writing exercise #33

Prompt:Two characters on a cruise ship

He couldn’t see the ocean. He was on a goddamned cruise ship and he couldn’t see the ocean. What he could see was a wave pool, a dreadlocked white kid looming over computerized turntables and about sixteen million screaming children. Wasn’t there some clause about kids being confined to a deck just for them? One with large screen TVs showing Dora the Explorer and fake tide pools full of plastic sea stars? He sucked down his gin and tonic, more tonic than gin, and waved for another.

Gin, Ethan thought, once dimissed as a pathway to ruin, had regained popularity when colonists had discovered quinine to be an effective tool against mosquitos and, therefore, malaria. The problem was quinine tasted like baking soda. Antifreeze. Not that he’d tasted antifreeze. Point was, quinine was bitter. But with a little carbonated water and gin, squeeze of lime? Magic. Medicinal magic.

“Here you are, sir,” the waiter said, handing him a fresh glass. A blue umbrella stuck out of his drink, as did two straws and a plastic toothpick impaling a lime. The amount of garbage generated by this operation must equal that of a small city, he thought. Hell, probably the entire island of Manhattan.

“So what happens to the garbage?” Ethan asked the waiter, whose name, according to his shiny nametag, was Manny. Manny. Short for Manuel, most likely, but who the hell put Manny on a nametag? It looked ridiculous, like a man version of Jenny. Jenny, now she wouldn’t have tolerated all this waste, the straws, this stupid umbrella. “Plastic-free, please!” That’s how she ordered her drinks.

“The garbage?” Manny responded, his face puckering as if the very word offended him.

“Yes, the garbage.” Ethan gestured around, his sunburned arm swinging a circle encompassing the wave pool, the dreadlocked DJ, the screaming children. “We’re making a lot of trash. Where does it go?”

Now Manny’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “I’m sure I don’t know, sir.”

“You’re sure you don’t know?” he mocked. Jesus, what an asshole I am. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not trying to bust your balls. Just curious.” He pulled a wet twenty out of his swim trunks pocket. “Here,” he said. “Thanks for the drink.” Ethan held the limp bill out to Manny.

Manny’s face assumed a stoic position. “The drinks are complimentary until 11 p.m., sir.”

“Yes, yes, I know. This is for you. A tip,” he implored.

Manny reached out, pinched the twenty between his fingers, folded it into his palm like a magician about to perform a trick. And, like a good audience, Ethan looked elsewhere.

“Thank you,” Manny said. And vanished.

Ethan rose, gin and tonic cradled in his hand. He wound his way through the oiled women, evaded the glances of bored men, stepped over two separate crying children, tuned out the womp womp womp emanating from what felt like every corner of the deck. Down the stairs, past the couple making out against the railing, two forty-somethings rekindling their marital spark, he surmised at a glance, their embrace too easy to be new, their kissing punctuated by giggles suggesting they couldn’t believe they were doing this.

To the front of the ship, where even the richest voyagers were subject to wind and spray. Nature could only be held at bay for so long, he thought. He lifted his glass. To Jenny, he thought. To nature, he thought. To getting the hell off this floating city and back to his real life. Cheers.

Ethan drank to that.

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