[May Short Story Contest Winner] Nothing Like a Relaxing Cruise by Kyra Robinov

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the May Short Story Contest. The winning entry is:

Nothing Like a Relaxing Cruise

Kyra’s entry was in response to the writing prompt: A trip with an unexpected outcome. Kyra Robinov is a Manhattan-based writer who works in many genres—fiction, non-fiction, musical theatre, and children’s literature. She draws much of her inspiration from the incredible stories she heard growing up about her family’s remarkable experiences. Learn more about her writing at KyraRobinov.com

Please Enjoy

Nothing Like a Relaxing Cruise

It loomed before us, like the ship in that fateful movie, sixteen stories high, sleek
black hull banded with red, American and British flags snapping in the brisk British
breeze, life boats conspicuously dotting the mid-level exterior. I’d been anticipating our
Atlantic journey on this spanking new vessel with the excitement and glee of a major
celebration. The crowning glory of our year abroad, capping twelve months of travel and
adventure in high style on the high seas seemed an ideal choice. It wasn’t hard to
convince my mother who’d been on the maiden voyage of the original Queen Mary and
whose favorite mode of transport was cruising, but my husband hadn’t been such a
quick sell. Having never been on a boat before, David was more than a little tentative
about spending five days and six nights sailing across the vast, open ocean. The
children and I, veterans of a recent cruise, had waged a tremendous campaign,
assuring him of the ability of the ship’s stabilizers to keep the boat calm in all sorts of
weather. We extolled the various alluring onboard diversions—from basketball, ping
pong and movies to casinos and nightly shows. I kept returning to the romantic aspects,
noting the various dancing venues–from ballroom to disco. That isn’t what did the trick.
In the end, when all possible business excuses failed to come through, rather than fly to
New York separately while the rest of us sailed home, David finally succumbed. He
claimed he wanted to please us, but I suspect there was a twinge of curiosity sprinkled
in there as well.
The ship was enormous which we knew it would be. But what struck me most
were the large number of cabins in proportion to the relatively small number of
recreational rooms. This, I was later informed, was because the QM2 is not a cruise
ship at all. It’s an ocean liner. Yes, there was a library, health club and spa. There were
plenty of lounges and restaurants. But not many stores. And the ones they had were
extremely upscale. There was a movie theatre which served more as a lecture hall and
planetarium. And there were plenty of lectures. Being a British vessel serving a largely
British crowd, the ship’s programmers were targeting a different audience. Morning
agendas included bonnet making and napkin folding classes. Afternoon tea dances
were popular, but populated by the blue haired crowd swaying along to “Tea for Two” or
other such nostalgic fare. Not exactly a hipster crowd.
Flyers in our staterooms announced that the designer of the QM2 was sailing on
this crossing and would be giving a number of lectures. That may have sounded
appealing to some. To me, it evoked the movie, “Titanic.” The designer of that ship had
also been aboard, pushing the ship beyond its limits in order to break speed records
crossing the Atlantic. We all know how that story ended. I also found it extremely



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disconcerting that on a number of floors, opposite elevator landings, photographs of the
Titanic were prominently splayed. Alongside these, hung captioned quotes from the
crew calling for help on that fateful night. It seemed a little eerie, especially when I took
in the opulence of our ship, which, it could be pointed out, strongly resembled the
unlucky other one in interior design. I tried to put these unhealthy thoughts out of mind
as we headed for the late seating in the dining room the first evening.
What I was really looking forward to during our journey was some relaxing “me”
time, with everyone going their separate ways during the days and meeting up for
dinner at night. Mom kept herself busy with bridge lessons, duplicate tournaments and
visits to the library. At eighty-six, she was a mascot for youthful octogenarians. Our
children were thrilled to find the teen center populated with other kids their age. They
quickly made friends with whom they spent the majority of the trip. It was great to have
them occupied, though it left David without a basketball partner. He seemed lost. With
internet prices at a premium, there was no hope that he was going to bury himself in
work—as he usually does. But, fortunately there was a library with printouts of the Wall
Street Journal that occupied some of his time. Evenings were for David. After dinner, he
and I would see the show and then either visit the casino or go dancing. Romance at
last!
On the second night, as everyone was falling into a comfortable rhythm, Michael
and Larissa were off socializing and Mom had gone to bed in the cabin she shared with
them. David and I danced a bit, then headed to our room, heady to be alone. As we
were nodding off, around 2:30 a.m., a jolt jarred us back to consciousness. The ship had
become very still. “It couldn’t have been an earthquake,” David surmised as he sat up in
bed, “…being as we’re on water.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I told him. “It was probably a big wave or something.”
He went to the porthole and peered out. The sea was calm. “It doesn’t seem like
we’re moving. This is strange”
“Not really. Ships slow down at night,” I said, recalling previous cruises I’d taken.
On those, the amount of sea which had to be covered each night between ports was so
minimal that it wasn’t unusual for the ship to just drift at times. It was cheaper than
paying docking fees.
“This is different,” David insisted. “We’re not cruising.”
I had to admit he was right. “Don’t worry. I’m sure there’s no problem,” I assured
him, getting up to go to the bathroom now that I was awake. Only, when I opened the
bathroom door, there was no light. That’s when I realized there was a blackout on the
ship.
I opened the cabin door and peered into the hallway. It wasn’t dark out there, but
it wasn’t as light as usual. The emergency strip lights on the floor–the ones we’d been

