A few minutes later, the boat’s PA announced, “We have cleared the Spore Zone and will now commence exterior decontamination.”
The SS Birmingham was equipped with hundreds of sprayers, which began to cover the entire outside of the boat with a potent, de-molding liquid. Just like in Graham’s office back at HQ, a green liquid covered the bridge’s windows. After a couple of minutes, the sprayers produced a rinsing agent, and the green hue disappeared. “Decontamination complete,” the PA announced. “Exterior doorways unlocked. All hands may now exit the sealed area.”
“It’s nice to be clean,” Captain Sherwood said.
The fog was still very thick, but just then, Graham saw Peggy Lee walk out onto the deck. He decided to join her.
At the bottom of the stairs, a short hallway led to the deck door. Along the side of the hallway, yellow and red raingear hung from hooks. Graham grabbed a yellow, full-length coat, opened the door, and stepped into the warm, thick outside air.
Through the fog, he spotted Peggy Lee. She was leaning against the rail at the side of the boat, looking out into the gray emptiness as it flowed by the boat. She had helped herself to a red raincoat, but had left the hood down. Her hair was soaked and lay flat against her head. Her head was tilted up – a challenge to the foggy breeze. He could not see her full face, just her ear and the very edge of her cheek, such a fine line cutting down towards her perfect chin. He stood stock still, frozen by her beauty. He noticed one of her hands clasping the rail. Her fingers were slender, but every part of her conveyed strength and grace.
Then Graham saw that one of her feet was tapping ever-so-slightly on the wet metal of the deck floor. She was waiting, waiting to get going, waiting to start the story, waiting to see the facilities . . . or perhaps she was waiting for him. He desperately wanted her to turn around. He wanted to see her face though the fog, to see her smile at him.
And then she did.
She caught him watching her. He was immediately embarrassed, but she didn’t seem to care. She smiled and waved.
As he approached, he noticed a rippling undercurrent of sadness in her eyes, but then it disappeared. Would he ever know her well enough to ask her about those moments – or even to understand her thoughts without explanation?
Her forehead and cheeks were covered in tiny beads of water. As he reached the handrail, a rivulet of water ran between her eyebrows, down past the side of her nose and onto her lips. She licked it with the tip of her tongue. “Tastes sweet,” she said.
“I’m glad that you are enjoying your free sample. The next one will cost you.”
“It’s lovely water, Graham. It truly is,” Peggy Lee responded.