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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 26

“Are you sure it’s mine? I can’t imagine how it would get into. . .” “It has your Japanese phrase book in it, self-inscribed.” “You mean the stowaway everyone’s talking about got hold of my ruck-sack? Maybe he did. It’s been missing.” “A far-fetched supposition,” the purser said, raising just one eyebrow. “We find it intriguing, Mr. Barnes, that a couple of empty wine bottles from our dining room were also found.” With studied indignation, I said, “And you’re suspecting that I . . .?” “We’ll have to keep the rucksack, you understand.” Janet was waiting outside the purser’s office, curious. “It’s unimportant. They found my rucksack in the stowaway’s lifeboat.” She took my arm and we walked along the promenade deck, leaning against the wind. The sea had grown choppier, yhe ship rolled beneath our feet. “I must have left it somewhere and the chap grabbed it, thinking there might be food in it.” “For a diplomat, you’re not a very good liar, Roger?” She seemed frightened, probably wanted to lean on my shoulder, talk sadly to me of Jacques having to disembark with his men in Vietnam, and I didn’t want to hear it; I was falling in love with her myself. Of their sudden attraction, I’d written in my notebook, “They see a flame and it’s already dying. How unsuited they are to each other.” Cold bloodedly, I’d added: “And if he’s killed in Vietnam?" She sensed an impending loss, but she talked of something else. “My mother’s not feeling well, she’s taken to her bed, she’s very fearful – a new country, the Far East, different customs, being with my father again, . . .” She looked helplessly at me, and I put my arm around her. All we could do was clutch the railing. Beneath our feet the ship creaked, struggling to cut through the roiling waves. I thought of Gamal, losing one hoped for deal after another, of Ilona’s more certain, fateful return to Romania (lugging her quixotic forty pairs of shoes), Jacque’s reckless second tour in Vietnam, Solange’s demons, my own, long nurtured cowardly vertigo. And I thought of poor Schmidt, looking straight into a void.
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