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alerted to use if the ship lost power—were illuminated, as were a few other intermittent
fixtures. What was going on?!
Other passengers were sticking their heads out of rooms, looking for answers.
David and I put on some clothes and joined our neighbors in the hall. While we were
busy conjecturing, a young man came down the hall, on his way back to his room from
an evening in the disco. “Do you know what happened?” We all jumped on him.
“They say we may have hit a whale,” was his reply. “I was in the lounge when
suddenly we felt a thump and all the lights went out. They said it was nothing…but….”
“But what?” we all wanted to know. “They say there’s a back-up engine and
they’re working on fixing everything right now.” He continued on his way. We looked
after him, as unconvinced by his explanation as he himself seemed to be.
Nobody wanted to go back into their cabins for fear of missing announcements or
news. We’d tried calling the front desk but nobody could get through. Trying to mask our
anxiety, people chattered away and made jokes. David wanted to see what was going
on for himself, but I didn’t want him to leave. And I didn’t want to go with him and leave
Mom and the children behind. They were fast asleep in the next room; I didn’t want to
wake or scare them.
An hour passed. Nothing. Crew members passed through the halls, trying to
calm the ever escalating number of questioning travelers. But nothing they could say
would assuage us. At four a.m., the captain got on the loudspeaker and announced that
the engines had, in fact, lost power. Engineers were studying the problem and would
correct it within six hours, he promised. (“Six hours?”) He told us not to worry. The seas
were calm. There was a second set of engines. We should all go back to sleep and if
there were any further problems, he’d let us know. Now, how reassuring did that sound?
At this point, Mom and the children popped their heads into the hall. Trying to
downplay our nervousness so as not to frighten our 12-year old daughter, David and I
laughed off the problem and returned to our beds. Little did we know that Mom had
already verbalized her own fears that pirates were the cause of this mishap and might
be boarding momentarily. It was clear the stabilizers had turned off with the electricity
because, however calm the sea, the ship had begun to bounce as morning waves
picked up. All I could think of was how top heavy we were at some sixteen stories high.
Tossing and turning, David and I got a few broken hours of sleep before the sun rose,
but we woke to find that we were still not moving.
“This is ridiculous!” David was angry.
“We’re lucky it’s calm out,” I reminded him.
“We’re 700 miles into the ocean,” he reminded me. “That’s a bit far to swim back!
And those life boats…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

 

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We went to breakfast, knowing sleep would not come. Finally, around 8 a.m., the
captain announced that the situation had been righted and we were about to continue
on course. He promised we would still be arriving in New York as scheduled. I had been
thinking to myself that, under the circumstances, maybe they would send us back to
Southampton and fly us home. After all, it would be safer than risking that something
else might occur even further out into the Atlantic. David pointed out that option would
be too costly. He did tell me he was going to attend the lecture by the ship’s builder
scheduled—ironically–for that morning.
“Want to join me?” he asked.
I preferred to go back and lie down…but I couldn’t wait to hear what was said.
It turned out the lecturer spoke all about the ship’s build, its safety, etc. but nary a
word about the previous night’s occurrence. The moment the lecture ended, he bolted
from the room before anyone could corner him with questions. So much for setting our
minds further at ease. By late afternoon, the ship had not only resumed its course, it
had also picked up speed considerably—no doubt to make up for lost time. Strains of
the Titanic? The fact that we were heading into stormy weather didn’t bode well to me
but who was I to advise?
That night all went smoothly and by morning, most of us were calmer. The seas,
however, were not. A tiny thought had latched onto the inside of my brain and wouldn’t
let go: we hadn’t even reached our half-way mark yet, meaning we were heading further
into the middle of the ocean by the minute.
To divert our minds, David and I decided to take a swing dance class. The swells
roiled and the ship rolled from side to side. It also went up and down so you never knew
(when you put your foot down) whether the ground would be higher or lower than
expected. Kind of like dancing in a moving elevator. It wasn’t easy to balance under
such conditions, but trying at least kept our minds off other things—like seasickness.
David was a great sport and we gave the class our all. But after a half an hour, we
decided that was enough. I had no desire to eat lunch in conditions like these and
returned to our room to read and rest until tea time. The captain kept urging us to look
out the windows and enjoy the splendor and majesty of the seas. He told us it wasn’t
likely we’d experience such a view again. Translated, that meant: “We’re in the midst of
a Class 11 storm, the intensity of which I [the Captain] haven’t seen in twenty years!”
Great! Just great. What if the engines were to go out again? Taking the stabilizers with
them?
I was feeling particularly badly for David, having promised him an ocean of glass.
But rather than complain, he was trying to keep my spirits up. After a nap, I decided to
join him for tea. I hadn’t eaten much all day and felt it might be better to get something
—even just a tea sandwich—into my stomach to settle the uproar within. I nibbled on a

