dropped into an even darker place—there was no light, no reflection. She made him trade positions and when he hesitated she nipped his cheek with teeth like ice. The blood ran down his face and when he tried to wipe it off she darted forward as if to kiss or bite but licked him instead. Her tongue felt expansive. “You need to go first,” she whispered. She let go of his hand as he took the first step down, but when he hesitated—What am I doing?—she placed her bare foot on his shoulder—When did she take off her shoes?—and forced him down several more rungs. He surrendered and led the way into the jet-black mist.

At the bottom he couldn’t see his feet on the floor, if it was a floor. It was something solid, but it felt less than stable. Before he could figure it out she jerked him off his feet. The blackness fragmented into hundreds of glistening bits, resembling butterflies or birds, but which might have been fish. They disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.

Lee felt the damp on his face but it didn’t feel like sweat. Maybe he was crying. Certainly he felt barely controlled, fear and incredible sadness welling up with no words for any of it. He tried to think of his daughters and how sorry he was to leave them but their faces broke down into incoherency. He sobbed, and glistening air bubbles propelled in front of him. He was deep underwater and should have been dead, drowning in excruciatingly slow motion.

She wrapped her arms around him, arms so flexible they might have been boneless. She wrapped those long tubes of skin around his head, her moist whispers ordering him to turn, rocking his head painfully.

A translucent shape came forward out of the nothing: huge eyes and skeletal head, teeth so long and sharp it couldn’t close its mouth. Floating around it was an expanse of insubstantial rags, great sheets of peeled flesh unfolding, their bioluminescent edges pulsing slowly. They suddenly darted in Lee’s direction. He screamed with no sound. Something caught in his mouth. He reached up and felt his teeth, several inches long and razor sharp. Something blurry went into one of his eyes. He reached up and slowly pulled it out. His eyes were cavernous holes where anything could enter.

He shook his head vigorously. All the loose skin of him, the torn flesh and ragged filaments of him, floated around his face. He looked down at his body and could find neither his arms nor his legs.

He turned to her then, her mouth so wide, her lips so swollen, so dark. Saudade, she said, Saudade, until she had him completely in her mouth.

Lee was suddenly awake, lying on his bed in the cabin. Water drained off him and onto the sheets, then onto the floor. Everything was wet and everything stank. The housekeepers were always so eager for something to do—he had plenty for them to clean today.

He glanced up at that terrible, banal artwork, and thought of those Chagall prints hidden away in the back of a closet at home. He could send a letter from the ship telling his daughters where the prints were, and that they could have them. Ann would have wanted them to have them. His message would get there before the ship returned to home port.

The intercom came alive and a lovely voice announced that all passengers were welcome to go ashore and identifying the day’s exit points. Lee hadn’t ventured off the ship at any of the ports of call so far, but he needed to, didn’t he, if only to buy souvenirs for his girls? When they were little they’d loved souvenirs from his business trips. He’d arrive home and after all the hugs and kisses they’d gather around his giant suitcase on the bed as he opened it to reveal what he’d brought them—usually a little T-shirt or a stuffed animal with the city’s name embroidered across the front. It had been this simple ritual that had always made such perfect sense and it had been wondrous.

He climbed out of the wet bed and stripped off his soggy clothing, leaving it on the floor for the staff. Brisk use of a couple of towels left him moderately dry. He found his best shirt and pants in the closet, a pair of dress shoes, clean socks and underwear. Nothing terribly fancy, but still, the best he had brought. Every bit of the carpet was damp and he had no dry place to sit. Water was even dripping off his desk chair. So he stood and balanced himself carefully against the wall, pulling on his clothes and trying not to let them touch the carpet for more than a second or two. It took a while but finally he was dressed. At the last moment he grabbed his good sports jacket off the hanger and left the room.

The water in these Caribbean ports was so clear you could see schools of fish travelling beneath the crystalline surfaces. But so far their perfection had not persuaded him. Lee felt there had to be something terribly wrong behind such movie-magical sets, and he had no interest in discovering exactly what.

But today’s excursion was for his daughters. A crewmember swiped his ID card and he walked down the gangway at a brisk clip, eager to get his errands done and then back on board. His pace fell awkwardly into step with the cacophonous melodies of the ubiquitous steel drums. It was quite the production—the musicians wore non-identical but similar yellow and orange tropical suits. Two dark-skinned dancers performed in complementing colors. The music wasn’t exactly unpleasant, but there was too much of it and too much the same. Lee felt as if everyone was looking at him, but doubted that anyone had actually noticed at all.

