Meal of a Lifetime
July 6th, 2016.
Breathing deep of the salty air, Ida Humboldt watched her husband raise a silver-plated fork, sigh, and take the first bite of a meal he’d waited five decades to eat.
“Mmmm!” Percy moaned. “God, that’s good!”
Ida looked disgusted.
“Ah!” said a dapper bald waiter to Ida’s left. “The gentleman approves?”
“Damn right!” Percy winked at Ida. “Best three grand I ever spent!”
“You have a discerning palette, Mr. Humboldt. Delphinidae a la Provencale. Fresh from this very sea, prepared by our own Chef Grigori.”
“Well, my compliments to Chef Greg!”
The waiter grinned. “Excellent, sir. Now, if you require nothing more, I shall take my leave.”
“Oh, by all means, go on break. This is tremendous!”
“Enjoy your lunch, then.”
“Mmmm-hmm!” Percy grinned around another bite.
Lips pursed, the waiter turned to Ida. “Madam.”
Ida forced a smile as the waiter disappeared below deck.
“Really, Ida.” Percy shook his head. “Can’t you just relax and have a good time?’
“No. No, I can’t.”
Percy frowned. “Will you look around, Mrs. Humboldt? Isn’t this great?”
Ida shrugged. They’d dined on yachts before but never one quite this luxurious. Of course, she hadn’t ordered anything on this floating restaurant. No sane person would. So she’d settled on a cheese and cracker plate with a white wine spritzer at no extra charge. “The scenery’s fine, Percy.”
“Look at this gorgeous meal!”
Ida looked. Didn’t want to, but she did. Atop a bed of jasmine rice, surrounded by carrot chips, lay a thick slab of pink meat. The casual observer would’ve mistaken it for salmon or swordfish, but Ida knew better. Boy, did she. “The meal’s what’s making me sick.”
Swallowing another bite, Percy smiled. “You sure it’s not just the motion of the ocean?”
“Ha!” Chortling, Percy threw back his head. A big man, his jowls and neck shuddered with each breath. “See what I did there, Ida? I did that on porpoise!”
Ida sipped her wine. “Gong! You’re through, Mr. Humboldt.”
Still laughing, Percy reached for his large glass of beer.
Ida snickered as he guzzled half of it in three swallows, then belched. “That does it. I think I’m going to write a poem about you.”
“Yeah? You mean like, uh, Shakespeare or something?”
“Um, more like a Homerian epic. I have the perfect title: ‘Rhyme Of The Ancient Glutton.’”
“‘Rhyme Of The Ancient Glut—?’” Percy coughed, spitting rice into his beer. “Aw, come on, Ida! It’s one fish—one fish in this entire goddamn ocean!”
“Mammal,” she corrected.
“What the hell’s the difference?”
Ida shook her head.
Percy set his fork down. “Damnit, Ida. I busted my fat ass for thirty frigging years running that tow service in Cincinnati, all so we could retire, move down here, and live the good life.”
“Retire?” Ida grimaced. “What ‘retire?’ You bought a junkyard! And this ‘good life’ you speak of is you dividing your time between that rusty hell and the beach, while I lay around our condo missing all our friends and family.”
“That’s your problem, not mine!”
“Of course, it is. Why would you have any bearing on my happiness?”
“Ha! Only you could be unhappy here! We got sun, surf, and good looking people all around us!”
“Well, what about everything else? I’m not stingy with my money! You got a brand new Lane Bryant dress, you’re covered with Cartier gold! Don’t that mean anything?”
“It’s not the point.”
“Not the point, huh?” Shaking his head, Percy gulped more beer. “Okay. Tell you what. Since we’re on the subject of happiness, again; how about, that’s what I’m trying to accomplish right now? This is a once-in-a-lifetime meal right here.”
“Sure. Because it’s illegal.”
“Aw, so what? The goddamn Japs do it! You mean to tell me I gotta leave my own country just to try a delicacy that can be found right here? Uh-uh! No way!”
Ida gestured at his plate. “You seriously call that a delicacy?”
“Bet your wrinkled ass!”
“Then what’s next, Percy? Huh? We’re going to fly to Sri Lanka for monkey brains? How about South America? Maybe we can find a tribe of cannibals so you can try some human steak…”
A moment passed. Glaring at Ida, Percy set his beer down. “Now you listen, and you listen good, Ida. I loved you when we were young, and I love you now. But if you spoil this meal for me, as God is my witness, I’ll haul your carcass over the side with the anchor. Am I making myself clear?”
