LOVE IS BLINDNESS
Even at 5:45 a.m. the Celebrate’s crew deck wasn’t empty.
Something fleshy and pink and snoring was splayed on an inflatable chair bobbing at one end of the swimming pool. A young stewardess reclined on a sun-lounger, smoking, her red and yellow uniform revealing that she worked the breakfast buffet and either slept in her clothes or stored them in a ball on the floor of her crew cabin. Huddled around one of the plastic tables, three security guards argued in English about a soccer match and some goal that should never have been allowed.
Shifts ran constantly and around the clock; the midnight buffet clear-up finishing only minutes before the breakfast prep had to start. It was always someone’s spare moment before work or smoke break or post-shift crash. With the crew quarters impossibly cramped, below the water line and always smelling faintly of seawater and sewage (and, sometimes, not so faintly), everyone dashed outside to the crew deck whenever they could.
Blinking in the sunshine, Corinne stepped out onto it now and paused for a moment while her eyes adjusted to the light. There was an unoccupied table and chairs on the portside. Careful not to spill either of the two coffees she was carrying, she headed for it.
As she passed the table of security guards, Corinne felt the gaze of one of them crawling up her cabin attendant’s uniform to her face. The flash of him she’d caught with her peripheral vision left a vague impression of youth, broad shoulders and closely cut blond hair. The man’s eyes, she felt sure, stayed on her all the way to the table and lingered after she sat down.
She didn’t entertain for a second the notion that this attention was down to admiration or attraction. He was at least three decades her junior and Corinne’s face wore many more years than she’d lived. On top of that her hair was grey, her body weak and painfully thin. That left mild interest (What is a woman of her age doing working on a cruise ship?), which was fine, but also suspicion (What is she really doing here?) and recognition (Don’t I know her from somewhere?), which were not.
The table was unsteady on its legs and Corinne had to lean her elbows on it to keep it from rocking. It was also missing its parasol and one off-white plastic leg was pockmarked with cigarette burns – ‘crew grade’, in company-speak. Everything the crew had was second-hand, from the flat, stained pillows on their bunks to the chipped crockery in their mess, all of it already used and abused by paying passengers until Blue Wave deemed it no longer good enough for them.
Corinne sipped her coffee until she felt the guard’s attention fade and a quick glance confirmed his focus was back on the football debate. Then she checked her watch. She had about five minutes before Lydia arrived, tired and wired after her overnight shift.
Lydia was her cabin-mate and, over the past week – the first for both of them aboard the Celebrate – they had fallen into a pleasant routine. They met for coffee on the crew deck just after Lydia finished her shift and before Corinne started hers, and again in the mess just as Corinne was ending her work day and Lydia was gearing up for another one. Lydia was very young – only twenty-one – and had never been away from her home in the north of England before.
Corinne suspected the girl found comfort in the company of a woman her mother’s age. Not that Corinne minded in the least. Lydia was a warm, cheerful girl, and it was nice to have someone to talk to about normal, everyday things. The world outside the shadow.
To continue reading, head to CelesteLovesBooks tomorrow, 9th May.
You can read my review of Distress Signals here