You know that trick in movies
where the camera swirls about the hero, the background a blur, in that moment
in which they realize they’ve made a huge mistake?
Our scene is the deck of
resplendent cruise ship the Royal Pacific; sunlight glinting off of her bright
white hull as she prepares to depart Sydney Harbor. Our hero is Juliana Jones
– mid-twenties female, eyes and hair brown, a lone figure in head to toe black
amongst a dazzling sea of tropical prints.
And at this stage JJ’s
mistakes have yet to reach critical mass...
A cool change took the edge off
the sultry summer heat; the accompanying breeze spinning and bumping a mass of
red and silver decorations dangling from the ceiling. While Juliana Jones in
her sky-high black ankle boots, black sunglasses and little black
roller-suitcase nudged their way through the crowd to find a spot at the
through her veins, JJ gripped onto the Happy Holidays! card her best
friend had given her as she’d set off in the cab early that morning - filled
as it was with increasingly immoral ideas as to what she might get up to the
next few days - and tilted up onto her toes, leaning leaned over the barrier,
breathing deep in search of an expectant hint of sea air.
Even before Erica had gifted
her the card, JJ’s hopes for the week were big. Probably too big. But if a
Pacific cruise couldn’t give a girl a shot in the arm, what could? In the cab
ride to the dock she’d indulged in glorious visions of a weeklong party filled
to the brim with flirtation and fun. An uncomplicated fling with some buff
bronzed beach bum wouldn’t go astray either. After the events that had led
her to booking the cruise in the first place, she figured she was due a break
on that score. Hence the fact she'd dusted off her bikinis, waxed
unmentionable places, spent ridiculous sums on sunny highlights in her long
dark hair. Now she was sooo ready to sink into a sun, rum, and fun
daze she could burst.
JJ glanced along the
railing to scope out her fellow passengers, wondering who among them might be
up for some fun right alongside her. But the view was obscured by a mass of
multi-colored streamers twirling out into the sky before dropping in great
looping curls down the side of the ship towards those waving goodbye below.
She could forgive her
best friend for being at work instead of waving from far below as it was the
fact that Erica had a newfangled travel agent job that she’d been able to hook
JJ up with a great deal so last minute. As for her family...
JJ rolled her shoulders
and shook out her hair. Re-gathering her fighting spirit she smiled
beatifically at the crowd below. She could afford to be so magnanimous, as
for the next eight days and seven nights she was leaving them all - the
people, the city, and her entire hot mess of a life - behind.
A great clanking groan
rent the air as the last of the huge chains tying the ocean liner to land were
unhooked, and with the hum of the engine buzzing deliciously through the
floorboards, JJ felt the leaden weight of her past few days begin to lift.
It was only when a clutch
of crew below began to unhook a huge banner spanning the main gang plank that
JJ felt the first flutters of her impending panic.
The words ‘Welcome!
Love Birds for a Lifetime!’ were branded into her mind’s eye, but
the banner was already folded and being carried by the crew into the belly of
the ship, so she couldn’t be sure.
And yet... Curling her
hands around the metal railing JJ glanced over her shoulder at the fall of red
love hearts and curls of glittery silver ribbon hanging from the ceiling.
Skin prickling with a
sense of impending doom, she tipped her sunglasses lower on her nose, her
frenetic gaze finally able to focus on those around her, swerving over face
after face of her jubilant fellow passengers, until she found --
Nothing but couples;
everywhere she looked.
Apart from the occasional
staffer in a purple polo shirt and beige cargo shorts there were couples
holding hands, couples laughing, couples leaning into one another in that way
that meant so much more than simply ‘you have my back’.
And – because fate can be
a bitch that way – not a single other guest was a day under sixty-five.
For a second JJ seriously
wondered if she was dreaming. The possibility was high that she was actually
in a crčme de menthe induced coma. The wild night at their apartment when
Erica had booked her on the cruise went down mere hours after JJ had quit her
latest job subsequent to having been groped by her married boss. Not a pretty
But the alternative was
that she was a twenty-seven-year-old divorcée with a string of dismal temp
jobs trailing behind her like a piece of toilet paper stuck on her shoe. And
that she was wide awake.
Cue panicked hero,
blurred vision and swirling camera sensation as JJ gripped the railing hard
enough to bend the metal with her bare hands.
Cheers pelted up and down
the deck, snapping JJ from her trance as poppers popped and the air rained
down twirling rainbows of tiny streamers.
Blinking away the long
strand of curling pink paper caught in her eyelashes, JJ watched in mute freak
out as the grey Sydney dock - and any chance of getting off the boat - slowly
but surely moved out of reach.
Despite the sharp
sunlight shimmering in the water below it looked cold. But it wasn’t the cold
that worried her. An intrepid soul from way back she’d jumped into plenty of
icy water holes near her small town home. Enough to know intense pleasure of
an adrenalin rush of that magnitude made the possibility of peril worth the
risk. It was the kind of thrill that made a girl feel alive. But unlike
leaping from a tire swing, a jump off the side of a 70,000 ton ship would
certainly be her last.
The crowd surged, the
couple next to her bumping her elbow. She twisted, her ankle turning in her
"lucky" boots. Sucking in a sharp breath she glanced up to find the pair in
matching white slacks and Hawaiian shirts smiling so smoochily into one
another’s eyes that the cold dark water didn’t seem like such a bad option
Instead of finding
herself buoyed by a plethora of buff bronzed beach bums with whom she could
blissfully while away the hours she drowned in a sea of ‘lovebirds for a
lifetime’. And her next several days flashed before her like a neon sign:
Now Here’s What’s
Really Missing From Your Sucky Life!