The beach here was white enough to hurt the eyes. He wondered if the sand was hot to the touch, and remained on the wooden walk just in case. He felt as if he had stepped into a rich oil painting whose colors were almost too intense to bear. What was that style called? He wished he knew more of the proper names for things. Ann certainly had.

But for Lee this was like the worst kind of dreaming, the kind that came when you were running a high fever and you felt as if you were rotting from the inside out, as so many of these islands probably were, what with the fruit, the jungle, their heightened cycle of birth and death. Or had he imagined it all? He knew very little about these places. He didn’t even know what island he was on. He hadn’t bothered to check.

It didn’t take long to find the shop he wanted, one offering native wood carvings—animals mostly, but a few religious icons, and some doll-sized figures with extraordinarily ugly faces, the kind of eccentric gift both his daughters loved. The figures looked more Polynesian than Latin American but that didn’t matter. The clerk offered to box them up ready to mail—a shipping center was only a few doors away. Lee mailed them and headed back to the ship.

He chose not to tour the island. Maybe that was a mistake, but what could a casual visitor see anyway? He couldn’t imagine an excursion that wouldn’t depress him. He’d want to know what was on the other side of the barbed wire or behind the huts. He’d want to know what the tourists weren’t allowed to see. He’d want to ask them how you lived on an island in the middle of the ocean. If you wanted to go somewhere where could you go? And none of this would answer the question of his aching.

He was tempted to find the woman again but knew he shouldn’t. Instead he returned to his cabin to write long letters to both his daughters. He wasn’t surprised to find his cabin in pristine condition. That was what they did here—they cleaned up all your messes as if they’d never been. They erased your mistakes. It was a complete escape from life. Some people welcomed that.

He wrote his long rambling letters full of memories and feelings and good wishes and everything he could think of to say to the people he cared most about in the world. Exhausted, he signed “Dad” to each and crawled into bed. In the morning he would look the letters over carefully to make sure he hadn’t said anything he shouldn’t have, and after he was done he would drop them off to be mailed at the next port.

Lee woke up sometime in the middle of the night. He was shaking. He thought at first that the ship’s horn had blown, that some disaster had occurred, but he waited there in bed and heard nothing more—no horn, no footsteps outside. He couldn’t even hear the ocean, or feel its movement.

He got up and slipped into the same clothes he’d worn that morning. He even put on his sports jacket. It was likely to be cold.

He walked out onto the empty deck. There was no one at the railing, no one in any of the deck chairs. He walked by the closed shops and stared in at the mannequins, willing them to move. The lights in the restaurants and even in the casino were out, which seemed unlikely. The casino was open all the time.

The elevator wasn’t working so he took the steps up and down. He encountered no one on any of the decks he tried. He decided he wasn’t going to get upset over this, and so he stopped looking. He could have knocked on random cabin doors but of course he wouldn’t do that. Let them sleep—it was the least he could do.

He went back up the stairs to the top deck of the ship. There was a swimming pool, but no one was in it. It was so dark he couldn’t even tell if there was water in the pool. He heard nothing.

Someone stood at the forward observation point by the telescopes. He walked up behind her. Of course it was her. She was peering into one of the eyepieces.

He stepped closer. “What do you see?”

She turned around slowly. “I have not been home in a very long time, and I’ve never seen it from this angle. Sometimes I believe I do not miss it, but actually I miss it very much. Saudade, of course. Saudade.”

He stepped up beside her and looked out at the ocean: boundless, dark, and moving, although he couldn’t hear the waves. But he could see no land ahead of them, or anywhere else.

“You should look through the telescope. It might satisfy your yearnings.”

He didn’t want to do that. But he rested his hand on top of the scope and gazed at her. She seemed different, but he couldn’t quite see her face, even though they were very close together. Perhaps his eyes were going bad. Perhaps even if he looked through the telescope he would be unable to see what was right in front of him.

“Perhaps you would like a kiss first,” she said, “for encouragement.”

He didn’t want to, but she came to him anyway. He closed his eyes when their lips met. She tasted of something he did not recognize. He felt his body beginning to lift, to float. Still their lips were locked together, their tongues barely touching. He could feel his neck beginning to stretch, and bend, and soon he was upside down, and floating out over and past the rail, and over the ocean.

But they were still kissing. They were still kissing. Until all his weight returned.

Originally published in The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea, edited by Ellen Datlow.

About the Author

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards. He’s published over 450 short stories. His most recent collections are The Night Doctor & Other Tales (Centipede Press), The Harvest Child And Other Fantasies (Crossroads), and Everything Is Fine Now (Omnium Gatherum). His last novel Ubo (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books in 2017. In 2018 Valancourt Books published Figures Unseen, a volume of his Selected Stories.