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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 4

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His name was Jules, we soon learned, a dedicated communist, as were the rest of the crew, and he was busily wiping glasses, his bored, hunched-over manner making it clear he didn’t give a damn what I wanted. “We rang earlier for room service, my mother didn’t feel well, and no one came,” Janet said. “I heard there’s a work slowdown. Didn’t you notice the waiters dawdling on purpose in the dining room?” I glanced again at Jules, who was still studiously ignoring us, but incredibly, I also saw small spurts of flame shoot up below the bar’s mirrored back wall. I yelled at Jules, he slowly glanced round, and unhurriedly reached for a small fire extinguisher beneath the bar. The extinguisher quickly sputtered and died, like so much else on board we soon discovered that was out of order. Someone yelled “Fire!” A couple of alert busboys ran in from the promenade deck and flushed out the flames with buckets of water, flapping towels and opening windows to let out the smoke. “He started it on purpose,” said Ilona, the woman with the screwed on high heel I’d seen on deck. “It’s an old communist trick, announcing slow ser-vice.” She sat down on my other side, and peered into the Japanese phrase book I’d brought along. I’d guessed earlier that she was Sicilian, but she soon told me she was from Romania. She caught me staring at her shoes, different from the ones she wore earlier, also brand new, and spike- heeled. “You like?” “Yes, but more to the point, you like.” She leaned close, confiding, “I own forty pairs. They’re hidden in a suitcase below. My husband, Gamal, does not know about them.” She wanted me to know about them, apparently, but for once I didn’t want to listen. Forty secret pairs of shoes, bought on the sly, foretold a story, which I was expected to listen to in strict confidence. “Everyone divulges their secrets to you, darling, because you listen so well,” Hilda had said to me once. “You’re like human suction cup.” Ilona wanted to tell me her story. I wanted to polish off my whiskey (Jules had by then put on his jacket and was serving drinks), and casually saunter upstairs to the boat deck. My rucksack, filled with most of