All That We Dreamt ~ On Fire
1. Connor Rylan
On a rugged bit of coast, close to the imaginary line between Maine and New Brunswick, in a weathered ‘cabin’ on a solid bit of rock, maybe too close to thirty foot drop to a rocky shoreline below – at low tide – but it had a nice solid deck with a nice solid railing (and a secure looking walkway with two secure looking railings down to a floating dock- He sat out on the deck on a damp, breezy late May evening, enjoying the cool dampness, enjoying a sunset whose colours and unexpected beauty approached ‘magical’.
He sat on an old style chaise lounge with a tubular metal frame, wheels in the back and a ‘hand brake’ lever on the right side. He remembered sanding and painting the frame with a very shiny coat of very blue rust-suppressing paint. He’d had to scour through junk shops and antique stores to find the springs that supported the futon mattress inside the blue and grey weatherproof mattress cover. He was wrapped in a fleece blanket that boasted a decent depiction of wolves on a pure white background. In his hand he had a paper cup of take-out coffee from a famous donut chain.
He’d just repaired a sign that had blown down in a wicked storm last month and was half admiring the fact that he’d painted it himself and did a pretty darned good job of not making a real mess.
“Connor Rylan / Photographer / honest work reasonable prices” with “Photographer” dominating the sign in fancy script letters. A friend had carved and stained and painted and finished the sign and did a fantastic job. She was a heck of an artist. But the winds, ice pellets (sleet) snow, freezing rain, and sand kicked up by the storm had nearly sanded the sign back to a plain piece of wood.
A crow landed on the edge of the railing and cocked his (or her?) head sideways, as if giving the sign a critical appraisal.
Connor shrugged, “I have half a mind to put that sign inside where it can’t get wrecked.-” (The artist friend had married, divorced, remarried and moved to New Mexico. – Which wasn’t quite as far away as she could have moved and still been in the same country- Arizona was between New Mexico and California, and then California was between Arizona and the Pacific Ocean. He wondered if Alaska was farther away and for maybe the hundredth time in the last few months, made a mental note to look that up on his computer. Trouble was- any time he sat down at the computer he got distracted and spent hours looking up and grumbling about and searching for everything but what he had intended to look for when he sat down.)
The crow made a rasping “Caw”, possibly scolding him for the boring slide show of pictures that rolled through his mind. He was beginning to think that animals, especially dogs and cats, could see what he was visualizing and maybe that’s why animals had always liked him so much.
Connor sighed again, “So- do you think I should give up and not even try to make a go of this business? Maybe get a ‘real job’?”
The crow complained almost violently and flew away.
Connor turned to gaze out at the sea (past the tiny rocky islands) and saw a very dark rain storm coming his way. He turned to where the crow had been and, “Thanks- I might even stay dry-“
He clamped the lid on the coffee cup, got up, grabbed the sign, placed that on the chaise lounge. covered it with the blanket, unlocked the hand brake, grabbed the coffee in one hand and tipped the lounge up with the other, and backed to the patio door, which he was able to push open with a practiced move and a reasonable strong arm, and highly practiced elbow-
The lounge was a safe distance inside, his hand was free, he slid the door closed before a very loud crash of rain hit the shatter resistant glass and made the world outside look like a decent impressionist painting.
This would be the last Thursday in May. A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder gave him the idea that it might be a good idea to go sit at the table with the radio and the flashlights ready.
Yes, he lost electricity. Yes the phone still had a dial tone. Yes, the flashlight worked.
The storm had faded away to a constant line of dripping excess water that had missed the inside of the rain gutter and/or preferred to slide down the outside of that gutter…
The lights were still out. The phone still had a dial tone. He could almost see a little bit of detail outside, as he carried the corded phone (with the very long cord) to the couch, retrieved his blanket from the lounge, flopped on the couch, sighed in the dark and waited.
The phone rang. The lights were back on. The wind-up clock near him claimed it was about 9:15 pm.
“Hello? Is this Connor Rylan?” a woman’s voice asked, there were notes of a practiced ‘no-nonsense professionalism’ in the undertones.
“Yes, that’s me-“
“Hi Connor, I’m glad I caught you- This is Mrs. Strickland, the principal at the Ethan Carson elementary school, you might remember me as your niece, Emily’s second grade teacher?”
He nodded, “Okay- I thought you sounded familiar, maybe a little more official than I expected.” He wondered if the graduating class photographs had disappeared in a catastrophic hard drive failure or something like that.