Breathless, Ida gaped at Percy. Despite the heat, a chill swept through her. He meant it, she realized. No joke. Her own husband had just threatened to dump her in the ocean. All because of this sick entree. “Fine, Percy. Forget I said anything.”
“Fine,” he mimicked, turning to his plate. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your trap shut.”
Silent, Ida had plenty to say; none of it nice. Instead, she cast her eyes upon the glimmering waves. A misty breeze kept the warmth bearable. A large sun hat shaded her eyes and shoulders. Overall, she felt quite comfortable—on the outside, at least. Inside, she had real qualms about this whole venture. The shifty characters piloting this boat hadn’t even introduced themselves. The yacht had arrived at the dock on schedule, with that persnickety waiter standing on board like Captain Stubing. Even he wouldn’t speak until Percy produced the cash. Then the yacht had motored them a good ways out, far from prying eyes. It all seemed so clandestine. So eerie. So…sinister.
And now, just being there made Ida an accomplice.
Great, Percy. Just great. You know, Mother told me not to marry you. Said you gave off a bad smell. And stupid me, I told her that was just your cheap cologne. But she knew. She knew you’d turn out to be shady. I knew it, too, I guess. Just didn’t want to admit that I’d made a mistake. God, I was young…Munching a cracker, Ida laughed at the joke her life had become.
Sure, you were no Casanova…but you weren’t Charles Manson, either. I knew the kind of man you were. I also knew when your daddy gave you that second rate tow service you’d find a way to make it work. That’s what turned me on. Your under-the-table, under-the-hood, under-the-covers know-how. If I were going to care about morality, I should’ve cared then, not now. But I didn’t. Hell, I even helped you fix the books. Did it for more years than I care to remember.
“Hey, Ida. Sure you don’t want a bite?”
From the corner of her eye, Ida glimpsed Percy’s fork. A thick chunk rested on the tines. Her stomach clenched as she shook her head.
“All righty. Just being polite, you know.”
Yeah, I know. That’s always your way, isn’t it? Humor. Just laugh it off. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let the other guy sweat, just so long as he doesn’t know you’re taking him for everything he’s got.
Sighing, Ida reached for another cracker.
Really, Percy. You think I don’t know how you cheated all those poor slobs? How you skimmed off the top? You think I don’t know about those other women?
“Mmmm! God! This is so good, I could eat it every damn day for a year before I got tired of it! You believe that, Ida?”
Oh, I believe it. Enjoy it, you bastard. Just like you enjoyed Tammy, Rita, Brandy, Chelsea—
“Maybe I can import some from Japan, huh?”
—Carla, Winnie, Sheila, Ann, Michelle—
“What’s the matter, Long Legs? Not talking to me anymore?”
Long Legs. Ida hated that nickname, and Percy knew it. Glancing over, she rolled her eyes. Percy hated that, and Ida knew it.
“Spoilsport,” he grumbled.
Oh, no, Percy. I’ve been anything but a spoilsport all these years. I let you have your women only because I knew you didn’t love them. And I was right. Where are they now? Maybe they all got to ride on your lap, but they didn’t get your bank account. So I turned the other cheek and sold my soul for all the clothes and comfort of this so-called ‘good life.’ Woe is poor Ida Marie Humboldt.
“Oh, my God! I’ve got it, Ida! I’ve really got it!”
Yeah, you’ve got it, all right. “What, Percy?”
Percy grinned, glanced around. “Wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t it be lucky if some dolphins swam by right about now?”
Reaching for her wine, Ida gasped. “Percy! You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?”
Percy nodded. “Come on, Ida. Just a little piece. Just to see if they’d, you know—”
“Eat their own kind?”
Still grinning, Percy shrugged.
“So. It’s not enough that you eat the poor thing, you have to see whether or not they’re cannibals? That’s disgusting!”
“No, don’t ‘look, Ida’ me! Just eat your sickening ‘meal of a lifetime,’ and let’s go home!”
