We wake up in Mexico. Early morning and covered in sun block, we board a smaller ship which takes us to the shore. The docks splay out from the land in fragments of metal and crumbled concrete. We are one of five boats, all hotel-sized and immobile, sitting on top of the water along the coast. Small boats bring us all to shore, buzzing to and from the massive ships, filing and unloading us with our sunglasses and cameras and wallets. We get off the ramp, one by one, and move past the photographers who take pictures of couples in front of a rusting metal fence. In the background, you can see what is left of the hotels and restaurants. Trees hang barren and sideways, hotels sit like skeletons along the shore. Wind scorn and empty, there are no plants left. We walk in past the piles of scrap metal and shards of wood. The port has been repainted salmon pink. The Mexicans open their arms and welcome us, coaxing us into stores with tequila and free chips. My uncle tries on a sombrero and we buy Mexican beers to drink on the street. We eat tortillas and drink margaritas. A mariachi band begs us for money through the meal, singing and shaking their cups and children in our faces.
They load us up to leave, red nosed and drunk. Along the shore, Mexican workers put down their shovels and step over the piles of rubble to wave us off. The sun glistens off the water and their dark tanned skin. We smile and wave back.
They meet wearing orange life vests, standing next to each other in a line of guests, all box-head looking and anxious. She takes pictures of the rows of uncomfortable orange-lined faces; he tells her not to use it as blackmail on him someday. They meet again at the bar where her father buys him a drink. Later that night she dances at the club on the ship. Disco ball spinning and drunk, he puts his hand on her waist and asks for her best joke. She tells him one about a pirate and a steering wheel. They fuck on the pool deck overlooking the buffet. In the middle of the day, he meets her at the bar and they drink gin and tonics and make out in the elevator which they take down to his room. Their families are at bingo on the pool deck, grasping chips and winning gift certificates while they kiss, naked and sunburned, three levels down. Afterwards they stare off the side of the ship at the horizon. Ocean and nothing and they can feel the ship moving under them, smashing through the waves.
We are off the coast of Cuba, about 400 miles. The boat tilts slightly to the left because of the mass of guests lined up against the railing. The captain makes an announcement about the raft floating off the bow. We can all see the light flashing off in the dark, somewhere on top of the waves. The ocean is invisible, sheeted in dark, and every few minutes a light flashes, silent and faint like a firefly. Every time the light flickers, the children point and yell and their mothers have the cameras ready. The refugees are brought to the side of the ship and everyone claps and yells. Three men, dirty and confused, are huddled in the life boat and shivering. The cameras flash and the captain announces how we will give them something to eat and a shower. They will come to Florida with us. Everyone cheers at our hospitality. The men will spend two days in the bottom of the ship, safe, with warm sheets and expensive food. They will sleep and wait and when we get there, we will all go home and they will be sent to jail, or worse, back to Cuba. We pull the slots and dance salsa on the upper decks, while they sleep under the casino and the duty free perfumery. I imagine they lie still in their cabin during the two days; all three men, still in their bunk beds, dreamless and full.
Dinner is served in five courses with each table served by three separate waiters for food, soft drinks and the bar. Her cousin eats two full dishes of steak and lobster and they drink champagne cocktails. People are dressed up. Glittering and hair-sprayed wigs, the older women paint on their faces and drink gin martinis. Between the misplaced tan lines and braided hair, the waiters begin to dance and sing again. People push back their chairs and dance along. After dinner there is a show in the grand theater. The guests sit and drink wine, and the boat rocks and shakes under them. The performance is a medley of Broadway musicals and they order more drinks and clap at the dancers, sweaty and unstable and smiling as the ship heaves with the waves. Later they go to the casino, smoke-filled and loud they pour quarters into the slots and the bar. The staff with cameras come around again and take pictures of them smiling and putting more money into the machines. They walk through the lobby where hundreds of the same pictures line the walls. Hundreds of couples smile in front of the ship or Mexico or a backdrop of the staircase from the movie Titanic. They are the same picture, but with different backdrops, different families. The people dressed all the same, the same forced smile and pose. She contemplates buying someone else’s family pictures. No one would know their memories had been stolen. Lost amongst the smiles and reclaimed by a stranger.
As we depart the ship I can see the raft unloaded onto the dock. It is torn and small, and the workers throw it into the back of a truck and it is gone. We line up and the ten of us, cousins and parents and grandparents, file off the ship. I catch a glimpse of him wandering through rows of baggage, color coded and heavy packed. He is with his brothers, he smiles and I smile back. That was the end of it.
On the flight home I am hung over and peeling and sore. As we take off, I can see the ocean, stretching for miles and farther, beyond the window, to Mexico and past that to Cuba. The trees bend and waves crash against the shore somewhere. A raft floats with three men inside it, rolling over the waves. Their eyes are shut and they dream of Florida.
I fall asleep and wake up where it is snowing.
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