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the couch by pyritefortune

12 Dec

“You’ve had a haircut. You’ve got a woman on the go!”

“Marsha, you know I can’t talk ab-”

“Can it! Where did you meet her? What’s her name? Has she met Jennifer yet? You have told her about Jennifer haven’t you?”

“Yes, she’s met Jennie”.

“Aha! So it’s serious then! Where did you take her out? Have you slept with her yet?”

“Marsha!”.

My feigned expression of shocked rebuke elicits a wicked grin, but she doesn’t push for an answer. She takes great delight in quizzing me shamelessly, but knows me well enough by now to see intuitively which of my deflections are a token nod toward appropriate professional boundaries, and which she actually needs to respect.

“I hope she deserves you, Mark. She’d better not turn out like that last one”.

She scowls protectively, and I smile back. Time to move on. Marsha knows me better than any of my clients and many of my colleagues, but this is a hard-won concession. She gets away with quizzing me about my love life and playing the scandalous maiden aunt role for a few minutes. In exchange, she finds a way, somehow, to tell me what I need to know.

“And how about you, Marsha? How have you been feeling this week?”

“This cold is playing merry hell with my joints, you know” she hedges. I raise an eyebrow slightly. “Can’t be doing with all those icy pavements, no point going out, I’d just break a hip or something. You can’t be too careful once you get to my age, it’s all right for you young folk”.

So the social anxiety has been bad again this week. Disappointing, she had seemed to be making really promising progress recently.

“Did you try what we agreed? Did you manage to speak to someone new every day?”

“Ha! Didn’t have much choice. Jim from the paper shop is skiving about on sick leave again, some foreigner behind the counter instead. I grinned at her, I did, that taught her. She dropped my change all over the floor.”

The pale scar winding up across her neck and face is startling, but nothing which couldn’t be subdued with a scarf and some good make-up. Instead, she wears it like a weapon; waiting for the patronising looks of pity, and then grimacing to make it pucker up across her cheek toward the staring glass eye. Marsha needs the world to be as fearful of her as she is of them. The slow rapport with Jim was encouraging, but if she’s only left the house once this week I need to get to the bottom of this new slide.

“Why didn’t you go out? It wasn’t just the weather, was it?”

“I told you, I can’t be doing with this time of year. Why should I trudge about in the sodding cold just to keep you quiet. Why do you bloody care, anyway? Sat in your cosy office.”.

The belligerence was expected; she knows I care about her, and needs to feel she has put up some token resistance to the notion.  This time of year… but the anniversary didn’t seem to hit her this badly the past few years. What is different this time?

“I know you find the reminder difficult, but we talked about it last year, worked out ways of dealing with it. It is just another date, Marsha.”

“Ha! You just wait until you get to my age. Dates are all just a way of making you older and more decrepit. You know what birthday I’ll hit next year? Too bloody old, that’s what!”

When I catch the quiet rebuke behind her snappy tone, I realise. I should have done the maths. If she is 60 next year, then this year she is 59, making it a round thirty years. I smile gently, and nod a quiet acknowledgement.

“Anyway, enough of your stupid questions. Some of us have homes to be getting to. And you’ve got a young lady to be wooing. You should buy her something. Flowers.”

The shutters descend, but she knows I understood, and that is enough. As she gets up to leave I hold up her coat for her, and as she shrugs into it I gently squeeze her elbow. She stills, slightly, but doesn’t flinch away. And for today, that is progress.

<><><>

We watched a much younger Marsha in And then there was one, and met Mark and his new sweetheart on the touchline.

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and then there was one by pyritefortune

14 Nov

She is the one, the choice is made. I can’t see, now, why I would have looked at the others, even for a second. I am not a man who chooses lightly, but she is mine. Perhaps it is not even a choice, but predestined. Perhaps she has always been mine; each turn she made, each footstep in the dance, bringing the two of us closer. An infinitesimal gravity, inching her closer to me.

They flap and wheel about her; a flock of raucous gulls to replace the birds we left behind with the receding coast. Screeching her name, slopping their champagne with careless gestures. Parading themselves, cackling. Seals performing tricks for the benefit of the men at the rail of the upper deck who, in turn, joust for their attentions.

She sits, an island of stillness amongst the tumult, refusing to sully herself, saving herself for me. Head bowed to her book, against their crass coercion. I see a flash of hunger stab as she is forced to pause and flick the page, her returning fingers brush fleetingly across her thigh and rest, motionless, as her eyes dance on across the fresh leaf. From behind here I can’t see them clearly, but I picture them as blue; pale, a shade lighter than the ocean churning behind her. Startling against the dark, wispy hair, scudding around her face in the stiff breeze.

The page flicks once more, but I can’t see the cover. The hand shifts, briefly; Chekov. So she is educated; a student, catching up on a book list perhaps? But again I see the stab of hunger as the page is turned. So, a willing reader, then. Choosing to spend her holiday with Chekov rather than join the gaudy carnival of harlots. They shriek anew, daring her to follow them up the stairs and into the arms of the waiting men. One of  them hangs back and mutters something, hand poised on hip in angular rebuke. There is a certain likeness there, a slope to the cheekbone, half visible under the deflowering crust of paint. A sister, then; trailing a reluctant anchor and now, guilt safely assuaged, stalking off to rejoin the burlesque.