“Um-” she sounded like she was about to ask for a monumental favour – he winced, “Are you doing anything Saturday?”
“The day after tomorrow- Saturday?”
“Yes, that Saturday-” she sounded like she was about to laugh or cry.
“Um, I hope I don’t regret this, but no, as a matter of fact I’m free and unscheduled all weekend.”
“Um, well, that’s good, I hope- You see this is a real emergency- It’s a long and complicated story- but I’ll cut to the chase here- we need one more adult to come along with about fifty students in grades 4, 5, and six- A friend of a friend knows somebody whose business is a whale watch service- They have a brand new boat and they’ve offered us a tour, for almost nothing- as you can imagine, we had a lot of parents volunteer to come along with us. But two families have come down with the flu, and I’ve called every one on our list of parents, and in your case, relatives- of students and former students who are still okayed to go with us on a trip like this- And I probably shouldn’t make you feel bad by telling you that you’re the absolute last person on this list and if you can’t make it there will be fifty students and several parents who will be quite disappointed.”
“Uht-oh, sounds like I’d be run out of town on a rail if I said no-“
“Is Emily still anywhere around here- you could bring her-“
“No- After her father died her aunt adopted her and moved her a whole lot closer to Boston.”
“But can you make it? The ticket is already paid for, the food is already paid for. The parking is free and you might even be able to get some marvelous photographs out there-“
He nodded, slowly, with nothing like enthusiasm lighting up his face, “Yes- Give me all the details…”
2. Saturday Morning
Connor was outside the locked gate at the Whale Watch pier early. About half an hour earlier than he needed to be. His van was six years old, but it was paid for. His cameras were not the latest and greatest ‘must have’ equipment, but everything was paid for and insured. He set one gimmicky camera on his dashboard, pushed the button and began to record in HD on a 16 GB memory card. He had two of those. Two ‘GoPro’ cameras with 16 GB cards. The one that he’d just finished charging overnight was locked up in a camera bag in a hidden compartment in the van – which was also locked up tight. He got up, stepped out of the van and walked around with two digital cameras – one around his neck, one in a smaller – more compact case clipped to his belt, and a ‘smart phone’ in a pocket just in case.
There were three ships tied up to the pier, on the other side of the locked gate. One of them was really impressive, looked brand new. He took several shots through the gate and the fence and turned around in time to see two vehicles approaching. A large navy blue pickup with a quad cab and the name of the Whale Watch Company Dazzlingly printed on the side doors, and a smallish white, brand new, spiffy, near the top of the line Toyota.
The pickup zoomed right into the parking spot marked “Reserved for Captain Findley.” The driver (Wearing a Sea Captain’s Uniform, a Sea Captain’s beard and a Sea Captain’s hat) stepped out and three more doors opened, three or four other, younger, beardless, gentlemen jumped out and scurried around, one went right to the gate and unlocked it while the three or four year old Toyota was still backing into a parking spot.
Mrs. Strickland, her hair a bit lighter grey than he remembered it, stepped out of the Toyota’s driver’s door and a dark haired young woman stepped out, turned around and then backed out of the passenger’s door.
Connor walked to his van, unlocked it with the remote keyless key, pulled one side door open and began grabbing the tripods and camera bags from their obvious and hidden places.
He heard Mrs. Strickland’s upscale cross-trainers crunching gravel and turned around. The young woman, who looked like she could be fretting over final exams at a college or university, was a couple steps behind Mrs. Strickland.
“Hello Connor, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you could help us make this dream come true for so many of our students. Did you ever meet Drusien Johnston? She was one of our students, a couple years ahead of Emily- I don’t know if she left before your time or not-“
“Who?” The young woman with the long, straight dark hair looked like somebody you wouldn’t forget- tall, thin, skin just a bit pale, but very clear- brown eyes- Not dressed in the flashiest or latest anything- but attractive enough-
“Dru-Seen- Like Dru Barrymore being spotted somewhere, but that’s not the way she spells it-“
‘Dru-Seen’ gave them a somewhat bored, skeptical glance
Connor, for once, did not feel self conscious as he almost stared at the young woman, who tipped her head to one side and squinted slightly in the morning sunlight. He Shrugged- shook his head, “I don’t think so-“
Mrs. Strickland almost sighed, nodded, “Well, Connor, this is Drusien, Drusien, this is Connor. She was the last person I was able to recruit before I called you last Thursday. You’re both life savers here…”
Drusien shook her head with a nearly tolerant smirk as Mrs. Strickland turned and hurried toward the approaching Captain Findley. Drusien then turned and walked after the greying woman.
