Wednesday 8 November 2023

Cruising with Cougars by Robin Wrigley, pink gin

 Giuseppe Fontana untied his bowtie and hung it carefully over the shoulder of his jacket on the cabin door and dropped back onto his bunk. It had been a long day and not one that he had particularly enjoyed which in all honesty was unusual.

            He allowed himself the luxury of falling asleep for a short nap. It was not something he liked to do otherwise the next thing he knew it would be morning and he would have slept in his clothes. Pepe as he was known since a small boy was very particular about clothes. Something many of the other stewards and staff were not. Particularly the British ones. As far as he knew he was the only one who didn’t wear a clip-on bowtie. He doubted if any of the others even knew how to tie a real one. He on the other hand having reached the level of senior Maître d throughout the ship had a very high standard to maintain.

            The moment his eyes closed he slipped into a very realistic dream about his daughter and her mother, his brother’s wife. It was a recurring dream that came all too often and he awoke instantly shaking as though he expected to see one or the other relations actually there at the foot of his bed.

            This dark secret that he has kept to himself for twenty years now has haunted him ever since she was born. Only Pepe and the girl’s mother shared this knowledge and has been the reason why he has spent his life at sea and single, flirting outrageously with rich women all looking for a romance on the oceans of the world.

            In spite of the disturbing content of the dream the half an hour’s cat nap was just what he needed, and he came to and jumped off the bed, finished undressing before cleaning his teeth and climbing into bed. Tomorrow is another day, possibly another dalliance.

            The following evening Pepe spotted Mrs. Clarke across the casual diner floor deep in conversation with two other ladies. In his usual fashion he walked across the room as though he was actually walking past their table, heading somewhere else and spotting the Mrs Clarke at the last minute. It worked perfectly as he stopped by their table and gave Mrs Clarke one of his best smiles and a slight bow.

            She stopped mid-sentence and returned his smile with interest. Maeve Clarke from Houston was an attractive brunette considerably younger than her dining companions. In her late fifties she was  unmarried and wealthy from her inheritance from the family engineering company in Houston. Her early love life had been complicated as a young wealthy woman of beauty, but now she was quite happy and fulfilled in the opulence her position afforded her. A husband or permanent partner would, in her mind mean halving what she wanted to do.

            ‘Good evening, ladies,’ Pepe spoke to the trio, but his eyes were intended for Maeve, and she knew it. ‘I trust your evening’s dining has lived up you expectations?’

            All three nodded in agreement and the elderly one, a Miss Passmore, even managed a small clap to endorse her happiness at being given the opportunity to express herself.

            ‘Thank you and just to advise you we will be passing through the Straits of Gibraltar later this evening before docking in my favourite port Casablanca. I’m quite sure you all saw that wonderful film of that name. I thought I would remind you of the Straits because it is a sight worth seeing if you can spare your beauty sleep which I’m quite sure everyone of you can do easily. Anyway, I will bid you Buona notte signorias.’

            Bowing slightly Pepe turned and left the ladies’ table and walked swiftly to other tables occupied and bade them good night calming one table who thought he was asking them to leave. Leaving the dining area, he went into the kitchen for a quick coffee with the head chef as was his habit. The head chef was French and Pepe always won him over by conversing with him in French. They were not always on the same trip, but it pleased both of them whenever they were. He didn’t stay long because he had his mind on other things like viewing the Straits of Gibraltar from the upper deck.

            But first he went to his cabin and removed his jacket and bowtie replacing it with a light cashmere sweater recently purchased on his last voyage. After a small number of ablutions, he smoothed down his hair and took his evening cigarette and lighter from a drawer and left the cabin.

            Reaching the upper deck as they were east bound, he walked around to the starboard side. Once there he leaned comfortably on the railing, turned his back to the sea for a moment and light his evening cigarette. It was his daily ritual and the first moment of real relaxation. Just as he turned to view the shore lights of Morocco his momentary peace was disturbed by a soft female voice.