Smoldering, Ida turned away. Percy, dabbing his neck with a napkin, belched and reached for his beer. After draining it, he set the glass down, glanced at Ida, and sighed. “Okay, Ida. You win. I was outta line before, and I apologize. It took a lot of time and money to set this up. It means a lot to me, Angel Cakes. I just didn’t know it’d bother you so much…”
Ida stiffened. Angel Cakes. That’s what he’d called her on their first date. She loved that nickname, and Percy knew it. And it’s no goddamn fair. That’s his ace-in-the-hole when he wants to apologize. And I always let him get away with it. “Look, Percy…how about we just get through this catastrophe, and call it a day.”
“Catastrophe?” Percy reached out to her. “Hey, don’t say that. This ain’t no catastro—”
Something struck the yacht, hard, from underneath. Something big enough to lift the entire vessel off the water. It splashed down—THUNK!—and everything shuddered. Gripping the table, Ida gaped at Percy with wide, questioning eyes. “What in hell was that, Percy?”
“Sweet whistling Christ, I don’t know!”
Ida heard frantic footsteps approaching, turned to the dark stairway. Within moments, the waiter appeared, looking very agitated. “See here! What’s the trouble on deck?”
“Felt like something rammed us,” Percy replied.
“What genius!” the waiter snapped, shading his eyes, turning in a slow circle. “Did you see anything?”
“What?” Ida said, responding to his sarcasm.
“Did you worthless plebeians see anything?”
“Worthless plebe—?” Percy coughed, threw down his fork. “You’re lucky I don’t twist your head off, pal! Talking to my wife like that!”
Ida thrust out her chin. “Yeah, you got some nerve, you rude son-of-a-bit—”
“Shut up. Both of you.”
But Ida refused. “What is it? What do you see?”
“Look for yourself, Madam.”
Following the waiter’s gaze, Ida looked into the shimmering waves and stiffened. Several yards out, eight dorsal fins sliced through the water. Heading straight toward them. She nudged Percy, and he turned in his seat.
“Oh, shit! Are those sharks, or what?”
“Dolphins?” Ida pushed to her feet.
“Yes. Dolphins. Just like the one your husband’s eatin—”
An enormous black shape sprang up from under the prow, shrieking—“Ee!”—as it flew through the air.
“Percy!” Ida screamed, grabbing her husband. The crunched prow rose high from the impact, sending her flying toward the stern. Mid-air, the yacht tipped, and slammed down on its side—THWAP!—as the black shape completed its arc. The vessel bobbed and capsized, and Ida fell screaming into the sea.
Oh, my God!
The sudden cold made her heart skip a beat, then her entire body went numb. Panicked, she opened her eyes, ignoring the sting. She looked up, down, all around for Percy as she swam beneath the yacht’s shadow. He also seemed panicked, thrashing his way toward the surface. Beneath her, the black shape sounded, rolled, and shot upward.
Ida surfaced just before Percy. Hearing his gasps, she jerked toward him.
“Ida!” he shouted, head whipping back and forth. “Ida, where are you?”
“Here, Percy!” Ida swam toward him. With no sunhat, her gray hair hung in a wet blob next to her face. “I’m here!”
“Oh, thank God!”
Ida glided into her husband’s arms and kissed his clammy lips. Percy held her close as they floated in the Atlantic. The yacht’s keel now loomed above them, tipping to and fro with each wave.
“Where’s the waiter?” Ida shivered in her husband’s embrace.
“I don’t know, Angel Cakes.”
“What about everyone else? The pilot, the chef?”
“Dead, most likely. Trapped in the galley or wherever.”
“Shit, what are we going to do?”
Nodding, Percy kissed her cheek. “That’s easy. Just got to catch my breath…then we’re going to swim over…and—”
A sudden splash interrupted, followed by a hoarse grunt. Ida turned, saw the waiter near the yacht’s prow. Something dark and slimy had slithered around his face. Not a snake, she realized, but a tentacle; strangling him as he sank into the abyss.
“Percy…what’s happening here?”
“I don’t have a clue, Angel Cakes, but I sure wish I—”
Ida flinched as the black shape burst from the waves. As if performing, it spun, exposing its white underbelly before flopping down upon the keel. The impact drove the yacht ever downward, almost beneath the water, and the creature slid forward, slipping back into its home.
“Good God! That’s a whale, Ida!”
Ida exhaled. “An orca. That’s what that is. But orcas don’t—attack—boats—”
Percy jerked, rousing Ida’s attention. She looked from the wreck and did a double take at the strange sight. A circle of dolphins now surrounded them. Each upright in the water, mouth open as if waiting to be fed. Clicking and squeaking in their peculiar language. Looking into their opaque eyes, Ida smiled.