Mrs. Strickland, as it turned out, turned and followed the Captain back toward Connor. Drusien looked bored and headed for the gate.
Captain Findley’s eyes were registering, ‘Brainstorm’ as he extended his hand, “-Captain Findley, here-“
Mrs. Strickland caught up to them before Connor had a chance to introduce himself, “Captain Findley, this is Connor Rylan, One of our last minute chaperones.”
The Captain pointed at the tripods and the cameras around Connor’s neck and the case that said “Olympus” hanging from his belt, “You’re a photographer?”
Connor grinned, looked like he was trying to think of a snappy line, but just nodded, “I’ve been just about supporting myself here in God’s country as a photographer for maybe ten years now.”
The Captain nodded, “Maybe we can get some good shots with me and the crew, me and the ship, the students et cetera, I’d be able to pay you for anything that might help our business here. Maybe help both of our businesses-“
Connor nodded, tried to look enthusiastic as the Captain let go of his hand, turned around, “Well, I’ve got to get aboard and make ready for the two busloads of young ones who should be here in ten minutes or so…” He waved, kind of half behind his back as he walked away.
And Mrs. Strickland was following along behind, looking frustrated and trying to keep up with him again.
Connor had heard similar lines from enthusiastic people who wanted free photos to promote their businesses, which they hoped would make them instant millionaires. He finished stacking the stuff he thought he would need on the ground beside the van, pushed the button that made a cute little honk to tell him the horn had worked, then he closed the door and gave it a yank to make sure the horn wasn’t lying and the van really was locked. He leaned down, picked up his stuff and lugged it toward the gate, where Drusien, now wearing dark glasses, was taking snapshots with her own smart phone.
The morning was cool (fifty degrees Fahrenheit / ten Celsius when he left his cabin) Drusien was wearing form fitting jeans and a dark blue windbreaker over a chocolate brown cotton blouse. She was wearing a pair of worn blue ‘dockers’ without socks. A bit on the thin side, but not frighteningly so- she was almost strikingly good looking-
Connor was wondering why something about her looked slightly out of place as he stepped past her.
She spun around, “Good answer-“
He stopped and turned around.
“Or do you really not remember me-“
An image of a thin young girl, a couple years older than his niece, formed somewhere in his memory and began to clear itself and take definite form- “Kaitlyn?”
She smiled, and might have accidentally taken a photo of his shocked expression, “Drusien was my middle name. I think it’s Lithuanian. It was my great grandmother’s name. Johnston was my grandmother’s maiden name. I’ve been back through town with my grandmother a couple times, almost nobody remembers that other me ever existed, which is good- and if anybody says anything like, ‘You remind me of somebody-‘ I usually make some rude noise and look disgusted and say, ‘Yeah, I get that a lot, everywhere I go-‘. “
He sighed, “”his is probably one hell of a stupid question, but how are you doing?”
She winced and shook her head, “I’m living for the day I can get the hell out from under my mother’s shadow.”
An image of a snarling, fat, half-drunk woman leering at him from the doorway when he and Emily walked Kaitlyn home one evening after the school bus was late, made him shudder.
“I would have run away years ago, but then there would be nobody to look out for my brother.”
“How’s he doing?”
She sort of shrugged and nodded at the same time, “Not bad- well, today he’s sick, staying at our grandmother’s I think he gives himself hives thinking he might have to actually spend another weekend with mom.”
“I don’t think I want to know how your mother is-“
“Drunk-” Drusien nodded, threw up her hands, “As long as she can find some money somewhere that she doesn’t have to spend on her kids, it goes to the liquor store.”
She took a couple more snapshots of something. He realized the boat they were heading for was the really nice new one, down at the far end of the pier.
Seagulls squealed and Connor could almost read the headlines in the air over the metallic silver reflected on the surface of the harbor as the sun slipped behind a high cloud. The newspaper from – what? five? years ago? ‘Local man suicide after being charged with child molestation.’