She inhales the newfound silence, stretching with a feline arch, and curls back into the chair. The deck is clear, the way is open, sooner than I had expected. Too soon perhaps? But I know the arch of her neck, the curve of her cheek, the soft well of shadow in the recess of her collarbone. I know her, she is mine. And the time is now.

As my shadow slides across her page she starts, her eyes flicking up from the book, alert, guarded. Her intuitive caution is tantalising, her eyes are icy blue, as they should be. She teases me, feigning demure, politely parrying invitation with excuse, and sliding silkily out of the chair. She retreats, carefully eschewing a backward glance, and yet the stiffened spine betrays her intoxicating panic.

I always keep a memento; a small token to remind me, once the infatuation fades, the heat, the urgency, thrill twined intimately with terror. I pause, and snatch up the abandoned book. I was right, Chekov, The Seagull. Slipping it into my jacket and retrieving the blade, I follow her quietly down the deserted companionway. Marsha is mine.

a vacation to remember by phoenix.writing

14 Nov

Marsha couldn’t believe that she’d let her mother talk her into this.

“It’ll be fun,” her mother had assured her.  “You’ll get to meet lots of singles.  Get to know people.”  Marsha was nudged in the ribs.  “You know how you never get to meet people in that library of yours.”

Actually, Marsha met lots of people at the library, given the purpose of the institution, but there were so many times where it was simply so much easier not to argue with her mother; Marsha had given in to the inevitable.

At twenty-eight, it was likely about time that she stood up to the other woman, and Marsha knew it, but it seemed that every time push came to shove, Marsha found that she simply didn’t care that much, that the effort involved was so great—her mother could employ tears and guilt trips more effectively than anyone Marsha had ever met—that it never seemed worth it.

Only now Marsha wasn’t so sure because she was stuck on the Carnival Splendour, and she was about ready to kill someone.

First off, who named a ship the Carnival Splendour?  It sounded cheap and tawdry, and that should have been Marsha’s first clue.

Her mother had said that she’d meet people, and that should have been Marsha’s second clue; her mother normally went on in exhaustive detail about the men she set Marsha up with, their profession, their background, their house, their car, their pets.  Hell, she’d probably get to their dentist and their eyeglass prescription if Marsha let the woman get that far.

On this particular occasion, she’d only said that Marsha would meet people.  Marsha had been so relieved to be spared the boring information overload that she’d just assumed that her mother didn’t personally know too many of the people, had maybe decided that that might have a better chance with her daughter when nothing else had worked so far.

But no, what her mother had carefully not been mentioning to Marsha was the fact that every single person on the cruise was at least three decades her senior.  At least.  And while it was true that there were whole groups of them that were still willing to hook up, what the hell had her mother been thinking?

Marsha had spent money on this, had managed to convince herself that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea, that even if she didn’t find her one true love—or a really rich husband who would make her mother happy—she would at least get a proper vacation well away from work, would be in the Caribbean, and could enjoy herself.

She should never have trusted her mother when she said that she would take care of all the details.

It would be one thing if she could just have normal conversations with everyone, but no sooner did she sit down for a meal than four or five gentlemen were trying to sit down with her, offer her drinks, tell her all about their mutual funds or whatever the hell it was they were talking about….

She couldn’t go swimming in the pool because putting a bikini on was like throwing gasoline on a flame.  She had no interest in being ogled by men who could be her father, never mind her grandfather, thank you very much.

It was like they were all drowning men, and she was the life preserver.  She wasn’t ever going to forgive her mother.

Just dodging all the men who wanted to take her around town anywhere they stopped was an adventure; she spent most of her time trying to get lost and avoid everyone—not just the men, but also the women who were glaring daggers at her for distracting their men or their prospects.

She honestly wasn’t sure what her mother had been thinking, unless she’d imagined that Marsha would be simply overwhelmed with the numbers and her inability to get away from them.

The Carnival Splendour had lived up to its name in every way, too, all gaudy and glitzy with an entertainment director she wanted to kick in the teeth—it was getting pretty close to literally—because he was intolerably loud, intolerably grabby, and intolerably amused by her attempt to get out of every possible event that she could.

The dances were the worst.

Marsha wasn’t just at her wits’ end, she was so annoyed with her mother and the Worst. Cruise. In. The. History. Of. Ever. that she was determined that not only was she not going to give in, the next time she saw her mother, she was going to tell the woman just where to shove it and let Marsha get on with her own life.

It was the only choice that she had, the only thing that was fit and proper because her mother had signed her up for ten days of hell.

The entertainment director that nightmares were made of came over the P.A. system to announce that shuffleboard would be starting at 1400.

How far a swim to shore would it be, really, and how expensive could a plane ticket from there be?

And he was sure that everyone would want to participate.

Marsha’s head hit the wall with an audible thump.

Six more days of this.  She didn’t know how she was going to stand it.

