“Just meet me at the diner, you cunt rag,” Becca said on the phone. I could picture her in her giant house, looking at her nails as she said it. I stared into my dingy backyard—the muddied leaves, the unfortunate rotting of my fence—and my mind raced for an excuse not to meet. “I need to get my hair done,” I said. But she saw right through it: “Bitch, you’ve never had your hair done in your life.” Ugh. I hated how well she knew me. If living in this small town didn’t kill me, she probably would. I’m pretty sure I hated her. “What time do you want to meet?” I sighed.

Becca swaggered into the diner with a boisterous: “Heyyyyy, bitch!” “Hey,” I mumbled, not wanting to engage with her new catchphrase. “Heyyyyy bitch” she repeated as if I would jump in and realize the err of my ways. Flustered, I wouldn’t play along; she sat down and revealed the reason for this meeting. “We’re going to find you a man.” I sunk into the booth. Not again with this shit. She ordered some food, then continued: “You know, at your age, you have a forty percent chance of having an autistic kid. In a year, it’s something like eighty percent, and then after that? Forget it.” “Who cares?” I said under my breath. But Becca was locked in. She needed to live vicariously through me for some reason.

At the tender age of 35, I moved back to the small town I grew up in after a series of unfortunate events. It’s not worth getting into it now, but sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you want, and you find yourself taking anti-depressants and frozen in time. I never thought a friend from high school would end up being a friend for life. But, like dog shit on the bottom of my shoe, I couldn’t shake Becca loose.

She finally took a time out from chastising my barren womb to text someone. I stabbed my plate of scrambled eggs to reveal a long black hair underneath, and quickly lost my appetite. “Oh my God, Lauren. Look what Danny did,” she said, shoveling an entire flapjack into her mouth. She was the only person who called me Lauren. When I began college, I went by “Lo.” I thought it sounded cooler. Everyone calls me Lo. Even my dentist. But Becca refused. She always called me by the name of the person she met in high school: “Lauren.” It was a constant reminder of who I really was.

“Look what Danny did!” she wailed, waving her iPhone around. “Oh, look what Danny did!” “Can I see your fucking phone?” I shrugged. She obliged. It was a text message from her husband, Danny. A stock photo of a jacuzzi. “Danny wants to put one in—what do you think?” I didn’t care. “Looks fancy,” I muttered. “Oh, good,” she said. “It should look fancy.” She swiped back her phone and texted him, excited.

As I pushed my eggs aside, I couldn’t help notice Becca’s face. She seemed so happy about this new object: “It gives me something to look forward to.” I don’t remember the last time I was that excited about something. Perhaps I was doing everything wrong. Did I need a jacuzzi too? I sipped my coffee and noticed an envelope sticking out of Becca’s purse. It seemed out of place, so I asked about it. I didn’t care what it was. But, if she was just going to play on her phone while I had nothing to eat, I might as well engage with the bitch.

She finally put her phone down and smiled so wide it troubled me: “I booked us a cruise.” Fuck. I would have loved a vacation with literally anyone else in the world—even the corpse of my dead father. But not with her. “Are you excited?” she beamed. “Thrilled,” I moaned, looking for a sharp knife to slit my wrists. “Oh good, we’re going to have so much fun! I brought a brochure! We’re going to Hawaii!” She stretched out the “ee” for what seemed days, then smiled, revealing bacon wedged between her teeth. She was so enthusiastic about this “girl’s cruise” that I didn’t have the heart to poo-poo it. Besides, a change of scenery would probably do me good. I could put this shitty January behind me and turn 2020 around. “It sounds fun, Becca,” I said.


On the way to the port in San Fran, Becca regaled me with facts about our trip. There would be 2,500 passengers on the boat, or as she put it, “plenty of swinging dicks for you.” Becca was funny. She would be overly talkative one moment, then dive into her phone and shut me out the next. I was confident she was posting a new photo of her and Danny smiling, properly staged in front of something they bought. Her Instagram account was perfect that way. As we left our small shit town, I couldn’t help feeling wistful. Funny how you can hate a place for so long and then suddenly feel nostalgic for it. “Are you excited about disco night?” Becca shouted.

The ship was intimidating, and for a moment, I thought I was coming down with megalophobia, i.e., a fear of large objects. It’s a legit thing. I knew a guy who would be  “triggered” anytime he saw a whale on television. He was also a huge pussy. As I craned my neck to take in the lobby’s massive chandeliers, my nostrils seized up in a panic—a tart perfume filled the air. It was Becca, who had excused herself from line earlier to use the toilet. “Might want to let that air out,” she chuckled as she hosed herself down with more perfume. “It’s called #LoveLife,” she said as if I cared what she wore. She smiled and studied her reflection in one of the large lobby mirrors. She combed her hair and sucked in her gut. With the sickly smelling perfume and this attention to detail, I wondered who she was trying to impress.