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crustless watercress morsel while David relished some scones, cream and jam. I was
happy to see him enjoying, but couldn’t join in. Afterwards, we headed for the movie
theatre where “Elizabeth”, starring Cate Blanchett, was about to begin. I thought it would
keep my mind occupied. A notice on the theatre door announced the cancellation of a
previous lecture due to the illness of the speaker. Guess I wasn’t the only one feeling
unwell. I stepped in the ladies room, freshly sprayed with air freshener. That was all it
took. I told David I had to go back to the cabin…and I was lucky I made it there in time.
I wondered how the others were faring. Larissa confessed to feeling queasy.
“Maybe a little,” Michael conceded. Mom, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the
tumult. She said she found it a bit difficult to walk back to the cabin after bridge, but as
to her stomach, this was no big deal. She was ready for dinner. I marveled at the way
nothing ever daunted her. While the rest of us remained in our cabins, Mom hauled
Michael with her to the afternoon show. Later Michael told us that even the cast looked
green. But not Mom.
The following day, the sea was quieter. Hardly calm. But less violent. There were
two more days to go and everyone on board seemed anxious to reach shore. We’d
passed the half-way mark so at least we were getting closer to land. But we also passed
the exact spot where the Titanic went down, a point I didn’t think the ship needed to
publicize so strongly. It was still windy and rainy and all the outside decks were closed.
The pools were closed because the water in them sloshed in and out with every heave
of the ship. Tea had lost its appeal for me. Dancing, too. David and I entered a
Blackjack Tournament which used up a good part of the afternoon as well as our
gambling budget.
The final day onboard turned out to be beautiful. Sunshine, clear skies, wind—
but not enough to keep me off the decks. I managed to read a few chapters in the sun,
gazing out at sea. We passed several schools of dolphins, diving through the waves.
They looked so tiny in comparison to our huge vessel. I never spotted an actual whale
but did see a number of fountain-like eruptions spouting from underwater. This was
definitely a highlight of the trip and I was pleased to be back on my feet to enjoy it.
Arrival in New York Harbor was scheduled for 4:30 the following morning. The
decks were packed even at that early hour and as we pulled under the Verrazano
Bridge in the dark silence of dawn, it was amazing that we were only nine feet shy of the
bottom level. I felt as if I could reach up and touch the cars above. Imagine what it must
have been like for the people in the cars looking down—or the early Staten Island Ferry
riders looking up–at this mammoth ship gliding by. The sun, a blazing coral disc,
illuminated the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Governor’s Island and all of lower
Manhattan as it rose above the horizon.

Goose bumps prickled across my skin. What a thrill to be back in New York. And
on land. I couldn’t believe we had actually arrived safely. As the crowning glory to our
year abroad, our high seas adventure hadn’t lacked excitement. But it had hardly been
the excitement I’d anticipated. As to future Atlantic crossings, much as I hate flying, I
suspect I may change my travel priorities from now on.

Previous Winning Stories:

[December Short Story Contest Winner] Been There, Not Doing That by Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the December Short Story Contest. The winning entry is: Been There, Not Doing That by Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic write, speak, blog and tweet together as The Word Mavens. They’ve been award-winning writing partners for 20 years – dispensing their advice […]

[January Short Story Contest Winner] My Joe: A Reflection by Phyllis Babrove

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the December Short Story Contest. The winning entry is: My Joe: A Reflection by Phyllis Babrove Phyllis Babrove, a semi¬retired clinical social worker, has resided in Florida since moving there as a newlywed from Wisconsin forty-six years ago. She likes to travel with her husband and has […]

[February Short Story Contest Winner] Sirens by Lindsey B.

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the February Short Story Contest. The winning entry is: Sirens by Lindsey B. Lindsey’s entry was in response to the writing prompt: Unconventional Love. I enjoy the double meaning of the title. Please Enjoy Sirens Even in my boyfriend’s shower, I don’t take off all my makeup. […]

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