Lots of alcohol, probably.

But she did know one thing for sure, as it happened.

This was a sure-fire way to grow a backbone.

sufferance by paul j. roberts

14 Nov

Marsha sat in the ceremonial tea house, staring into her glass of water while her mother talked.

“It isn’t right, with all I’ve spent. I said to the steward, I paid a lot more for this than for the flights, and you wouldn’t expect an aeroplane to drop from the sky just because of an engine fault.”

Marsha was not listening to her mother, but instead was concentrating on the gaps between the words, hearing the distant music that was carried on the breeze from further up the Carnival Splendor.

There had been a fire in the engine room yesterday morning, which had immobilised the ship. They spent the day yesterday without toilets or running water, and even now the air conditioning, hot water and telephones weren’t working.

“I thought the last time I would ever use a bucket was in that tent in Wales. It’s not seemly, squatting over buckets at my time of life. I go on cruise ships and stay in hotels in order to avoid buckets.”

The last time that Marsha had cruised was half a decade ago, after her mother had bought her two tickets as a Christmas present. She had hoped to take a good friend of hers along, but the naïveté of this plan soon became clear. The subtle hints quickly ceased being so, before turning into nags, and finally threats. There are some things that one just cannot fight.

After the last cruise, they were offered a discount if they booked another at some point over the next five years. Of course, her mother accepted. To an outsider, the previous cruise would not seem to be as disastrous as the current, inasmuch as it was not reported in the national press, and the coastguard were not involved to any great extent. Nevertheless, it did turn out to be a supreme feat of endurance. Of all the places she could be with her mother, she felt that 2,000 square meters of boat on a very large ocean did not rank highly.

“And the food! I mean, really. I ask you, of all the things to eat on a cruise, who would’ve thought you’d ever get sp—”

Marsha pushed back her chair noisily and walked away. The second-most vexing thing on her mind was the knowledge that her mother was enjoying herself. After gossiping, moaning was her favourite pastime. The most worrying, of course, was the promise of compensation by Carnival Cruise Lines. A free cruise.

lemons by ingridfnl

14 Nov

Marsha rolled on her back and let out a huge sigh. The droning snore in the next bed keened on. Marsha stared at the ceiling tiles and swore to herself that she could see them vibrating in time with Herbert’s ear-splitting night-song.

Marsha should have had her own cabin. Marsha had paid for her own cabin. The cruise line assured her that they would compensate her but she had a hard time imagining what a reasonable compensation would be for this nightly assault, for her lack of privacy, for her ruined vacation.

***

“Mrs. Farewell?” the steward asked.

“Miss. I’m Miss Farewell,” she had corrected.

The steward flushed and repeated, “Oh.” He looked back at his list and said, “Well your father is already here,” he said smiling brightly, hopefully.

“I don’t have a brother,” she clarified.

“Oh…. Husband?” he asked.

“No. No. I’m travelling on my own. What’s going on here?”

“You don’t happened to know any Herbert Farewell? An uncle, maybe?” he asked, beads of sweat popping on his forehead.

“What’s going on here?”

***

It was then that it became apparent that there had been some sort of clerical error which was definitely not in her favor. Some one, someone incompetent Marsha believed, had decided that the same last name meant that they were travelling together. That they were family.

“I paid for my own cabin,” she insisted.

“Well, you know sometimes there are problems with the budget tour operators they make mist…”

“I … Don’t … Care,” she replied, with uncharacteristic firmness. “I want my own room.”

“The problem is…”

“I paid for my own room.”

“We, on the MS Fantasy, are committed to your holiday enjoyment and I will do everything I can to make sure that you get your own room. Everything, Miss Farewell,” he had assured with customer-service textbook platitudes. “We are quite full, but I’m sure that there is something we can do.”

In that moment, Marsha knew that there would be nothing he could do. But in vain hope, she’d waited in the hotel lobby as other holiday goers traversed through the lobby laughing and smiling in anticipation of their 21 day cruise. She watched couples and families, elderly retirees and young honeymooners all disperse to their cabins. As she sat on the uncomfortable lobby leatherette seats, she could feel her skirt sticking to the back of her thighs. She wondered who this other Farewell was and what the hell he was doing on the same cruise as her. It wasn’t as if the name Farewell was common.

For a brief moment, she indulged in the daydream that he would be tall dark and handsome. That there would be something to redeem this.

“Miss Farewell,” she heard called across the lobby. Marsha saw the steward waving, and beside him stood an very very old looking man. The steward wove slowly through the crowd holding the man’s arm and he said, “Miss Farewell, this is Mr. Herbert Farewell. He said that it is fine if you stay stay in his cabin.”

Mr. Herbert Farewell looked up at her with rheumy eyes and cackled, “When life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade!”

prompt: mutiny on the carnival splendor

10 Nov

Having read this article, I could only imagine mutiny.

This week, our character Marsha is on the *worst cruise ever*.  Marsha is a librarian in her late 20s.

This week’s story doesn’t have to involve eating spam on a cruise, but could be some other disappointment.  Please submit your story by Sunday the 14th!

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