A shrimpy young man showed us to our separate tiny cabins, and I stretched out on the bed. Suddenly, a sheet of paper slid underneath my door. It was a typewritten “newsletter” for the cruise. A daily update on activities in which I could participate. Flipping it over, I instantly found Becca’s “disco night.” It was bolded on the page—clearly a fan favorite. I was delighted by how amateur the graphic design was on this newsletter. I remember putting together school newspapers in the fifth grade, and this looked almost identical. “Why I think school is important,” I wrote as an editorial once. I cringe.

I could have joined a Thai cooking class in auditorium four, but I decided to check out the gift shop instead. I’m a sucker for bad souvenirs, and this place had them in spades. A pair of sunglasses read: “I’m in Hawaii, how about you?” while a cutting board warned, “Islanders only.” I was intrigued by a stack of small teddy bears that read: “Aloha” on their shirts. And stumbled upon one that read: “Hola-Oh.” Holy shit. A misprint—the holy grail of bad souvenirs. I stared at its beady little eyes and realized I had to own it.

I wandered the ship after, passing many middle-aged couples. They all drank sugary cocktails and endlessly pointed at things around them—as if they didn’t know what a boat was.

As I caught myself staring into the soul of a morbidly obese lady, I began to question Becca’s claim of “lots of swinging dicks” on this cruise. If anything, the only swinging dicks were the cruise ship workers. That must have been the move—fucking a hot waiter. I decided to belly up to a bar to chat up a potential lover when I heard a familiar “Heyyyyy bitch!” shatter my nervous system. Becca was at the other end, conversing with a gentleman. “Hey bitch” I replied, as if we were now on a TV show.

She waved, excited to show me to her acquaintance as if I was an exciting gadget she just bought. But when I sat, her eyes turned to saucers: “What the fuck is that?” I wasn’t sure what she meant until she pointed to my “Hola-oh” bear. “Oh, yeah, I had to buy it.” I laughed. But Becca looked at me like I was insane. She finally softened and quietly asked if I could hide the bear from him. I wondered why, and Becca went quiet. “Roger, this is Lauren,” she finally said. “Lo,” I corrected her. He shook my hand. Then, mock recoiled: “I wonder if I should even shake your hand right now.” I didn’t understand the joke, and Becca shrugged it off: “Roger works in real estate.” “Neat,” I said.

I wasn’t sure what was happening. Sure, Roger was dressed sharply in an expensive suit, but he was easily fifteen years older than me. And ugly as sin. Suddenly, Becca cackled like a hyena. I missed what Roger said, but it must have been the funniest thing in the world. He ordered a round of drinks, and Becca cheers to me, “her best bitch”, then explained to Roger that: “bitch was a term of endearment.” He thought it was cute. I finished my beer and debated if I should rescue my bear from her purse and split or stick around. “Shots!” Becca squealed, answering the question for me.

Several more drinks in and Becca was sloppy. “Disco niiiight,” she crooned. “Aren’t you excited for it?” she asked no one in particular. “Yes,” I said between pursed lips. Roger looked over at me as if to say, “we got a live one here.” But I didn’t give him the satisfaction. I had no idea who this old guy was. And even if he was wearing a nice suit, I wasn’t just going to assume he was a nice guy. I mean, if anything, the suit made me think he might be a low-level creep. I grabbed Becca by her wrist, “Would you excuse us a sec?” I said to him, “We need to powder our noses.” Who was I?

In the bathroom, Becca slumped against a sink. “What’s up?” she mumbled. “You’re wasted,” I said. “So?” she replied. I rolled my eyes, and she recounted how Roger was the one who initiated the conversation. She had no intention of meeting anyone. In my periphery, I noticed a woman washing her hands and eavesdropping. “Can I help you?” I asked. The woman looked embarrassed and continued washing her hands. She must have been there for three more minutes when I shouted: “Do you have OCD or something?” She didn’t know what I meant, and to be honest, I never would have said that to a stranger if I wasn’t also a little drunk. “You’ve been washing your hands forever,” I explained. She sighed, “I know,” and left.

I turned to find Becca with tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” I asked. She sobered in an instant and stood up straight. “Nothing’s wrong,” she said, tearing off to a stall and slamming the door. I wasn’t sure if this was theatrics until I heard the faint sound of pissing. The stall door opened, and she was somehow drunk again. Her face wet with tears again. “Oh, Becca,” I couldn’t help saying. “I feel sick,” she replied. I told her she drank too much, but she said it wasn’t that. After another woman filed out, she explained things weren’t great between her and Danny. “I mean, it’s fine,” she countered herself, then finally sputtered, “Roger will take me away from all of this.”

