A Short Story by Maggie Street Magazine©
“Fair winds tell of treacherous seas” a man once told me when I was a child. I didn’t quite understand exactly what he meant, although for some reason I’ve never forgotten it.
My name is Apollo.
Hardly knowing my grandparents, I was surprised to receive an invitation to board an extravagant private cruise in celebration of their 60th Wedding Anniversary. What was particularly confusing was the importance expressed that I was to be in attendance and the urgency of which I was instructed to RSVP.
Accumulating wealth from ambitious investment strategies in the late 1950’s, my grandfather became a successful businessman and husband by the age of twenty; utilizing a stowed away cache of funds from his father’s unaffected capital gains of the roaring 20s.
What started out as relatively conservative investments avalanched into more prosperous endeavors.
Eliza and Jacob, my cousins, who were lavishly absorbed in their New England high-society lifestyle, were far removed from the reality and the ills that plagued the common person. I, on the other hand, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, was not so fortunate.
Shortly after my mother met my father she cast aside her prominence and sacrificed a life of luxury in exchange for ‘true love’; with a man of a much less nobler ilk. Career change would ultimately force them to leave Jamestown before I was born. Her brother, my Uncle Henry, would become sole heir to my grandfather’s vast fortune. I think she did it out of respect for my father and perhaps a drive to be independent and successful on her own.
My grandparents never housed any animosity towards my parents. Their departure was fairly tranquil.
At the risk of sounding envious, I firmly state that I am comfortable with having a somewhat normal upbringing and find high society to be rather confining, joyless and wrought with unadventurous peril.
Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation and looked forward to 3 days of drinking fine wine at the expense of my wealthy relatives.
Cousin Eliza, undoubtedly still high from her acceptance into Juilliard and her convoluted aspirations to be the next Mozart, actually called me. I didn’t know 17-year-old girls even knew how to make phone calls, let alone stomach a brief distraction from their highly important schedules to contact a lowly peasant such as myself.
Later I would discover that she was prompted to call me because my Aunt Jennifer, Uncle Henry’s wife, pawned off an instruction from my grandmother to secure confirmation of guest attendance–for money.
That’s right, my Aunt Jennifer, the idly rich and extraordinarily lazy, paid her daughter to call me.
Oh well, right?
“Bon Voyage” as they say, 3 days from Florida to the Bahamas here we come.
Cruise ships, although never having seen one in person prior to boarding, were mysterious to me. What secrets a ship like this must have concealed? I wondered. Each echoing memory of copious jubilation, each spontaneous affair mired in wanton betrayal. Every half-smoked cigarette flicked over its rails from drunken passengers alight with careless ecstasy, liberated in their thoughtless reveling. Every wish whispered to a glimmering star from a child who lay quietly tucked away in their cabin, unperturbed by the world’s sorrow, unhindered to dream of the day when the helm firmly rested in their able hands, proclaiming “I am now the Captain!” Oh, mysterious ship, I suppose your secrets you shall keep.
I had enough weed to last me a few days, however, judging by the general stuffiness of the crowd I didn’t anticipate a lengthy survival of my stash.
Brokers, employees, executives, friends of old, some of which I’m sure were required to be there and were probably ‘on the clock.’ I felt awkward among the ample turnout, as I didn’t really know anyone there except for my parents.
My father, with his laptop in hand, would likely confine himself to his room and work through the duration of the trip. This wasn’t out of any specific disinterest in the cruise or the people attending, but rather because he and his brother recently started their own company and his work was consuming his life.
Once upon a time I would spend a week or two up north with my grandparents as a child during the summers. The family, despite inevitable failure to upkeep arrangements, did display an effort to stay connected. By the time I reached Middle School, however, I developed an indifference to taking those summer trips, and with sports, activities, friends and what not, eventually stopped going altogether.
The sun fell, the shoreline long vanished and a steadily increasing release of inhibition overtook the previously stiff and cumbersome crowd. Which was okay with me, as a 24- year-old unemployed artist I acquired a fondness of drunkenness and late night debauchery.
2 glasses of wine, 3 beers and a shot of bourbon later I found myself perusing the party deck and mingling, hoping to find a girl, who wasn’t either a family member or an exemplary finishing school graduate, to share the evening with.
I spotted my grandfather from a distance. I haven’t seen him in years but he recognized me and started to make his way over.
“So glad you could make it” he smiled and nodded his head, directing me to come and sit down with him for a moment.
“I want to apologize to you.” he adjusted his suit as we sat on a ledge away from the music and the dancing. “It takes a lifetime for a fool to realize that the most precious gift he had was time.” He reached into his pocket. “This was my fathers and I’d like you to have it.” I raised my eyebrow, slightly intoxicated and confused as I laid my eyes upon a 9 Karat gold Rolex watch, circa 1930’s.
I didn’t speak.
“I wanted you to know that I loved you ever since you came into this world. I wish now that I had made a greater effort to be a part of your life.”
He looked at the floor and took a deep breath. For a moment I didn’t see him as my forgotten rich relative, but as a man. A man with emotion. A man with regrets. A man like me.
“It’s okay” I reassured him. “I could have made a better effort too.” I shook his hand and thanked him for the watch.
