An Old Salt

“Look,” my wife says, “they don’t go all the way under.”

I see but am not relieved.

“They lock you inside,” I say.  “They close the hatch after everyone’s stuffed in.”

“But Larry, I’m sure they’d open it and let you run up on deck.”

I say, “I have to be crammed into this little submarine, locked in, submerged under – sorta under – water, AND I have to stand in this ten-mile long line.  Half the people aren’t even wearing masks.”

“Well, hopefully all these people are vaccinated.  They couldn’t fly here if they weren’t vaccinated, right?”

I shake my head.  “Yes they could.  You just have to show proof of a negative test if you’re not already vaccinated.  I do not trust those tests.”

“Well,” she pats my hand, “we’re vaccinated, so that’ll make anything we might catch less serious.”

“Oh really, Doctor Fauci?  I read today that Pfizer’s rushing to develop a booster.  The variants may be worse than they first thought.  Anyone in this line could be carrying some new strain that beats all the vaccines.”

She pats my hand again.  “Shhh, honey, no need to get excited.”  My wife hates to make a scene.  She nods apologetically at the folks around us.  “Let’s try to enjoy ourselves, shall we?  Let’s explore these beautiful reefs on this cool little submarine.”

I look into her eyes, roll mine, say nothing.

After many a too tiny yellow submarine swims out to sea, we finally arrive at the gate.  A sailor woman wields a contactless thermometer.  She reads the number of the woman in front of us, frowns, passes it across her forehead again.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but your temperature is too high.  We can’t let you on.”

If I were feeling ill before, it’s nothing compared to now.  “Great!” I hiss to my wife.  “And we’ve been standing behind her for a year.  We could be hospitalized before you know it.”

My wife smiles one of her angelic smiles.  The hand pat again.

The woman’s protesting.  Her husband’s protesting.

“I’m sorry,” the sailor woman says, “but I can’t let you go aboard.”

Cursing like real sailors, the two turn and storm back up the gangplank.

My temperature is normal.  So far.  We, along with 22 tourist sardines, half of whom wear no masks, trudge down the little ladder below deck.

The space is tiny.  My breathing shallows to near respirator required level.  Worse, the seating is bench-style.  No social distancing.  I elbow my way to an end seat.  My wife follows.

“At least I’m on the end,” I say, gasping a bit, watching as others wedge up against each other.

A large man in a flowered aloha shirt resembling a tent for two, plops down, pushing my wife so hard that my left butt-cheek slides off the bench.

“Excuse me,” I say, leaning forward and around my wife.  “Could you please shift over a bit.  You’ve knocked me half off the end here.”

He laughs.  I try to avoid the stream of air shooting toward me from his maskless face.

“Sir, could you please scooch over?” I ask again.

“Hah!” he snorts, turns to his buddy, throws a thumb in my direction.  The two laugh about something he says.

“Aloha, and welcome aboard our Nautilus submarine adventure cruise,” a sprightly voice announces over the speaker system.

I stand up, dizzy, step around my wife, and stare at the man.

“Sir,” I say, as calmly as I’m able without hyperventilating, “please move over so I can sit.  You shoved my wife into me and I slid off the bench.”

The big man looks up at me.  I can see his breath, probably Covid-variant laden, streaming through his sunburned nostrils.

“Eh, pal” he says, standing, “I think –

Before he can finish what he’s going to say, my wife scoots over into half his bench space, pulls on my arm, and I sit down on the end.

“What the?”  The guy’s dismayed.  “Now I got no room.”

My wife says in a hard voice I’ve never heard, “Then tell your friend to move his ass.”

Wow!  Sounds like she’s ready to throw blows with the guy.

The man, equally surprised to hear such tough talk coming from such a small woman, marvels at her.  Then he looks over at me.  “So you hide behind a girl?”

The voice comes over the speaker.  “Sir, in the aloha shirt, would you please take a seat so we can depart?”

I smile up at him.  “Yes, yes I do.”

I’ve forgotten my phobic concerns.  I’m digging my little wife here.  A sailor comes over to us.

“Sir,” he says, “please.  You need to sit down so we can get going.”

“Eh,” says the big guy, “I can’t sit down because this chick shoved me out of my seat.”

The sailor looks at my tiny wife, shakes his head in disbelief that she could move this mountain of a man.

He flashes a professional smile.  “Ma’am, could you and your husband please scoot down just a wee bit –”

“No,” my wife says softly.  Then she points and bellows, “He’s the one doing the shoving!”

We are now accosted by what appears to be the haggard captain.

“Friends,” the perhaps captain says, “I’m sorry there’s a problem here.”  He surveys the cabin area.  “I don’t see any other spaces.  Can’t we make this work somehow?”

“Yes, we can make it work,” says my wife pleasantly, standing up to her full 4’10” height.  “My husband and I choose the high road.  Please let us off, refund our fare, and give us two complementary tickets so we can take a later submarine.”

We follow the skipper to the exit.  While a sailor climbs the ladder to unscrew the hatch, our charge card is credited, and we are handed two passes.

“After you, champ,” I say, gesturing my new hero up.

My wife smiles one of her angelic smiles, and we ascend to open air and solid land.

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