            ‘Well Mister Fontana I never put you down as a smoker, I really didn’t.’ The voice belonged to Maeve Clarke as she approached the railing alongside Pepe.

            ‘Good evening, Mrs Clarke I’m not what you would call a real smoker as this is the only cigarette, I ration myself to. There was a time when I was but that is long behind me now. I stopped because I realised guests do not like to be served by a smoker – that’s all.’

            ‘Would you mind if I have a puff?’

            ‘Sorry but I only have this one cigarette.’ He brandished it towards her.

            ‘I realise that. It is that one I would like a taste of,’ she said reaching out and taking the cigarette from his hand and taking a deep inhalation before handing it back.

            Pepe was stunned but before he could put words to his amazement she exhaled and said. ‘That was so good Mr Fontana, I didn’t realise just how much I miss a smoking at moments like this, thank you. But before I go any further my name is Maeve, there is no Mr. Clarke.’

            Again, he was speechless. He simply received the cigarette back and for several moments was at a loss of what to do or say. He prided himself of being able to instinctively react to any situation, but this lady had put him totally on the back foot and he was at loss as to how to respond. The simple action of sharing a cigarette created a very special mutual feeling between them.

            Maeve broke the silence of the moment. ‘So, is there a Mrs. Fontana?’

            ‘Ah, no nor a Mister also,’ he laughed at his own embarrassment. Actually, it was an embarrassment back at his parent’s house where his sexual preferences were often discussed with his lack of neither wife nor children. If only they knew!

            Maeve placed a hand lightly on his forearm as she smiled in return both to break the silence and a sense of relief. ‘Thank you for sharing your cigarette. But I must leave you because in spite of your kind remarks earlier I really do need my beauty sleep. But before I bid you goodnight, I hope to see you in Casablanca in the morning?’

            With that she turned on her heel and walked away from Pepe who was still lost for words but took the last drag on his cigarette before flicking it into the night and watching its flight down into the water conscious of how careless and contrary to ship’s regulations that action was. That woman, that Maeve Clarke had been the most disturbing woman he had met since his sister-in-law had enticed him into her bed all those years ago.

            He walked once around the entire deck before returning to his cabin. Sleep did not come easily to Pepe Fontana that night.

            The next morning Pepe did not have any breakfast duty to perform and as the ship had docked during his restless night, he dressed in casual but smart summer clothes checked with the purser and left the ship into the hustle and bustle of Casablanca port. He waived away all the would be offers with the art of a professional, neither brusque nor timid. In many ways it was no worse than the scene in summer at the Amalfi resorts in his own country these days with so many foreign imports.

            He wasn’t precisely sure of what he was going to do but he had one project in mind: to buy a pair of camel skin slippers for his daughter, his young niece to the family. She was his brother’s only child, and he never made any attempt to discover the reason for that. In fact, he had never had a single private word with his sister-in-law since the day she quietly told him that he was the father of the child she was carrying.

            Having found the trader he knew had exactly what he was looking for he bought the slippers surprising the Moroccan seller that he paid the asking price with no attempt to barter. He put his purchase safely into his small backpack and continued down the alley fending off other traders in his usual affable way.

            Retracing his steps back to the port he found the small well-known restaurant with a balcony on the upper floor that gave him full view of the gangways of his ship. Fortunately, being a small ship, capable of docking in such a place there was only one such gangway to observe, the other was for staff and supplies. He ordered a coffee and sat back to wait totally unsure of what he would do if, and when he did spot Maeve.

            It took the order of another espresso before he saw her. She was dressed in a full white dress topped with a broad straw summer hat with a vivid red band that flowed over her shoulder and sunglasses. She looked absolutely stunning rather like pictures of Princess Grace of Monaco.

            Pepe’s mind flew back to his indiscretion with his brother’s wife and in an instant decided to do nothing. After all he was the prey. He continued watching Maeve as she reached the shoreline, turned, and headed in his direction.

 

About the author            

Robin short stories have appeared in CafeLit both on line and in print on a regular basis. He has also entered various writing competitions but has yet to get past being short listed. 

 

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