“Keep it to remember that wealth is not measured by mere possessions.” He placed his hand on my shoulder and told me to enjoy the cruise, then faded back into the party. I noted the irony of remembering that wealth was not measured by mere possessions through a possession, but I was happy to receive his beloved watch anyway.
Curious how such a brief conversation could have had such an impact on me. So much was said in so little words. There was something about him that was unique. People loved him and aspired to be like him.
Remember my thinking that some of his employees who were in attendance must have been paid to be there? I was wrong. They were honored to be there.
My warm and pensive mood was interrupted…
“Hey there Rembrandt” Eliza’s sloshed sarcasm surprised me. Not surprised that she would address me in a pejorative manner, but because she would even condescend to speak to me at all.
“You’re drunk.” I said with little humor.
She rolled her eyes, confident because she knew that she could do anything she wanted to with impunity.
“You know my Mother paid me to call you, right? I just needed you to know that.”
I stared at her, not amused and somewhat offended. It’s interesting to me that someone who had everything they could possibly want would happily accept an offer to make even more money, even if it was only a menial task of calling a few relatives. It shows the nature of the exceedingly wealthy, their appetite knows no satiety. She couldn’t bare the thought of me thinking that she called me on her own volition, she detested me.
“I’m just surprised you knew how to make a phone call” I said in an embarrassing attempt to make a come back.
She scoffed contemptuously and walked away from me.
Eliza was brilliant. Brilliant and vicious. Those are the characteristics of a true leader. She was the type who would happily devour a feast in front of a starving family just to see the looks on their faces, to reap a depraved sense of satisfaction, and then just before they died give them food so they would praise her as their savior.
Me, well… I am only brilliant, which alone is the single ingredient of the recipe for certain failure.
I never told my Mother of our encounter that evening as she was attempting to exhibit herself as a worthy guest; embarking upon some strange attempt to ‘last minute’ social climb as if her chance of success hadn’t long since eluded her.
She was content in her efforts, so I let her be. Admittedly I was happy to see her smiling and talking with her parents. My father, as predicted, was hidden away working in solitude.
I decided that another drink was in order and made my way to the bar, taking careful precaution not to run into my cousin Jacob, who would undoubtedly be devastated to learn that our grandfather had given me his father’s sentimentally priceless watch.
I was feeling a bit heavy after my brief run-in with Eliza. Against all of my reason and logic I allowed her arrogance and pompousness to get the better of me. I shouldn’t let myself feel like that but I suppose that’s how we’re all conditioned. The elitists call the shots while the hoi polloi scrounge for leftovers.
“Hi sweetie” I heard a voice behind me as a hand touched my shoulder. ‘Who the hell is bothering me now and why wont they just let me get another god damn drink?’ I thought to myself as I turned around with a look that expressed precisely what I was thinking.
“Oh, grandmother.” I said. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
“You’re too young to look so down” she chuckled as she gave me a hug.
My grandmother was from a poor family. She grew up in the Bronx and through her own merits was able to attend ‘Wagner College’ and eventually met my grandfather at a party on Staten Island. He was smitten by her charm, as the story goes.
I liked her. Of all my mother’s side of my family she was the one I knew the best. Which isn’t saying much, but is of note. During my summer visits she was the one I spent most of my time with, as my grandfather was often detained by business.
We talked for a bit. She expressed much of the same sentiments previously divulged by my grandfather. I must have been the topic of lengthy conversation between them. That became apparent when she told me how important it was to appreciate the time we are given.
I wished her well and finally made it to the bar. I ordered a ‘Staten Island Iced Tea’ in salute to my grandparents, who I was happy to be on board with celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. I drank as I quietly made plans to see them more often after the trip.
The evening was intoxicating and ripe with magnanimous allure. Fireworks from atop the ship resounded a thunderous roar in conjunction with the fanfare and the indecipherable chatter; a symphony of harmonious perfection.
My grandfather and grandmother had delivered a spectacular speech and received a standing ovation like I’ve never before witnessed. They retired for the evening and granted us, and encouraged, a late hour party.
Their love was undiminished as they danced alone in their cabin, graced by the moonlight and the savory concertos of Arcangelo Corelli.
I had forgotten about Eliza. I stopped worrying about who I was or who I was supposed to be. I’m not sure if it was the Staten Island Iced Tea or the unexpected rambunctiousness of the party, but I was feeling absolutely fantastic.
You never want a moment like that to pass by too quickly, but alas, “fair winds tell of treacherous seas”. I finally understood what that meant…
I awoke with barely any sleep. Morning had come sooner than I thought it would, but never had I imagined it would come with a blood curdling scream from a few rooms down.
I just wish it wouldn’t have been my mother who found them first.
There, surrounded by the vastness of eternal waters, lay two lovers, husband and wife for 60 years, whose story had now ended.
I knew now why it was so important that all of these guests were to attend this magnificent and sorrowful cruise.
They gathered all of their loved ones together for one last party, one last chance to say goodbye.
Diamorphine. Known on the street as Heroin. They laid together in that bed, on that cruise ship, frozen in time, charmed and smitten, holding hands as they were on that night they first met at that party on Staten Island.
They didn’t want to linger on and wither away slowly, they had decided that their lives were complete and this was their final voyage.
The culmination of lives well lived, a glorious and marvelous salutation. An epic tale that would someday be forgotten, a ghost of the past, only to live on as another secret well guarded by that mysterious cruise ship.