“My mother shot my father, you know- He didn’t kill himself-” She turned her head toward him as they walked, in a very uncharacteristic look of helplessness, “I heard the gunshot, I ran to the window, I looked in and she was putting the gun in his hand like she wanted to make sure his fingerprints were on it. Then she shot it again, Held the gun in his hand and pulled the trigger with the gun aimed at the kitchen garbage can. I mean, she could have shot me or my brother while she was doing that. She didn’t care. She was wearing a heavy rain coat and gloves. When I came in through the front door, she had the raincoat and gloves in her hand and she looked shocked that I was there. I had told her that morning that we only had half a day of school. I had started to know what she was like when she was drunk, she said, “Oh, Jesus, your father just shot himself- No- No- don’t go in there, you should never see something like that-” and then she turned around and looked at him and screamed herself. Then she pushed me out of the house and dragged me next door where she stood there and shrieked, “Call the police, my husband just shot himself. Didn’t you hear it? He shot his fuckin worthless self-” And she was out of her mind screaming, not because she was upset by finding him like that, but because she was pissed off that nobody was jumping to do what she wanted them to do. Then she went back in a got a bottle of his favourite whisky and poured half of it over her head and sat down on the stoop, rubbing her eyes until they were good and red and she did her best crying act. After the cops were finished and we were supposed to be safe at a friend’s house, she snuck back in the back door and grabbed the raincoat and gloves and drove to the dump where she started a fire in a garbage can and threw the gloves and raincoat on top of that when the flames were good and hot.
“After they found powder burns on my father’s arm they never thought to test her. Something might have gotten past the gloves and the raincoat…”
The boat was looming closer as he almost forgot he was walking toward it, gawd, what do you say to something like that?
“If anybody asks, I was trying to get some pointers from you about how to take wonderful photos-” She showed him the viewfinder screen on her smart phone. There was a grid in front of everything else in the picture, “You showed me this tic tac toe screen and told me to get the most important parts of what I want to photograph on those lines where they cross, top or bottom, left or right. And I said, ‘oh, cool, let me try that’.” She walked away on the pier, looking for subjects to photograph.
He sighed and looked up, he’d reached the boat. There was a wide aluminum boarding ramp with solid aluminum walls and strong looking aluminum rails and uprights. There was a guy in a uniform standing at the other end of the ramp. Someone he hadn’t seen before, a kind of slender guy with dark hair and a dark beard. The beard was not as full as the Captain’s.
“Am I supposed to ask permission to come aboard?”
The guy at the other end of the ramp grinned, “You must be the photographer they warned me about.” He waved for Connor to come on aboard. Then he walked him through a door and around a corner and down a slight corridor to another door and into a large open room with lots of windows, and long benches (with a lot of bright orange and blue striped life jackets sitting on those benches). The benches were bolted or welded to the floor – facing the windows. More toward the middle of the room there were very white tables with swiveling seats, also bolted or welded to the floor, or both.
“Because today’s passengers are mostly kids, we’re asking them to wear their life jackets for the whole cruise, and you can use this nifty compartment to stow your cameras and tripods and things,” he pulled on a flat surface and that opened a now empty ‘compartment’ that had claimed it contained 30 life jackets. There was more than enough room inside to ‘stow’ Conner’s cameras and stuff.
The man had two lanyards with a key each, around his neck, he checked to make sure they were identical and took one off, fitted the key into a lock, fitted the lock to a hasp and closed the lock, handed the lanyard and the key to Connor, “Should be good and safe in there, don’t ya think?”
Connor nodded, wondering whether this guy was trying to tell him not to take any photographs.
“Nathaniel Martell, first mate-” he offered his hand.
Connor shook it, “Connor Rylan, Photographer and Chaperone.”
“Glad to meet you- and no- you don’t have to keep your stuff locked up for the whole cruise. As a matter of fact I think the kids and the Captain have ideas that will keep you busy shooting pictures, I just wanted you to know you have a nice safe place where little hands can’t pick up expensive equipment and ooops- loose it overboard.”
The First Mate more or less bowed, “I have to get back to my station and play official greeter, the little monsters should be arriving any minute now.”
Connor grinned broadly, nodded, “Thanks again.”
The first mate sort of saluted, sort of bowed and walked away with a swagger.
Another uniformed man, this one with the beginnings of a blond beard, found Connor a couple minutes later, “The Captain would like to invite you to come on up to the bridge-” then he leaned forward and whispered, “Bring your cameras-“
A couple minutes later, after following this blond guy up a couple flights of stairs while carrying two tripods and with two more camera bags and a computer bag slung around his neck and under his shoulders, Connor was ushered into the high tech bridge. Everything was shiny-clean, the air felt extra clean and electrified.
The Captain was beaming with pride and generosity, “Welcome to the bridge- Connor was it?”
