The MS Friendship was approaching its last port, returning to where it began 12 days ago, in Bergen, Norway. As the ship approached the dock, passengers could see bright colored balloons swaying in the breeze, and there was a small band in traditional costume playing an upbeat tune. A giant banner read “Welcome Home” in English and Norwegian. It was a festive and celebratory scene.
The boys were ready to leave the ship, and sat on their luggage near the disembarkation point. They were leafing through their passports, studying the watermarked images and tiny words on each page; Fergus’ was stiff and smelled of vinyl; the pages crisp and new: a blank slate. Fergus ran his finger across the embossed United States of America lettering on the cover. He wasn’t really sure what this small booklet truly was, but it had been presented to him with great fanfare, so he knew it was important. He studied his photograph, which was underneath a glossy coating. How the photograph appeared here in this small book was something he also wondered about. The color of the photograph was mystifying; it was so bright, and clear, like looking in the mirror at himself. Was it like the pictures he’d seen on the television? Those had this bright color too. The only photographs Fergus knew of were black and white, and they were very soft, not sharp and crisp like this picture.
Dashiell showed Fergus the pages in his passport that contained stamps: here was the stamp from his visit to Canada, and here was his entry into Norway.
“They’ll stamp yours too when we leave, Fergus. You’ll see!”
Mrs. Pierce was in her tiny cabin. The inner room had no windows, so she couldn’t see the festivities outside on the quay. She was pacing; she had packed and re-packed her suitcase twice now. She knew she had to make a decision about what to do next. It wasn’t easy to admit, and she hadn’t quite gotten there in her mind yet, but somewhere in her heart, she recognized that life on the Friendship had filled a void she had seen but not acknowledged, a void that had been getting larger and larger over the years, and she knew if she went back to her comfortable house it would seem like a giant balloon suffocating her. But this cabin, and this ship, had let her glimpse a memory of who she had been at one time, of the thoughts she had once had; of the way her mind used to roam looking out her window, wool gathering, she’d heard it called, seeing in each moment pictures she could paint. The cabin was small, true, but it was the first place she had lived that was truly hers. At least for the duration of the trip. She’d decorated its walls with reproductions of great Scandinavian artwork that she’d picked up in ports, and her compact portable easel, canvas, and sketchbooks were laid out around her. She didn’t need to hide them anymore. She didn’t need to clear them away to serve a meal or make room for folding laundry. She could do what she wanted, for the first time in fifty years.
She unpacked her suitcase and hung her clothes back up in the closet, then picked up the phone receiver.
Back on the quay, Dashiell’s father shook hands with the Captain and thanked him for his outstanding service and assistance, and Dashiell’s mom threw her arms around him for an heartfelt hug.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for us, and for Fergus,” she said, her eyes glistening. “I don’t know how we can ever repay you.”
“Oh it’s Mrs. Pierce who did all the hard work,” said the Captain humbly, but with a proud smile. He patted Fergus on the head, and shook Dashiell’s hand.
“Where is Mrs. Pierce, I wonder?” asked Dashiell’s father. They all looked around but didn’t see her in the small crowd that had now formed, between the passengers, the band, and the passersby.
“I’ll give her your regards, of course,” said the Captain.
“Please do. The boys intend to keep her updated with postcards from our future ports of call.”
“I’m sure she will enjoy that.” The Captain smiled, and gestured to the waiting taxicab. “I see your taxi has arrived. You need to leave now if you want to catch the 07:57 am train to Oslo.”
The boys needed no further encouragement–ready to be done with all-things ocean for some time, they were looking forward to the 7-hour train journey to Norway’s capital, and skipped over to the waiting vehicle.
The Captain had much work to see to now that the journey was over. He had the discharging and changing of the crew to oversee, and there were preparations awaiting him that would allow the ship to sail again in two day’s time as scheduled. The port paperwork was never a task he looked forward to, but it was best to get it over with so he could start his own free time in port. He was badly in need of new shirts, and was already planning a visit to his favorite tailor in town. He might cap it off with a special, celebratory meal, he thought to himself. He gave instructions to the crew regarding their final inspections, and retreated to his office.
With his favorite coconut water drink in hand, the Captain tackled the paperwork. There were numerous forms to complete and sign, including the passenger counts: they had gained an extra passenger, and in his spare moments, the Captain had been thinking of creative ways to make the numbers add up. Since he had agreed to not turn the Major over to the local authorities nor press charges in return for the United States passport for Fergus, and since the Major had gratefully obliged, phoning his high-level contacts at the US embassy in Bergen with a compelling story of a lost document, and even arranging to have the passport delivered promptly via tugboat carrier, the only remaining item to document was the disposition of the Major himself. The Captain cleverly arranged the paperwork so it appeared that the Major had disembarked at Trondheim, where they had received a new passenger, an unaccompanied minor–an American named Fergus Weiss.
The Captain had just finished signing all of the other documents, and stamping his official seal on the final sheet, when his first mate arrived at his office, waving a computer printout.
“Sorry sir, last minute update to the passenger manifest.”
“Arggh,” moaned the Captain, having just signed the previous version. He took the dot-matrix printout from the officer. “What’s changed?” he replaced his reading glasses to examine the document.
“One Mrs. Pierce, sir. Staying on for the next round trip up and down the coast. Said she’d keep her current cabin, sir, so no logistical issue there. And since it’s still quite early in the season, we had the space available. She’ll need to go ashore of course until we’re ready to receive passengers again on Wednesday.”
The Captain reclined back in his chair, perusing the newly revised list. And there, on the last line, was the entry:
PIERCE, HELEN R. MRS. CABIN 326
The Captain pulled the last voyage’s passenger list from the bottom of the stack and scanned its list. He noticed the entry:
PIERCE, CARL W. DR. & HELEN R. MRS. CABIN 712
“Lars,” he said to the first mate, “please make a reservation for Mrs. Pierce at the Hotel Admiral, and be sure they know it’s a request from myself.”
“Yes, sir,” nodded the first mate, who then turned to leave.
“Oh, and Lars,” said the Captain, and the first mate turned back. “Also book her a dinner reservation at their restaurant, and tell them the Captain prefers a quiet table facing the water. For 2.”
The Captain pulled a sheet of his stationary from his desk, and wrote a short note, which he then sealed into an envelope, and slipped under the door at Cabin 326.