Seeking vacation on her polished decks, passengers filled the Costa Concordia to the brim. Using the hand of a crewmember to lift themselves onboard, passengers made their way to their rooms. There were elderly couples dressed head to toe in floral, families carrying tote bags, women clutching sunglasses and cameras. In each compartment, maids had set the pillow mints, folded towels into dogs and placed an All Aboard your Dreams! pamphlet between the terry cloth paws.
Matt, a soft-spoken writer from my fiction class, followed me out of class one day, commenting on the bleak weather. Rainy again, he said, gesturing up to the sky, vast and gray like ocean. Yeah, I kind of like it, I replied. He continued chatting with me as I walked towards my dorm. After a bout of small talk laced with flirtatious curiosity, he asked for my number. I fumbled for my phone (and my composure) as the Evergreens around us swayed in the bluster.
That weekend we walked down to the boardwalk to get coffee. He told me about his love of all things Dada, his desire to become a novelist, his favorite movies. I described the trip to Florence I was hoping to take in the summer and folded him an origami crane out of the biodegradable coffee shop napkin. We sipped, the water mirrored the overcast sky like an endless sheet of steel and he said, This is fun.
The passengers settled in. Several days were spent exploring the ship’s aquamarine pool, gleaming restaurant as well as their evening programs. Last night, there had been tango lessons in The Great Ballroom. The day before, karaoke in The Canteen. And that afternoon there would be a magic show in The Center Room, complete with magician, rabbit, and wand.
When the magic show began, most of the ship sat in front of a red velvet stage, eager. He’d begun sawing one of the hostesses in half, promising he’d put her back together. Jeanie, the hostess, was wheeled out in a something like a coffin, except it was too short: her head and feet stuck out of the ends. Then, the magician, Ricardo, begged for everyone’s attention. Eager kids swarmed around the stage as he sawed, the blade sinking into the box and right—presumably—into her chest.
After our first date, Matt and I spent most of our time together. So much time, in fact, I fell into a habit, a schedule. I’d wake up to a hello text. I’d meet him on campus for lunch. And on weekends we’d drink Old Fashioneds, let our clumsy fingers write on his typewriter and blast Jaymay’s Sea Green, See Blue on repeat. As my lids closed at night, I’d wish this vacation from my old life would never end.
One morning, about a month and half after he’d introduced me as his “girlfriend” to a room full of his friends from the on-campus film club, he didn’t text me good morning. Undeterred, I invited him to a downtown coffee shop for lunch, suggesting we could eat and study together. He met me at Avellino’s, a sweet café with a brightly painted façade, later that afternoon. He seemed quiet. I walked back to the table with the latte I’d ordered, the cup teetering on the saucer and spilling coffee as I walked. It was then that he told me he didn’t think we should try long-distance while he studied abroad in Germany, a precedent he had not only agreed to but desired when we first decided to become a couple. He told me he wasn’t sure he’d come back, wasn’t sure he wanted to. Without me, he could raise his anchors.
The ship’s hostess, Jeanie, was separated to great applause, then the magician proceeded to put her back together. He left the stage promising One more trick! but never returned. Then they felt an immense jolt. A sound like a horse whinny, but louder, was immediately followed by the ship tilting to the port side. People screamed and ran onto deck, leaning over the rails as if taken by a bout of seasickness. Others hurried upstairs from their rooms in a panic. A woman’s voice came over the ship-wide intercom, failing in its efforts to keep steady. There may be a problem.
They learned that the captain had steered them off the computer-programmed course and that they’d hit a rocky outcrop in the shallows of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The impact tore a gash in her hull and left her lying on her starboard side, beached in shallow waters. Panicked, and in over his head, the Captain promptly abandoned ship.