The Captain's Ship

Natalie grabbed a handful of stove top popcorn and shoved it into her mouth. Popcorn always tasted better in two big mouthfuls. She lay lengthwise with her feet on Collin’s lap at the other end of the couch. He kneed into her arch with his knuckles, holding her ankle with his other hand. The last twenty minutes of the film was the ship’s slow dissent below the surface of the water. The crew men watched from the life boats in the ocean, with knowing eyes that their captain was long gone, alone and proud. 

It’s so dumb, he said. Why does the captain always have to go down with his ship? They literally had to fit one more person on the life boat. Totally do-able.

I think it’s beautiful, Natalie said. To die with honour.

The screen went black and the credits began to roll.

It’s beautiful until the ship starts to sink and the water is freezing and he slowly runs out of breath and his lungs fill with water and he dies a slow and painful death alone. But, beautiful, sure, that works too.

A handful of popcorn flew across the couch and at Collin’s head.

Hey, he laughed and pulled her by the ankles so he was on top of her and she was under him, the bowl of popcorn fell onto the carpet. Their eyes were fixated on one another, the only light was from the TV screen, the only sound the music as the credits rolled and their soft but heavy breathing.

You only say that because you don’t have something you care enough about, Natalie said.

The small space that was between them now grew wider and Collin sat up, pushing her feet away from him.

I don’t think wanting to die for someone unnecessarily is romantic. It’s stupid and glorified.

You’re stupid and glorified.

He rolled his eyes, Really, Nat?

Come on, she said. It’s true. There’s literally not one thing in your life that you could say you feel as passionately about as the captain does his ship. It’s his life work. His home. It’s so part of who he is that no matter if there’s the possibility of his own survival, he can’t go on without it. It’s more than just duty, it’s devotion.

It’s a toxic relationship if you ask me.

Natalie hit the power button on the remote and the room went dark.

You really don’t, do you?

Don’t what?

Don’t relate at all. Can’t you see that it’s like people fighting for a cause, it’s the same as people who care about something outside of themselves and their own lives.

Maybe that’s because they’re not really happy with their own lives. Look, Nat, cut the bullshit captain-ship metaphor, okay? Do you really believe I love you less because I don’t want to sacrifice my life for you?

She was quiet, pulled her knees up to her chest and looked away at the black TV screen. Their eyes had now adjusted to the dark, she could see him looking at her but she couldn’t bring her gaze toward him.

I didn't mean just that. But okay, so if I was dying and like needed your heart or something to live, she spoke quietly. Would you give it to me?

Would you want me to give it to you?

Well… no, but –

Exactly. Everyone wants the goddamn Romeo & Juliette story, but reality is they both could’ve lived full, happy lives but got so caught up in the romantic notion of self-sacrifice for love as if there’s this one other person who is the only thing keeping you going. And sorry for lack of a better word but it’s bullshit. 

The room fell silent in the way it does after a loud applause, only no one was cheering. Natalie let her knees fall away from her and she picked up what she could of the popcorn that was strewn across the carpet. 

Aren't you going to say anything? Collin asked. 

Here, she handed him the bowl of popcorn, then curled up against him. This is the best kind, stove top with olive oil and sea salt. She grabbed his arms and pulled them around her. What do you want to watch next? How about some stand up? I'm in the mood for something comedic. 

She turned the TV back on and flicked through the channels. Collin held Natalie and tugged her in closer, at the same time he grabbed a handful of popcorn. It really is better on the stove top, he thought. He watched as Natalie looked forward at the screen, her brown hair tucked behind one ear, one hand rested on his inner thigh. There was nothing drastic happening in this moment, but Collin thought about how he might not mind so much if the credits began to roll right then, soft music playing as he and Natalie lay on the couch together for the rest of the night, each taking large handfuls of popcorn. There was no sinking ship; but even if there was, he wouldn't be standing by a cause alone.