I was sad to bid goodbye to Stockholm, that beautiful if inconvenient jewel of the North, where nuclear-powered icebreakers are required just to get in to the office for three months out of the year.
Our next port of call was Helsinki, which doesn’t have a syndrome named after it, in Finland, which does. Finland, the place where you need a nuclear-powered icebreaker just to get from your kitchen to your living room for eleven months out of the year, is known mainly for being the Soviet bloc’s answer to Canada. It’s a wintery nation covered mostly in snow and ice, politically married to its powerful neighbor on account of ’cause when your only exports are hockey, ice weasel pelts, and rhinovirus, dissing the superpower to your south is economic, and possibly literal, suicide.
I didn’t get off the ship in Finland, owing to an unfortunate early-morning mixup with the tour plan. For some reason, I thought we were going on the Finlandization tour, where Princess Cruise Line passengers are forced into close proximity to a Disney Cruise Lines ship and tacitly threatened with military invasion if they don’t switch their allegiances. My parents thought they were going on the Helsinki tour. It turns out they were right, on account of cause there is no Finlandization tour.
So I took advantage of my unexpected day aboard ship to make some self-portraits for zaiah back at home. No, you can’t see them.
About this time, and possibly as a result of exposure to Finland’s ice weasels, a norovirus scare swept through the ship. Noroviruses are a family of extremely contagious viruses that cause all sorts of unpleasant gastrointestinal distress, and apparently, when it happens on a ship it is A Big Deal.
So the captain made several announcements throughout the day that anyone who felt ill should call the ship’s medical officer at once.
Now, I don’t know what exactly the poor sots who felt ill expected would happen if they called the ship’s medical officer. In fact, I didn’t know myself what would happen to a poor sot who called the ship’s medical officer. Turns out that what happened to these luckless souls, of whom I thankfully did not number myself, was right out of that one movie where the CDC comes and barricades all those people who have contracted the zombie plague in that one building, and they spent the rest of the movie killing each other or being eaten by zombies or something, only without the zombies.
Seriously. People showing symptoms ended up being quarantined in their rooms for the duration of the cruise. Like, as in “not allowed to leave” quarantined. I have no idea if they got refunds on the cruise or not. I imagine the vacation pictures were frightfully dull.
Though I could be wrong about that, I suppose. zaiah quite liked the pictures I sent her from my stateroom while I was aboard. So you never know.
The following day was spent at sea, as shipgoing folks say. To break up the monotony of a day spent at sea, which I rather thought was the whole point of a cruise in the first place, the crew declared that that evening would be a formal evening, with all the passengers expected to dress in suits and ties and such for the evening’s mediocre meal.
Did I mention the food? You’re always supposed to talk about the food when you talk about a cruise. It’s in the requirements. Section 117, paragraph 9, subparagraph 3. Cruise line operators have perfected the fascinating and arcane art of taking food that sounds heavenly and making it taste like something you’d get at a high school cafeteria. It’s incredible! I don’t know how they do it.
So anyway, I’d been warned of this possibility in advance, and I had in fact brought a suit.
To be fair, I didn’t actually bring it because I was looking forward to eating institutional food while wearing it. That was only the excuse. The real reason I brought it was to see how seinneann_ceoil looked in it. The answer, as I had suspected, was “quite ravishing.” I even have proof!
Now, at this point I need to pause a moment and say that zaiah really, really missed me while I was away. And knowing that she would really, really miss me while I was away, she wrote little notes to me which she slipped into various items of clothing without my knowledge while she was helping me pack.
Most of the notes were fairly innocuous, like “I’m thinking about you” and “I miss you.” Some of them were…less so.
I found the first of these notes while dressing for the formal dinner. It fell onto the floor while I was getting dressed, and my sister got to it before I did. This particular note did not say “I miss you” or “I love you” or anything like that. Instead, it, err…well…
My sister is a lawyer. She may be a shark in the courtroom; I have no idea. But in matters of the heart, she is a delicate and retiring flower. Especially when those matters of the heart include elements of BDSM. Or consent play. Or, say, having a pillowcase thrown over one’s head while one sleeps, shortly before one is violated from behind by a strong and determined partner wielding a strap-on. For example.
The level of freak-out that ensued can be compared in its scope and magnitude to the level of freak-out that Juan Ponce de León might have exhibited when he learned that the legendary Fountain of Youth was in fact nothing more than a clever way for the indigenous peoples of the New World to say “Hey, you know what? Go bother someone else, okay?”