She continued, but I had trouble concentrating on her words. I couldn’t believe she and Danny had soured. She was a basic bitch, to be sure, but I always felt she had things figured out. She finally stopped shit-talking Danny, confused as to why I looked so upset and protested my reaction. “It’s just…you both seemed so happy on Instagram,” I regretfully offered. She looked at me as if I were a ghost and seemed embarrassed for the first time ever. “I’m not happy,” she said flatly, then dried her eyes and walked out of the bathroom.


I stood awkwardly by the bar as Becca shot daggers at me. She wanted some alone time with this new masculine force. I nodded goodbye, and Roger hugged me: “Goodnight, Lo,” he said. I brightened a little. Lo. Maybe this guy was okay. I walked out, then returned with tail between my legs: “Uh,” I started, “could I get my bear back?” Becca rolled her eyes out of her head and thrust it into my arms. “Here bitch” she whispered. On the way out, I remembered how Becca refused to let me pay my share for this trip. “It’s my treat, you stupid bitch” she said, punching my arm. She knew I felt trapped in our small town and wanted this escape for me. I rolled up my sleeve to see the welt was still there.

I wandered the giant ship and found a lively middle-aged woman singing next to an elderly bobble-headed piano player. A banner read: “Maureen and Edward.” She was belting out “Hotel California,” and everyone in the lobby loved it. The sugary drinks, the lousy dancing—it was a scene. Maureen’s dress was too revealing for a woman her age, but she didn’t give a fuck. She moved like she was possessed. Shit. Maybe she was the one who had it figured out. All she had to do was sing her heart out every night while Edward bobbled his bobble-head by the piano. What a life. I bet she brought scores of men back to her cabin, and they’d lose themselves in a passionate embrace in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She was the firecracker these men would remember on their death beds. She suddenly looked at me, and I was sucked in. She nodded and winked, and I instantly knew the biography I concocted was spot on.

Back in my tiny cabin, I couldn’t help but login to the wi-fi and dick around on my phone. There was a worried text from my mom; a weird flu was going around, and she wanted to make sure I was okay. I guess it was killing really old people. I assured my mom I wasn’t elderly yet, and she replied with a smiley face cat emoji. I decided to settle in for the night, but I had forgotten to bring a book so I ended up re-reading that newsletter. Eventually, I turned on the TV, and the movie Titanic was playing. Christ. At the end of the film, elderly Rose looked so old to me—like she was past her expiration date. She started crying, and it fucked me up a little. I thought about my mom. And then about my childhood and how I had trouble making friends. I suppose it’s why I ended up staying attached to Becca. With her secret revealed and Maureen swirling in my mind, I began to see all these women in my life as the same person. Before I fell asleep, I thought that maybe I should go by Lauren again.


The sun began to creep through my cabin window, and another newsletter slid under my door. I made myself some instant coffee and was delighted to read about a dolphin lecture in theater D. Another paper cascaded across my floor. It was stark and single-sided—an official- looking document from a medical officer aboard the ship. It informed us about some passengers on a previous cruise who had that flu thing. I crumpled it up. I had a newsletter to read. When I finally left the cabin, I noticed the bustling crowds of last night had given way to a handful of early risers this morning. We nodded to each other—a secret society. I grabbed some food, then headed to the upper deck. I wanted to get some of that ocean air I read about. But, as I climbed the stairs, a man stopped me. He said I had to eat in my cabin. “Why?” I asked. He stared into the distance and mumbled something about “protocol.”

I ate the eggs in my cabin and played around on my phone. There were more reports around the world of this flu. My mom texted again, and I assured her I was okay, and once I got to Hawaii, I would give her a proper call. For now, I was “swamped” and “having the time of my life with Becca.” She told me to be careful and texted an emoji of an eggplant and a pile of poop. After a while, I decided to sneak out of my cabin and check in on Becca. As I locked my door, I was clobbered by the stench of #LoveLife perfume and body odor. “Heyyyyy bitch” Becca slithered. Her face was sweaty and her hair mad. I couldn’t help but smile. “Have a good night?” I teased. Becca nodded, tight-lipped as if playing poker. “How was Roger’s swinging dick?” I said. Becca finally smiled. “Shut up,” she started as if forgetting her catchphrase: “…bitch.” She asked if I wanted to get some food; I told her I already ate but would sit with her.

She ate a large stack of flapjacks, bacon, etc., and talked a mile a minute about Roger. It seemed like he was quite the catch. And maybe he was, but I couldn’t help feeling like she was joining a cult and he was the charlatan leader. I decided I wouldn’t be a shit about it, so I nodded and smiled as Becca told me Roger was “totally cool” about her marriage. He believed this cruise happened for a reason and that she was meant to divorce Danny at this point in her life. Against my better judgment, I felt motherly toward her. I didn’t want her in a loveless marriage with Danny. If Roger was her knight in shining armor and not some one-night stand, that was great. “I’m glad you’re happy,” I finally said. “Yeah bitch” she replied, “I’m glad I am too.”


