32. What’s wrong with this ship?

Ship Sketch

I’m increasingly concerned about what’s happening on-board this ship.  We were supposed to reach Bermuda two days ago, and yet we are still at sea – heading further north, they say – and there have been numerous accidents.

And the passengers?

Well, take this very afternoon – I was speaking to a Mr. Grace for a while, on the foredeck, where he’d taken it upon himself (seeing I was a young woman alone and down-at-mouth, I suppose) to explain the different types of clouds we could see in the sky above us. Pointing with his walking stick, he assured me – with tremendous excitement – that over there, we had a lovely ‘cirrus’, and over here, a spectacular ‘altocumulus’, each of whose names was emphasised slowly on the syllable, as one might do for a child, or a brainless idiot. I of course was humouring him (because, you know, ‘clouds’), but then, a rather ratty little woman approached us, with a hat like a floral bouquet. At this, Mr. Grace suddenly became very agitated indeed and – having jumped up and blurted his apologies – dashed off, shedding his spotted kerchief, and a couple of mother-of-pearl buttons pinched against the railing and rattled onto the deck. I of course was most discomfited – as it had become abundantly clear that he’d, rather ungenerously, been using me to hide in plain sight from this unwelcome visitor, all accompanied by the dirge of all tragic topics. As for the woman who’d approached – Mrs. Grace? – I‘m pretty sure I saw a flash of metal in her hand, quickly concealed. Seemingly foiled by her husband’s(?) swift departure, our ‘lady of the hat’ headed off at a rapid clip in the self-same direction. An hour later, what do I hear? That a ‘Lloyd Grace’ had been crushed by falling cargo. And a couple of hours after that? That some dairywoman from Glasgow – in a pronounced floral hat – had been irradiated (and I’m trying not to think about the horrors of self-pasteurisation…).

Then there are the mealtimes. These days, meals are noticeably sombre affairs, with the dining areas barely at half capacity on a ship that hasn’t docked in weeks – and we started off with a full complement of crew and passengers.  Where is everyone?

Also, many of us are dining as normal, and lots of passengers are behaving as you’d expect – the cruise continues, postcards are filled out, drinks involve small umbrellas or a decadent olive or two, all from the Cotopaxi’s well-provisioned larders.

But for others?

Breakfast is a motley occasion. Sprinkled throughout the greater mass of cheerful holidaymakers are what I can only describe as, literally, damaged individuals: a young man with a lowering black eye, or a few tables over, a gent with a slashed suit – the cut frayed at the edges and discoloured with rust. Over there, is a young lady with a flowering bruise, smeared with concealer till it’s almost – almost – gone. Down by the chefing station and the hotplates, an old woman is missing a clump of hair that has been distinctly torn out, regardless of how she pins it. All of these individuals bolt down fried eggs and cereal, coffee on top – sometimes in the same mouthful – as if their very lives depend upon it, and then, eying the room with deep suspicion, they back up out of the swing doors and sprint like hell down the hall.

I began to wonder if some of them only came there to eat, like wild animals at a watering hole, because there are security cameras, and because the guards often swing by for a cup of tea. But they, and the rest of the crew, can’t be trusted either: despite numerous accidents and rumours of people going missing – Velma is now categorically not the only one – the crew still seem uninterested in helping. In fact, they generally give out the air of being bored.

Frankly, I no longer trust anyone. I’m writing this diary in a more social place tonight, where I can be surrounded by light, laughter (such as it is) and warm bodies.

That said, this is the Vesuvius Bar…

The regulars are much more sombre tonight.  Bailey and three of his cohorts are here – but where’s the other guy? Campion? Bailey and Rawlings (I think I heard him someone call him ‘Rawlings’, but he is otherwise the plug-ugly with the hook nose and the plum-coloured suit) are sitting alone in the corner, silently nursing their whiskies and staring at two others of their group. Those two are split-off and distant, sitting in the opposite corner.  The scene would be set for a four-cat scrap in a two-cat alley, if it wasn’t for the fact that all four men have the distinct demeanour of chastised children. But that’s not quite the right feel of it – it’s so unusual on them, I think I’ve only just intuited the right word: they are scared.

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