Bad Kitty’s throat tightened – she vividly remembered now how it had clenched up. She’d given up on the food and was paying attention only to her wine glass, which was, as always, being replenished by her friend the Scot. She wanted to leave but then she had another idea. She sat through dessert and coffee and when she saw the girl’s father rising, Bad Kitty told her mother that she needed to run to her cabin and change her shoes, and asked her to get seats at the concert. The Scot gallantly said that her mother would see him safely there – and Bad Kitty was out of the dining room standing by the elevator bank, peering at an old painting of some other big liner, when the girl and her father walked by: he had his hand flat on the small of her back which, given how small she was, made him incline down and also seem to push. They didn’t get in the elevator but instead walked down one flight of stairs and along the same corridor which led to her own cabin: the father seemed to press the girl in and it was number 802. She changed her shoes in room 842 and went to join her mother; on the way back, she’d paused at 802 but heard nothing.
On the music she floated, as she went about deciding to do something. And “something” had been enough. She cheered up and even had a nightcap with her mother who hadn’t been ready to call it a night –
The next day the weather was much rougher. The decks were running with water, and what with the horizon pitching up sideways in a steady line like a seesaw, it was hard to walk.
She and her mother had made a date to meet in the library before lunch and there she found the little girl alone –without thinking she asked, “Where’s your father?”
“He’s not my father,” the girl snapped (and with that, she had a little color and life in her).
“Oh, excuse me,” said Bad Kitty and asked blandly if the girl knew where they kept the magazines, smiling at her as though to apologize for being so scatterbrained. The girl seemed relieved by such a boring question and walked her up to the front prow corner of the library and gestured to the magazine racks. Bad Kitty smiled at her, but she turned on her heel – right into Bad Kitty’s mother.
“Oh, let me introduce you. This is my mom, Carolyn. And I am Barbara.” Bad Kitty was hoping to find out her name but the girl just rounded past and kept going.
So much privilege everywhere on that ship but here in the library the thousands of books were mostly crap. Her mother turned her nose up at the novels on offer but borrowed an illustrated guide of the boat itself.
The boat was pitching through the storm and, needing a walk, Bad Kitty had to take a swim instead, despite her catlike dislike of the cold wet small indoor pool on a day like that, and then after an unhappy dinner time, spent trying not to look at that creep and the girl, she finally took a long stroll indoors, starting at the top and then trying out the lower decks, one by one in long loops. When she reached the bottom, she went and played a little black jack, and at last checked in on her mother, who’d been long happily ensconced in bed. They chatted a spell and then said goodnight.
She’d seen him and the child after dinner with the smokers, relegated to the back of the top deck – up above the pool deck – where in sunny weather you would lounge around, but why did he bring that little girl to those semi-drunken Brits and press her to sit on his lap, there out of the rain, under a roof, where they’d crowded in chairs? Why, hold the girl on his lap, sucking that cigar right by her hair – Bad Kitty hated him. Hated him bad.
After studying the group for a spell, she’d walked past them just in time to hear him say, setting down his cigar:
“Well, time to put Princess to bed – ”
Bad Kitty had walked away shaking.
The casino was always a good place to kill time. She played double zero three times and on the third time won.
She had a drink. She had a think. And then another drink.
The rain was coming down harder. Midships,where of course they had put the casino for steady circumstances, was calm. And then there he was – in a Burberry raincoat with a new cigar thrust before him – striding by.
He looked happy.
Bad Kitty only needed that. She tipped the dealer, scooped her chips into her purse, and pulled on her rain poncho, drawing up the hood. (Everyone on the ship had the same dark green poncho, with QM2 in white over the heart: a little notice in the cabin explained that the poncho was a souvenir but the bathrobe was available for purchase. Bad Kitty hadn’t noticed surveillance cameras but it seemed likely they were there, scattered about.)
The rain was whipping in all directions and the smokers were gone. He lit his stogie at their table, smoked for ten minutes and then, with a bantam strut, went to look off the stern. Almost feeling under some providential spell, Bad Kitty approached and quietly said “Good evening.”
“Yeah,” he smiled, looked her over for a moment, sucking on the cigar – Bad Kitty felt the darkness all around.
“Oh my god, do you see that?!” Bad Kitty had shouted, pointing out and down (knowing no one could hear anything up here in the storm with the tremendous engines below and the rain): “don’t you see?! “
And that fool, gritting his cigar, leaned out over the white railing, peering, and someone shoved him hard. Over he went. It was so easy. He didn’t scream, though his hands grappled with the emptiness – as he fell into nothing. After a brief passage through the ship’s light, he was just gone, and she didn’t even see him hit the sea, roiling there at the rear of the ship.
When she lit a church candle, that’s always what Bad Kitty would see, his fall out of the light, and she’d kneel to pray for both their souls.
Slipping on the deck, her hood still up, she walked back into the ship, feeling the teeth inside her mouth as an unclean mild ache. She took a long hot shower and brushed them until the gums hurt, and then, lights out, wallowed in the fine linens, her balcony door open, with a towel down to absorb the rain that whipped in a little, listening to the rain in the dark, reflecting uselessly on her fascination with evil and how it makes you evil yourself – she knew that now – yet at the same time she was glad. Eventually she fell asleep.
The next evening, the last one, when she and her mother sat down to dinner, the little girl had already joined her table, and who knew what she might have said to her tablemates about her father’s absence, but whatever it had been, apparently the subject had been dropped, and Bad Kitty was astonished that she seemed quite at ease, talking to the old lady beside her, and eating quite a lot.
Now in November, so many years later, her sister called, and mentioned that she’d just lit candles in her own Catholic church near her job in San Francisco, for their father.
Bad Kitty said, “I do that too, it soothes me, not that anyone’s listening up there.”
To which her sister quoted, as she often did, her hero Archie Goodwin:
“As the woman said to the parrot, it depends who you’re talking to.”