The stench of the deck’s sewage hit Reggie’s nostrils like a slap across his face and he wondered how important it really was for him to recover his grandpa’s harmonica from last night’s cabin. He thought he was close to what had been the mamacita’s stateroom when Reggie saw a small girl, maybe nine years old, sit on the dark soaked carpet in the hallway and suck on her inhaler. He looked around the floor for a parent before approaching the child.
“Hey there.” He extended his hand, palm down. “Can we move you to a nicer spot, sweetie?” Reggie had nieces and heaps of kids who came up to him after his shows and was plenty accustomed to the language of children.
The girl stared up at him and pulled the inhaler out. Her chest lifted and fell. With a bang and the rustle of plastic bags, a large woman rushed down the hallway toward them.
The woman grabbed the girl’s arm and jerked her up from the ground.
“What are you doing in that water, Sandra? Dumb ass.”
“Whoa, hey now,” Reggie held up one hand while keeping his forearm pressed to his nose. He shook his head, attempting to clarify the thoughts and explain to the woman that she mustn’t lose her mind to the ship-wrecked cock-up that the Carnival Valor’s Country Music Cruise had become.
The woman squinted at Reggie Vray for a second, her eyes widened with a recognition of the cowboy singer: the three nights of single-meal days and sleep on the ship’s deck under the stars had hardened him from pretty-boy crooner to skinny Marlboro man. Even in filthy conditions, Reggie Vray—known to his friends as “the RV”—had a melting presence. The emergency lights on this floor offered poor light to judge by, but Reggie was mortified to see the woman flush before towing her child back to their sweltering cabin.
“Don’t stay down here!” Reggie called after them through his covered mouth. “Come up and get fresh air.”
The first port-of-call from Fort Lauderdale had been Grand Turk in the Caicos Islands. A goddamn paradise. That night, Tucker Thompson had rocked the heavens and the seas for ninety minutes before pulling Reggie’s ex-girl, Caitlin Crow on stage with him (stage name not negotiable, she said in interviews, despite her recent marriage to Tucker). Long-legged, long-maned, cowgirl Caitlin Crow. Tucker and Caitlin sang the love song Reggie had written and given to her, “Waterfall Oasis,” before cutting it up with a sexy deck-stomping number, “Git in the Truck and Drive, Drive, Drive.”
Reggie was still green to these cruise-line luxuries. An exotic fruit drink (mango, or something) with a hibiscus flower protruding from it was placed in his cabin’s sitting area every morning. Some attendant would have also drawn the blinds while he was sleeping behind the privacy curtain and propped a thick, pure-white card up on the drink with the invitation: Please make your way to the main floor chapel (not to be confused with the other chapels on every level of the Valor) at 0-11-hundred hours for the Captain’s invocation. Every morning was an invocation. Country music folk know how to pray. But Reggie looked at the tropical flower and thought of very different things. His gaze lingered upon the thrust of the stamen. More than mangoes, staring was the luxury. The young and not-young women who found their way into bed with him after shows in Nashville were all identical in their discomfort with his assiduous gaze.
When the engines died (the ship’s power along with it), the passengers were invited to grab from the bounty before it rotted: Mangoes, passionfruits, star fruit, cherimoyas, papaya, and the ugli fruits were heaped up on fold-out tables for passengers to grab as they walked to the morning’s invocation, which had been relocated to the top deck. But the ship’s hands had held on to the supplies for too long and only brought out the fruit after it started to turn brown. If the passengers had known they’d be trapped on the ship for another three days with only a bit of water and cold sandwiches, they would have learned from Reggie “the RV” Vray, boy of Interstate 40 trailer parks, and hoarded the fruit. At sea or at land, Reg prepared himself for hunger and thirst. These cruise-lines would not soften him, he told himself when his bank account shrank after the flop of his second album and he decided to open up his sources of income by performing on the Country Music Cruise.
By evening, the heat had browned the fruit further. That night, ship hands tipped the boxes of exotic fruits over the railing and the fruit fell down upon the sharks circling below.