“I’m sorry, Ida. I’m so sorry…”
Ida grimaced at Percy. “Sorry for what? Look, we’re going to be fine. Dolphins definitely won’t hurt us. They’re probably just trying to keep that insane whale away.”
Percy shook his head, released her. “They’re not going to hurt you, Ida. It’s me they want.”
“Are you crazy?” Ida refused to budge. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Yes. Ida, let go. You have to.”
“No! I don’t want to let go! I’m not going to let you drown, goddamnit!”
“Yes!” Jaw clenched, Percy shoved Ida with all his strength.
A dolphin appeared in front of Ida, pressing against her. Another swam toward Percy, ramming its snout into his thick belly. “Oomph!”
Face bunched, Percy doubled over, bobbing up and down.
“NOOO!” Ida screamed, slapping and scratching the dolphin. Two more swam over, each nuzzling her side like affectionate puppies. “Get off me, you overgrown tuna!”
Still, the dolphins continued to batter her husband, striking his right flank and lower back. Helpless, she watched Percy convulse with each blow, blood spurting from his mouth. “Stop it!” Bawling now, Ida ceased pushing and scratching. “Please! You’re killing him!”
More dolphins flocked around her, guiding her further and further away. Then she saw it. Up ahead and moving fast. A gray dorsal fin, attached to an underwater threshing machine.
“No! Percy! Leave him alone, you bastard! Leave…him…alone…” Now hugging the dolphins, Ida allowed them to spin her around. Being merciful, she realized. Don’t want me to see Percy getting mangled.
Thus, with a dolphin tucked under each arm, Ida kicked toward the beach. It took a long time, but the dolphins never left her side. Eyes closed, she felt the cool spray against her face and dreamed of returning to Cleveland. Barring any surprises, the junkyard, the condo, the Mercedes would all revert to her name. She planned to sell everything and forget that she’d ever known and loved Percy Humboldt.
Dear Lord…just lead me on home…where I’ll never stray again.
With sand in sight, the dolphins clicked and swam from her side, still leaving quite a trek. At sixty-one, it’d be a tough swim. But they’d carried her a long way, she supposed, and now she had to do her share. “Bye, fellas. Thanks for the lift.”
Clicking and leaping, they paid no mind. But the old woman waved, anyway; sad to see them go.
Alright, Ida. Time to get moving.
It seemed like forever, but she made it. Straining for breath, shoulders burning, hips knotted, her shoes scraped the sandy shelf, and Ida collapsed, floating face down as if she’d drowned. But she hadn’t.
“Aha!” she shouted, walking on her tiptoes until the waterline receded to her chest. “I did it!”
No one on the beach seemed to notice. Not that Ida cared. Dragging herself from the unforgiving ocean, the bedraggled woman lurched onto the beach and sat down with a heavy sigh. Her heart sputtered, her body ached, but still, she smiled. Beneath the hot midday sun, Ida smiled. She smiled because she’d been given a second chance. A chance to find her own happiness. And without Percy, she just might succeed.
“And that,” Ida said, laughing, “is worth more than your lousy three grand, Percy! A hell of a lot more!” Chortling, she pressed her hands to her face. “Bet your sweet ass on that!”
Now people began to notice. Nudging each other. Nervous glances. Concerned stares at the giddy old lady who’d gone swimming in a Lane Bryant dress and Prada shoes. Not that Ida cared.
“Sorry I ruined your last meal, Mr. Humboldt!”
Along with the stares, the laughter continued. When her clothes had dried, the former Mrs. Humboldt rose, wiped the sand from her behind, and began her life anew. Smiling the entire time.
Jesse Lynn Rucilez was born in Reno, Nevada. Growing up, Jesse was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and Marvel Comics, and had a knack for putting his thoughts into words. Throughout his life, Jesse has mainly worked in the security industry, both in Seattle, Washington and Reno, and taught self-defense for several years before deciding to focus on his writing. Inspired by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut, he prefers to write literary horror and science fiction, exploring what he
calls “the dark side of the American Dream.” Jesse plans to continue working, and has several novels planned within the next few years. Aside from writing, Jesse’s hobbies include collecting movies, 80s and 90s era comic books, and perusing used book stores for interesting literature.