There I was sitting in a balcony seat overlooking the ballroom on the Lusitania. The revellers were making the best of it (that’s war for you). The excessive bonhomie seemed forced, but not surprising: a whiff of death is the best aphrodisiac. Champagne popped, corks flying like artillery across the gowns and cummerbunds, tiaras and brilliantine. Everyone was so elegant back in those days. It was like an art nouveau poster – all smooth curves, long lines, sheen, spit, polish and dash. I half-heartedly raised a glass as a party conga-ed past me, feigning an amused smile. I couldn’t muster much cheer. I had a bad feeling about the coming year. This was conflict on a whole new scale. The lie about it being over by Christmas had already evaporated like Scotch mist. What new myth will the papers spin to drive us onwards to slaughter? As I gloomily ruminated thus, doing my best impression of a curmudgeon, my attention was caught by a young face staring back at me from across the hall, an expression unmistakably one of scornful amusement. At first I thought it must be a boy, going by the tuxedo and spatz, but something about the cut of the chin, the pout of lips, the wryly-arched apostrophe of a brow, made me think otherwise. He, or she, raised a bubbling glass to me. Before I could return the gesture I was swept along by the conga crowd. By the time I had extricated myself from them, the She-male was nowhere to be seen. All that day I searched the empty decks haunted only by staff clearing up the detritus of the party, invalids in blankets staring out at the cold slop of sea, and shadow-eyed insomniacs like me, to no avail. Cadging a smoke from an able-bodied seaman, from the stern I watched the unzipped waves fasten themselves back together again as the liner rumbled across the surly Atlantic, Boston-bound, on its monthly roundtrip, its path clear, confident, unshakable. Before I could make further enquiries, my day was up, and I was transported – against all etiquette of time and physics – to the next New Year’s Eve, leaving
a question mark of ash blown out to sea, grey upon grey.
(1 of 12 connected flash fictions written by Kevan Manwaring, dedicated to David Bowie 1947-2016, and published here to mark the first anniversary of the passing of a visionary starman & much-missed musical genius. ‘Look up here, I’m in Heaven…’).
Kevan Manwaring ©2016