by Steve Richman
I am 45. To my vast surprise, a woman half my age is seriously in love with me. She is earnest, expressive, devoted, excited to be near me. I met her at the shrimp bar. She said she liked my eyes. This has never happened before. I move carefully at all times, fearing jinx. I act casual.
Tonight she has arranged for some private entertainment. The ship has a special room for this. There will be a series of canonically romantic events: a belly dancer, a mariachi-band serenade, a French-language movie. Chilled champagne.
The belly dancer looks familiar. I am fairly sure she is the Assistant Purser during the daytime. (What is a Purser?) She's moderately good at belly dancing. She makes exaggerated hand gestures that eventually I understand to mean: "Give me a tip." I have no wallet; my young admirer arranged all this. I raise my eyebrows and palms: "I've got nothing." She bluntly dances out of the room, neither angry nor not.
People in pretend-Navy white uniforms keep coming in and whispering in the performers' ears. The belly dancer, the mariachi band's second trumpet, the projectionist. They pause for half a second to listen, then instantly resume their performing expression. Their concentration is impressive.
My young admirer's face says: "THIS IS ALL FANTASTIC. IT IS." Her wide grin never falters. She has chosen to experience all this as the "dreamtastic romantic extravaganza" that the ship's brochure of optional extras promised. She sees only enchantment, fantasy fulfilled: not the mariachi players' sweat-saddlebags, the belly dancer's crass demand for cash, the projectionist's fidgeting.
At last we are alone, on a long low white couch without armrests. You could fall off the end of this couch. She smiles at me. I smile back, carefully. (Jinx.)
My young admirer, it turns out, sometimes changes into a donkey. She does so now. She half-reclines on the couch, head at the far end, her (back) legs near me. Her white hair--fur? no, it's hair--is so fine that I can see the pink skin of her tummy underneath. I remember now: I turn into a rabbit sometimes. I tell her this, though for now I stay human, and we discuss what it's like. It's involuntary for us both, it just happens, who knows why. It doesn't last but a few hours, generally. We take it in stride: "Okay, I'm a donkey now." I stroke her fine white belly hair. She was hoping I would. A wisp comes off in my hand. I rub it with my thumb.
I realize that she can probably do magic, as well. I can. I ask her; she says no. I embrace her and concentrate, willing us to rise to the ceiling. "Look down," I say. She sees that we're floating together up at the white metal ceiling, bobbing slightly, weightless. She is impressed, I can tell. "Look at that," she marvels. "Will you look at that!"