BY ROBERT GREEN
Copyright is held by the author.
I ESTIMATED Blanca was barely five feet tall. I only saw her stand once. Her straight black hair draped over her milk-white complexion. Like many Latin women, she wore traffic-stopping red lipstick that accentuated her small mouth and white teeth. Her protuberant dark eyes were bright and brimming with laughter at the slightest provocation.
Her husband, Ricardo, was a tall slim man dressed in light-weight cream coloured trousers with a matching forest green golf shirt. He carried himself erect, with his squared military-like shoulders back and head held high. Any man would have envied his full thick head of hair, even though now it had turned a brilliant white. It gave him an air of wisdom and confidence. Whenever I observed them, I was struck by their genuine exchanges of laughter and the way they looked approvingly at each other, like high-schoolers on their first date.
Blanca looked into his clear blue eyes with a coquettish smirk. It was as if they were sharing a private joke. I watched as he bent down, gathered her up out of what appeared to be a “custom-made” wheelchair, and carefully deposited her on the chaise-lounge he’d prepared for her poolside. He arranged his lounger beside her, and together they sat back and watched the playful goings-on of their fellow passengers.
I walked back to our cabin feeling a mixture of admiration and shame. I swiped the key-card in the slot, the small green light flickered, the door opened.
The plan we’d hatched tasted bitter to me now. Anna looked peaceful sitting on the balcony gazing out to sea.
“Hello my love. Come sit with me,” she said.
I kissed her cheek and sat next to her.
“What’s wrong? You look sad.”
“I saw something earlier that made me feel we may be going down the wrong path, my love.”
“Hold that thought,” Anna said, as she got up and headed into our cabin.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m fine. Enjoy the view. I’ll be right back.”
We both knew where she’d gone and why. She knew when an injection was needed. But we had play-acted with each other for years. We tried to ignore the truth. It made our lives more tolerable.
This was so incongruous, I thought, as I looked out at the calm waters of the Caribbean. We didn’t belong here. We should have been at the pain clinic at this time of day. We’d been “regulars” for the past 20 years at the Etobicoke Clinic, where Anna got the injections that gave her some relief. The sleepless nights, followed by attempts to recoup deprived sleep during the day, ravished us both.
A few minutes later, Anna returned. She squeezed my hand and looked at me with that familiar smile and said, “now what were you saying about ‘going down the wrong path’ or something?”
“I was going to tell you about a couple I met navigating their way to the pool on the promenade deck. Her name’s Blanca. She’s confined to a wheelchair, helpless, dependent on her husband Ricardo to manage her daily existence. So much in love, they seemed oblivious to the effect they were having on the tanned bodies of their fellow cruisers. The crew staff, in their spotless white vests, smiled politely and in well-trained solicitous fashion, asked if there was anything they could get for them.
They thanked them for their attentiveness. Blanca and Ricardo seemed content as they sat and watched the world go by, knowing, yet not bothered by the fact, that they were unable to participate. When I looked at them Anna, it made me feel ashamed of what we’re prepared to do to end your pain.”
Anna sat quietly looking out to sea. As always, I knew she’d probably defer to me when it came to making or changing a decision.
Finally she sat upright in her chair, stared at me and said. “Look Herbert, the most important thing to me is that you and I remain together in life or death. Nothing else matters. We know under our current laws our hands are tied. We came on this cruise to enjoy each other doing what we love to do one last time. If you’re having second thoughts about ending my pain with me, after having seen this couple so much in love with their life, then I respect your decision.”
A tear streaked down her cheek from beneath her sunglasses. “As long as we can be together, that’s all that matters to me my love.”
“Anna you’re the love of my life. You know I would do anything to make your pain disappear.”
She nodded quickly, on the verge of tears “I know that, my love.”
“Listen. We’re both mobile, in pain yes, but we can walk, talk and interact with each other. Perhaps when the day comes that I can no longer look after you; when I’m crawling around on my hands and knees, drooling and have lost control of my bladder, maybe that would be the time for us to go on our final cruise. What do you think?”
She laughed, got up, and we embraced. I could feel her tears on my neck. We sobbed and hugged for a long time. It felt good.
That night we dined at Neptune’s, one of the fancy a la carte restaurants on board. We were surrounded by tables of lovers for our Valentine’s dinner.
Ensconced at a table for two, in the corner, surrounded with heavy velvet maroon drapes wrapped with thick gold rope and matching tassels, we looked like we’d just posed for a hallmark greeting card.
The wine was superb, the tenderloin melt-in-your-mouth.
“When we return to our lives tomorrow Anna, we’ll be renewed.” I said, my voice overcome with emotion. “We’ll go on like we always have, loving each other, savouring our time together my dearest Anna.”
“I love you Herbert. We made the right decision. In fact I feel like going home and sprucing up the place. It’ll be our Valentine gift to one another.”
“OK. You got it my love. We can do anything Anna as long as we’re together.”
I awoke early the next morning, the last day of our cruise. It felt good to be here, lying next to Anna. This is how it should be.
A beautiful day in paradise greeted me when I peeked through the drapes. Not wanting to wake her, I quietly opened the door and stepped naked into the warmth of the morning sun flooding our balcony. After a moment of watching the horizon, I realized we were turning. Looking toward the stern, our wake formed a large arc toward starboard. That was strange, I thought.
I changed into my shorts and runners and headed for the gym. Several crew members appeared to be scanning the ocean with binoculars.
“Looking for something?” I asked.
A sailor stationed near the gym door muttered a reply without removing his binoculars. “Just a precaution sir. Nothing to be concerned about. Enjoy your day.”
What a perfunctory, surly SOB. It seemed the crew operated on the premise that passengers were at best cargo, at worst, idiots.
I tried to put it out of my mind. But I couldn’t dismiss the gnawing feeling that a passenger(s) or crew member(s) had abandoned ship.
When I entered the gym, I looked through the large slanted windows in the treadmill area. I was able to catch a glimpse of what looked like a winch. I turned, moved right up to the window, and peered over the rail.
Soon others had crowded around me.
“Hey, what’s up?”
Someone else yelled, “They’re hauling something up from three or four decks below us.”
I heard another man tell his wife, “I knew there was something wrong. I could feel us turning around earlier.”
Most faces were now pressed against the glass trying for a better view of the drama unfolding below. The crew had manoeuvred a sort of mechanical arm in place three decks below us. They’d attached a winch to an object over the side.
The sun caught the gleaming silver spokes of a custom-made wheelchair. It dangled precariously from one of the life boat davits.
“Oh my god…a cripple went over the side,” cried one of the girls by the windows.
I could feel the blood drain from my face. I stared over the rail at all that remained of a couple’s drastic decision.