Ryan Everett Felton
He walks onto the balcony, sandals secure around his ankles, and surveys the endless vista of ocean for just a second before thrusting the bucket in his hands to empty its putrid contents into the water.
It took three days for him to muster up the humility to shit in the bucket. Now hearing his waste splash into the ocean makes him feel no more civilized, no more significant, than the gulls squawking overhead. Or the heathens in the lower cabins who get drunk and sleep around and cry through the night so loud their wails carry up to him in his VIP quarters.
What a honeymoon, he thinks. Ten thousand dollars to drift aimlessly on a stranded, fire-damaged cruise liner for five days (and counting).
Careful to be quiet, he slides the glass door open again and slips inside. The cabin is humid, musty. It smells like an open manhole.
The hallways are worse. One time he took his nephew to a petting zoo and demanded his money back, citing trauma to his olfactories and threatening to sue. The smell in the ship corridors now is a thousand times more severe.
At night, these past four nights, he scribbles key phrases like “irrevocable psychological damage” and “threat of lifelong post-traumatic flashbacks” into a notebook so he can cite them in court later.
His wife of five days (and third wife, all told) sits up in the bed. The covers lay rumpled in a soggy heap on the floor. It is too hot for blankets.
It is too hot for anything.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m awake.”
“You went,” she says. She points at the bucket in his hands.
“Jesus,” he says. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She swings her legs from the mattress and stands, arching her back, stretching. “Okay,” she says. “No shame in it.”
“I am going to destroy this cruise line,” he says. “When we finish with them, babe, they won’t have two pennies to rub together.”
In the kitchenette, she pours a conservative helping of water from a plastic bottle into a metal cup. “I think lawsuits are vulgar,” she says.
“I think living like the humans in Planet of the Apes is vulgar,” he says. The bucket he drops with a hollow clump into the bathtub. There is no running water to rinse it out with. Thinking about that, a hateful lump forms in his throat. He swallows it down with equal hatred.
His wife is sweaty. Dripping and smudged in dirt, filth. It hasn’t been a week since she wore her designer wedding gown. Since she was the most beautiful thing he’d seen since his last bride, at the wedding before. Drinking, guzzling her water, she closes her eyes. Breathes in deep. Says: “They’ll have us towed to shore this time tomorrow. That’s what I hear.”
“What you hear?” He touches his chest. His shirt is crusty, like an old man’s hankie.
“Word around the top floor,” she says. “You know, the VIPs.” When she says it, a fly buzzes around her head in ascending loops. In those milliseconds it vanishes behind her head, the noise fades: BUUUUUZZZbuzzBUUUUUUUUUUZbuzz.
“Us very important people.”
He takes off his shirt. “You wanted a cruise,” he says. Finds a replacement in the luggage.
“Alaskan cruise,” she says. She shrugs, as if saying fuck it, and snatches the plastic bottle of precious sparkling water. She chugs.
This new shirt is no better. The dank has seeped into every organic material in the cabin. On the entire ship. He is sure they must be having it worse below, where the economy cabins are – but he can’t see how.
Really, he thinks, shitting into a bucket must be the great equalizer.
She slips on some shoes and heads for the door, the one that leads into the hall.
“Where’re you going?” he asks.
“There’s this family down on three?” she says. “Told us in the ration line they were hosting a Bible study every morning. I thought I’d check it out.”
“You can come, too.”
He snorts. “If you find God on this ship, you let me know,” he says.
She shrugs. “Suit yourself.” She opens the door. “We might as well make friends. Get comfortable, I mean.” Steps out, a little squish sounding at the point her foot finds the corridor carpet.
“We’re here a while yet.”
The door closes behind her. The auto-lock latches. She didn’t grab her copy of the key card.
He feels a sudden wave of hot air run through him. As if it has the hydration to spare, his body produces a fresh coat of sweat. Before the cruise, he hadn’t sweated since he was sixteen – and on that miserable day, he took a cold shower within ten minutes of sign of a pit stain.
He flops onto the bed, fuming. The thought of flailing his legs and pounding his fists crosses his mind, but that would only serve to make him hotter. Sweatier. Angrier.
And besides, he is so tired.
He picks up the television remote and presses the power button. Nothing happens.
“No electricity, stupid idiot,” he says.
He looks out onto the balcony. It seems miles away, too far to reach. The cabin rocks, gently, with the throes of the sea.
A gull lands on the railing outside. From its beak it drops a dead and half-gutted fish onto the wooden planking.
It flies away, leaving its kill to rot in the boiling sun.
He can’t help it. The tattered tuna just looks so stupid there, out of water. Its floppy mouth open, its dull eyes frozen in shock. He just looks at it and laughs.