A Ship of Dreams by Kathy Dunkerley

A Ship of Dreams

Kathy Dunkerley

Good parents, I believe, can be characterized by a selfless devotion to their children’s happiness and well-being. However, I am sure there are limits as to how far we should pander to every whim and desire expressed by our offspring. After all, no parent wants to raise an overindulged child who melts like a popsicle in the sun every time he or she does not get their way.

But there are times when you have no choice but to give in to your child, even when your instincts are screaming no. No. A thousand times, no. A case in point was when my youngest daughter Annie and I saw an advert for a Disney Cruise, which promised turquoise water, wide sandy beaches, and a cast of shipmates ranging from Mickey Mouse to that most roguish of pirates, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Annie turned to me once the advert was finished. “Mummy, please, please, please,” she said, and her tiny, high-pitched voice quivered with excitement. “I want to see Mickey. Belle. Elsa. She’s my favorite.”

I could see the longing that gleamed in her baby-blue eyes and knew it would be impossible to say no. After all, my child would have the time of her life, and I could float lazily over the peacock blue sea and drink icy cocktails as tropical breezes caress my skin.

So with a heavy heart and more than a little trepidation, I stand on the dock in the Port of Miami, waiting to board the Disney Dream, which I was assured is the flagship liner in the Disney Fleet. As usual, Miami is hot and muggy, and in the thick, soupy, sticky air, it feels like I’m entombed in treacle. I brush away the beads of sweat that bubble on my brow and stare at the giant ship, which to me looks more like a 10-story block of flats. The Dream sits solidly in the murky grey water, which is surprising as I had visions of a ship that serenely floats over an absurdly blue sea. But what do you expect in a busy seaport, I console myself. Surely after the ship sets sail, the air will no longer smell like rotten eggs, and the oil slicks that pool on the surface of the opaque water will disappear. It suddenly occurs to me that the ship looks top-heavy, as if it could topple in the faintest breeze. Wasn’t there a hurricane that flattened Florida not long ago? Even in the hot, humid air, I shiver.

“Mummy,” my daughter says and pulls on my arm. “Do you see Mickey?” She points to the two chimney stacks perched on the top of the ship. Each of the chimneys is painted a gaudy, bright red color, contrasting with the dazzling, iridescent white paint covering the boat’s top half. Instinctively, I reach into my bag for my sunglasses.

“Mummy,” Annie says, her voice shrill as the gulls that cry mournfully in the cloudless sky. For a moment, there is a whiff of a salty breeze, which ruffles my hair, and I sniff the salty, sulphury smell of seaweed. I am immediately reminded of the seashore where we took Annie last year. It was nice to have the damp sand squidge between our toes, feel the summer sun kiss our skin, and hear the waves as they lapped the shoreline. Yes, maybe the cruise will be all right after all.

“There’s Mickey, Mummy,” Annie says, pointing to huge images of the world’s most famous mouse. To be honest, until then, I hadn’t noticed that gigantic versions of Mickey Mouse’s face were painted onto the smokestacks’ scarlet surfaces.

I can’t believe we are already bombarded with images of Disney cartoons, and I haven’t even boarded the ship yet. I groan.

“Mummy,” Annie says, staring at my face, which I know is red from the heat and probably streaked with black, non-waterproof mascara. “Are you upset, Mummy? Did you eat something funny at breakfast?”

“No darling,” I say and grasp her little hand in mine, but to be honest, at this point, our hands are so shiny with sweat that her slippery fist seems to slide from my grip.

“Mummy.” I grab my little Annie’s hand tighter, grit my teeth, and we make our way to the check-in desks, which line the far end of the departure hall, and a row of earnest, eager check-in assistants vie for the honor of checking us in. It is not long until we board the ship and enter the vast atrium, which seems to soar upwards toward the upper floors of the ship. I look up at a huge scraggly object which looks somewhat like a tree. I touch its surface, which has the texture of the bucket and spade we gave Annie on last year’s beach holiday. Plastic. I remove my hand quickly as if I’d been scalded by the polyurethane surface. Then I look up and see the branches of this so-called tree are covered with pumpkins. Well, jack-o-lanterns, really, and each is carved with a grim, repellent face. But wait a minute, I think, pumpkins don’t grow on trees, and then I notice that the pumpkins are made of orange-colored cardboard. You have to wonder how Disney can get away from this massive deviation from reality.

