Max Shapiro was playing pinochle with three of his fellow passengers on the pool deck of their cruise ship. Like himself, the other three were all old-timers. In fact, as on most cruises, almost all of the passengers were senior citizens. A couple of dozen of them were now in the pool, being instructed in water aerobics by one of the ship’s staff.
“We’ve been having good weather,” said Lennie Kaplan, playing his card.
“Yeah, water’s been smooth as glass,” said Ben Roth.
“Wonder when we’ll get there?” said John Sullivan.
Max wondered this, too. He was ashamed to admit that he’d forgotten where the cruise was going. Maybe it was a senior moment or, worse, the onset of Alzheimer’s. His memory seemed to be going. But then he and Rose had been on so many cruises since he’d retired. It was hard to keep track. Rose? Funny, he also couldn’t remember where she’d gone while he was playing cards. Well, she was probably down in the lounge, playing bingo with the other ladies. That’s what she always did.
One of the ship stewards came up to the table, carrying a tray of cold drinks. “Here you are, gentlemen,” he said. Max didn’t recall ordering drinks, but they were welcome. It was warm under an unblinking sun that never seemed to move. He was tempted to ask the steward where the ship was headed, but he was too embarrassed to reveal he didn’t know.
The four elderly men finished their game and their drinks. Funny, Max had no idea how he’d met the others. He only knew that they’d been playing their game of pinochle the whole trip. The passengers who’d been in the pool had all left. The deck was completely quiet. “Guess we should be getting ready for dinner,” said Lennie Kaplan, standing up. “I don’t want my wife yelling at me.”
“Me, too,” said Ben Roth. At least, I think my wife is somewhere around. I never went on a cruise without her.”
“Yeah,” said John Sullivan. “I know what you mean. I can’t even remember getting on the ship, or where we’re going. Memory must be going.”
So he wasn’t the only one, thought Max. One of the ship’s officers, in his gleaming white uniform, was standing at the rail nearby. “Hey,” called Max. “Can we ask you something?”
The officer came over. “Yes, how can I help you?”
“Remind us, will you. We old fogies can’t remember where the cruise is going.”
The officer smiled. “Why, I thought everyone knew. We’re going to a distant land.”
“A distant land?” said Max. “Will we get off there?”
“Yes, all the passengers will disembark.”
“What kind of country will it be?”
“Ah, a good question. I’m afraid I can’t answer that. You see, no one has ever returned from there.”
At that moment, a cloud passed over the sun and Max felt a sudden chill. He could see that the other three felt the same way. The cloud then moved and the sun shown steadfastly again. The four men left the deck.