Three Maids in a Tub by Nathan Burrows is a short story about a bunch of underperformers, a group of people who probably couldn’t figure out their potential let alone live up to it. They don’t seem to have any expectations other than getting through the day. The main objective of each day for most characters is to find enough alcohol of any kind to make themselves numb to all that might happen in the passing day.
We first meet Luke Vincent, “Lucky Luke,” so called because he has never been called out once to react to an emergency in any form while working to man and stand watch for the Cromer Lifeboat Volunteers. Despite rotating shifts, he had not been called out once in three years. Life was boring in Cromer, but no one seemed to want to do anything other than fish, play cards, and make sure no one drowned in the sea near Cromer.
Twenty miles south of Cromer, in Norwich, Emily and Catherine share a flat while watching life pass by. Emily has a job as an Inspector at the Food Standards Agency but is currently under suspension for denying a restaurant’s ability to operate due to a rat infestation. The owner was appealing the ruling. Emily lounges around the flat all day while receiving full pay and Catherine is a bit jealous. It is the weekend. A letter arrives for Catherine from one of her many former lovers du jour inviting the pair of them to go on a cruise. Jack has reserved a suite for them on his cruise ship. Initially reluctant to go, Emily finally agrees to accompany Catherine. Emily is not looking for any new sexual adventures as she is loyal to her fiancé in Amsterdam. Catherine looks for new adventures daily and has been banned from local hotels and motels due to the suspicion she is a working girl. Catherine could comfortably wear the label of a sex addict.
This short story now turns to a character study told with generous helpings of humor, some of it dark, and absurdity. The cruise ship turns out to be not much more than a medium sized tramp steamer liberally decorated with rust spots. The reserved suite has a bed, and room for another person to stand if they stand or sit in or on the toilet. Other cruise ship guests are Amanda, a possible lesbian in preference to her non-performing husband, the Colonel. The Colonel’s title is self-awarded, his actual name is Steve, a local postman, which doesn’t stop him from telling fantastic war stories. Jack, the past lover of Catherine, is no more than a deckhand on the steamer. Occasionally, the Captain would let Jack pilot the boat, but only when it was on autopilot. The Captain liked the autopilot feature a lot as the Captain was usually drunk.
Emily spends a lot of time on the boat nauseous and either vomiting or defecating. This became a problem as the onboard toilets were unable to cope with Emily’s prodigious output. Catherine spent most of the time finding inventive ways and places to have sex with Jack. Once Jack provided Amanda with chemical stimulants for Steve the colonel, Amanda and Steve recovered and practiced their new-found sex life and Amanda gave up being a lesbian. Eventually, and the reader may be surprised at how long it took given the description of the boat, there would be a crisis. The Captain, overcome with grief at the loss of Mrs. Slocombe, died. No one knew how to pilot or operate the boat. No one knew what to do with the non-English speaking refugees. Emily was running out of wet wipes.
This is an interesting, funny, 140-page short read with dark and scatological humor. I give it four Amazon stars. This is a very British story with some unfamiliar vocabulary and several phrases unusual to a reader from the US.