Then I hear it. The loud, cacophonous noise sounds like hundreds of piercing, high-pitched squeals. What could it be? I look down at little Annie. She has frantic spots of color on each of her freckled cheeks, and her eyes, which are round as dinner plates, gleam with happiness and joy.

“Annie. Are you all right? It’s awfully loud in here.”

Suddenly, Annie opens her mouth and screams at the top of her lungs, and her own shrieks join the hyperactive voices of what must be at least a thousand small children who swarm over this large open space.

“Mickey,” all the children cry, almost in unison, and when I look up, I see a large, life-sized mouse with huge black rounded ears and a strange pointy nose. He is, I see, dressed in nautically appropriate garb, which consists of a blue, double-breasted jacket with rows of brass buttons down the front. Between his oversized ears sits a round white hat with a black brim looped with a row of shiny gold braid. Is Mickey Mouse actually going to captain this ship?

“It’s Mickey, Mummy,” and then the mouse reaches down and takes my daughter’s hand. I stifle a laugh when I realize Mickey and Annie share the very same squeaky tones, which to me sound very much like fingernails on a blackboard. But then I glance at Annie, who stares adoringly at this depiction of a mouse, and know that my opinion will count very little here. Oh well. When Mickey walks off to enchant some other small child, I take Annie’s hand, which in the air-conditioned air seems to have lost its slippery, sweaty texture.

“Mummy.” I follow Annie’s eyes, which are fixed on a young woman with plastic-looking, thick mahogany-colored hair. She is dressed in a tiered floor-length dress fashioned into layers of bright yellow ruffles. The dress looks like a blancmange, that sweet, elegantly molded pudding that always looks better than it tastes. Oh well.

“It’s Belle,” Annie cries. “You know Beauty and the Beast.”

My daughter is literally shaking with excitement. I can’t help myself, and I reach out to touch the yellow dress’s shiny fabric, and to me, the slithery surface feels like the tawdry, polyester curtains that draped the windows in my first halls of residence. The young woman glares at me, and I quickly remove my hand. Belle, to her credit, quickly regains her composure and beams down at Annie, who stares up at this Disney character with an enraptured look on her face. Although I cannot completely understand why, it’s obvious my daughter has fallen in love with Belle, a pretend Disney character with plastic hair dressed in a garish, polyethylene frock.

The young woman moves off, and I take Annie’s hand once again. “It’s time to see our room,” I say. I smile down at her and see her face creased with a huge smile, which splits her chubby face practically in two. “Would you like that?” I say.

She nods, and we head towards the throngs of men, women, and children crammed tightly together in front of elevators that will take us to our staterooms. After an interminable wait, we squeeze onto the overcrowded lift, and eventually, the blinking neon lights indicate we’ve managed to reach the 10th floor. We soon emerge onto the long, windy, red-carpeted corridor that leads to our cabin. We stop momentarily, and I kneel, tilt Annie’s chin, and watch her blue eyes dance in her pink, flushed face.

“Mummy,” she says again.

I smile.

 “Yes, dear?”

“This is just going to be the most fun we’ve ever had,” she says.

I feel my back teeth clench, but I ignore the twinge that travels up my jaw.

“We certainly are, darling.”

I grasp her small hand, and we head for our room.

About the Author

Kathy Dunkerley has worked as a magazine editor, journalist, and later as a Psychology Lecturer at Bristol University. She recently completed her first work of historical fiction and is writing her second book, which is a mystery novel that takes place in contemporary times. A memoir of her travels in the Far East was previously published by the Lowestoft Chronicle. Kathy is American but has lived in the UK with her family for over 40 years.