Connor nodded as he was setting up the first tripod.
“Did I see a dashboard camera in your van?” The Captain looked interested.
Connor finished adjusting that first tripod and reached into one of the camera bags that were weighing him down, threatening to choke him- pulled out the ‘GoPro’ camera that had been on his dashboard, “I’ve got this one set up with the square base and I have another one that is currently set up to wear on somebody’s head- One minor problem with these, is you get no viewfinder- you don’t really know what you’re getting until later, when you hook it up to a computer and download the video.”
“So these are video cameras?”
Connor climbed out of his camera bags and computer bag, opened the computer bag, pulled out a relatively new MacBook Pro and looked around for someplace to set it up. The blond guy caught the Captain’s signal and came to Connor’s aid, he pulled a keyboard shelf out of one console. (The shelf was about two feet deep, maybe two and a half feet wide, and had an edge that was about half an inch raised above the rest of the shelf, and it had what looked lilke a velcro square and velcro straps. Connor’s laptop fit there perfectly. The blond guy found a way to get the velcro straps around the edges of the laptop, so they might only interfere with the speakers, but maybe not, and they were secured in place and the computer didn’t even wiggle when he checked it. Yes, they had a 120-volt type outlet handy. Connor fished his external hard drive (with the orange rubberized edges that sat nicely and didn’t feel like it wanted to move anywhere as soon as it came into contact with the velcro square). The litte green light at the external power connection smiled and he fired up the laptop while he held the small camera up, slowly panned around the bridge, then turned it off, connected the USB cable and after the laptop was happily up and running, and the capture program said it was happy, he downloaded the two or three minute video of the bridge and played it back.
The Captain pointed, “Can you record in real time? And see what you’re recording?”
“With this one, yes.” Connor changed a couple settings, clicked the track pad a couple times and started another recording, with a window on the computer screen showing exactly what he was recording.
“So if I were to go out and get one of these cameras and hook it up to a laptop, I could pretty much record what we see from here for a whole cruise?”
“Depending on your settings, you could run out of memory on the laptop.”
“Can you connect it to a DVD recorder? Like you might with a security camera?”
“Yes, but again, depending on your settings, you might get a jumpy picture, one that saved every other line instead of the full HD 1080 pixels…”
The Captain pointed to the camera, “But you can set one of these up on a tripod, or similar stationary unit and then just swivel the camera around to, for instance, record a welcome speech, and then turn it back around to show the open water ahead.”
“-With a little bit of editing you can have yourself a nice little video or a long boring one. The audio capture is decent, under most conditions. One video I recorded had some kind of interference and sounded tinny and hollow-“
The Captain nodded thoughtfully, asked a couple more questions, then had the blond guy help Connor take the laptop and camera with its connections still intact and move it to the gangway, where they duct taped the camera to a post and the blond guy sat in a folding chair and held the laptop and hard drive while the external power pack was plugged into a socket that had it pretty much stretched as far as it would reach.
Mrs Strickland and another guy in uniform, this one with a blue tooth earpiece communicating with the bridge, arrived with a streaming set of ‘suggestions’ from the Captain.
This sent Connor, Mrs Strickland and the guy with the earpiece down the gangway as the buses pulled into the parking lot and began to unload their fifty excited kids and eight adults.
Mrs Strickland was under orders to stop the students at the bottom of the gangway and have one of them shout for permission to come aboard.
Connor, with the camera lashed to his forehead, sat crosslegged on the ground as the kids approached, then carefully moved, stood stooped over at just above the kids’ heads and swivelled to face the gangway and the First mate.
Mrs Strickland then shouted, “Halt- everybody stop, try not to move at all-” and turned toward Connor, waving frantically with her hand behind a student and hopefully out of the camera’s sight. Then she signalled and made a gesture with her fingers like scissors cutting something and pointed to her head and then him and the camera.
He managed to guess what she was trying to say and turned the camera off.
Mrs Strickland then ran to him, “We have a student with a little bit of modelling experience who wore one of those cameras for a special occassion at the modelling school she attends, and she’s taller than most of the students so we were thinking-“
Connor was actually rellieved and surrendered the camera without a fight. Their ‘fairly tall young female student who’d had some model training’ had her mother less than one step away, watching fiercely as Connor got the camera on the girl’s head and stepped back, checked to be sure the camera was turned on and smiled, nodded and signalled to Mrs Strickland. The girl’s mother then volunteered a running stream of ‘suggestions’, “Keep your head up, that’s right, you know how to walk-” until Connor cleared his throat, “That camera has a really good microphone and your drowning out everything she’s supposed to hear as they record this-”
The girl managed to keep her head stationary while her eyes moved and she grinned appreciatively in Connor’s direction.