That night I put on the sluttiest dress I owned. I wasn’t sure if I should be seen in it and considered calling Becca for advice. I figured she would just say, “yessss bitch, yes,” and decided to go for it. Tonight was disco night, and Becca assured me there would be no Roger. It would be just us girls as initially promised. Oh, and Roger “was very cool” with it, that he understood women “needed space too” and appreciated her “free spirit.” Roger was special, she noted. “Danny would have shit a brick if he knew we were going to a club,” she said. He also would have shit a brick if he knew she was fucking Roger. But I didn’t correct her.

As I entered the lobby to meet her, I shivered. It wasn’t because my outfit was skimpy, but because someone had opened all the windows. “Gotta get some fresh air in here,” this someone explained. I approached who I assumed was the bouncer on disco night and took out my ID. He promptly told me the event was canceled. “What? Not disco night!” squealed out of me like a deflated balloon. “We’re under lockdown, miss. Didn’t you hear the announcement?” I was pissed that he called me “miss,” then really pissed that disco night was canceled. Becca had been talking about this for a week. We had to go to disco night. I had to see her plastered again; we had to vibrate against each other, singing songs and drinking overpriced sugary drinks and fucking living. I wanted to have that time with her. I figured between the impending Danny divorce and Roger whisking her away, this might be my last dance. The irony was not lost on me.

I waited for Becca as the bouncer continued turning disappointed guests away. “I guess not everyone got the memo,” I muttered, still bitter about the “miss” comment. My eyes met a man, possibly my age, who was cute. He was chatting with his not-so-cute friend. I wondered if this man was my Roger. Not the ugly one, but the cute one. I would have said hi to him if we were inside and nestled with a drink. But, right now, I felt cold and awkward and finally left.

I knocked on Becca’s door, and after a long moment, a well-dressed man answered, wearing what seemed to be a dental hygienist’s mask. This guy was way hotter than Roger, and I guess they were playing doctor? What kind of kinky shit was she up to? “Becca and her glorious swinging dicks,” I thought. I kind of loved her right now. “Heyyyy, you nasty bitch!” I yelled, standing on my tippy toes, trying to see over the man. His face went blank as he calmly replied: “She’s resting right now.” I was confused. He told me Becca contracted the old-people-killing flu and needed to rest. She wasn’t allowed to leave her cabin until we docked in Hawaii— quarantined. A mournful, “Hey, bitch?” escaped my lips as he assured me she would be fine, considering her youth. He urged me to stay in my cabin until we docked in Hawaii in ten days. I was bummed. “So, I should operate as if I’m sick already?” I finally said. He shrugged: “Exactly.”

On my walk back, I felt a strange energy pulsing through the ship. I noticed people grumbling, upset about having to stay in their cabins. An older couple rushed by and almost knocked me down. They held several trays of food, and I accidentally gave them a look. They shouted: “Don’t you judge us! We deserve to get something out of this hell hole!” I backed away, startled by their hellish faces. Then, I decided to grab some dinner before things got out of hand. There was a line of people waiting for food in the dining hall. Everyone was grabbing more food than they should—it was a complete shit show. I felt violence could erupt at any moment, and it’d been only hours since “lockdown” was announced.

I couldn’t sleep in my cabin, and I was glued to every news feed on my phone. I suppose everyone was, as the wi-fi finally collapsed under our collective weight. It forced me to watch a closed-circuit cruise channel where a captain gave us cryptic clues about what was happening. The narrative had suddenly changed—there were now “more clusters” of people infected
on this ship. I thought it was only the previous? What the fuck? This news couldn’t have come at a worse time, as I had just read about a woman in her thirties who died from this thing.

I opened the window shade in my cabin and peered into the night. The waves and sky blended into a slowly wobbling sheet of black ink. I was beginning to realize that I would be stuck in this small cabin for ten whole nights—purgatory on water. The cryptic cruise ship channel wasn’t making me feel any better, so I shut off the TV. I made some more instant coffee and re-read that amateur newsletter again. The graphics were still goofy and child-like, and the page contained typos. But as I stared at the large block lettering of “Disco Night,” I felt terrible for mocking this cruise, Becca, or anyone else in my life. I saw my face in a standing mirror across the way and had to laugh. I looked pathetic. I found my “Hola-oh” bear underneath the bed covers and hugged it. I realized it somehow had the stench of Becca’s perfume, and I nearly lost it.

I sat there humbled by the inky black expanse of the night sky and the sea, humbled by Maureen, the piano singer, and humbled by the strange way my life had ended up in that small town with Becca. I was humbled by this monstrous ship and its occupants—all human. All trying. I was humbled by my name and my birthday. My face. My body. My skin. My bones. I was humbled by everything in this universe and the one beyond, and hopeful that I would turn this year around once we got to Hawaii.