The mother frowned and managed to remain silent as she walked beside, and a little behind her daughter all the way up the gangway in the middle of a bunch of students who were most likely to remain more or less under control, almost ‘orderly’.
Their young model/walking camera then followed the First Mate and managed to keep her posture close to perfect as the First Mate led them on a tour of the boat. The model’s mother walked near the model and reached out and touched the girl’s shoulder every couple minutes to remind her to remain steady and not say anything.
Connor and the blond guy carried the laptop and the other camera up to the bridge, where Drusien joined them, “Mrs Strickland asked if I wanted to help you with the video or other picture taking adventures,” Drusien smirked, but her eyes were sparkling.
They set the laptop up again on the pull-out shelf, plugged it back in, played back the sequence of the students being stopped and herded into a manageable chaotic state, they saw the group audition and choose one of their members to shout out for permission to come aboard and then begin to run up the gangway, stop short when a uniformed arm swung out toward their throats, groaned, trudged back, went through the entire process again and this time started up the gangway at a subdued, but enthusiastic pace.
They watched Connor and Mrs Strickland and the model’s mother fix the camera on the models head and had her take a few steps and make a few turns before they inserted her into the middle of probably the best behaved bunch of kids there- and watched until everybody had come aboard, with Mrs. Strickland, the blond guy, and Connor being the last to come aboard.
Connor showed them a bit about how easy it was to edit, made a copy of everything, opened the copy and closed the original, edited the false start up the gangway- The Captain called that the ‘the galloping charge of the golden horde-‘. Connor told them that a shot from the other end of the gangway could be inserted there so it wouldn’t look like anything had been cut out. The spokesman for the students could shout out, “Permission to come aboard, Sir?” The First Mate could be seen to smile down at them and answer, “Permission Granted!” and the students could then be seen to walk up the gangway.
The Captain looked like he was quick to grasp the finer points of editing, asked how much “Final Cut Pro” cost and then quickly changed the subject as soon as Connor told him.
The Captain smiled at Drusien and said, “You look like you would have been the girl with the camera on her head when you were that age.”
Drusien scowled, “Maybe- but the Modeling lessons or acting lessons would have taken too much out of my mother’s alcohol budget.” She stared at him.
He swallowed, looked away, shrugged toward the blond guy, then turned around again.
The Captain turned his head back to Connor, “Are there other editing programs out there?”
“Yes, but almost everybody in the business prefers Final Cut Pro over everything else.”
Connor and Drusien walked with the blond guy to a spot in the middle of the wide ‘compartment’ that was the bridge, began messing around with the black tape Connor pulled from his pocket and almost had the camera taped in place when the Captain cleared his throat and called out, “What do you think about this for a better spot for that camera?”
Connor tried not to wince, set his face to ‘neutral expression’ and turned toward the Captain.
Captain Findley had sent one of the junior officers out and the young guy had found a nice brass post with a wide base- the kind that used to be perfect for the red velvet ropes that dictated the path you could take through a bank’s lobby or a theater’s ticket queue. This thing had a swiveling top. It took Connor about thirty seconds to duct tape the camera in place and nod his head when the Captain asked if he could leave that camera on the bridge for the entire cruise. It took about another thirty seconds for Connor to realize that the blond guy knew almost as much about these cameras as he did himself.
As he walked away beside Drusien she whispered sideways, “Are you okay with them taking charge of your camera like that?”
Connor looked around, made sure there were no uniformed ‘sailors’ around and smiled in her direction, “As a matter of fact, I was thinking I would be out of my mind in five minutes if I thought I had to spend the whole day anywhere near that guy.”
Drusien laughed easily, “So it’s not just me- that guy really is a jerk?” She pulled her dark glasses back down in front of her eyes from where they had been safely out of the way on top of her head and pulled her hair back, slid the “Whale Watch” baseball type cap into place and spoke softly, carrying the set up tripod beside Connor, “I recognized a couple of the parents, I don’t think they’ll recognize me.”
Out on the ‘forward’ deck with its chairs welded in place (seats aimed to the left and right of straight ahead to optimize the view) Connor and Drusien caught up with the bulk of the students.
They set up the tripod and had small groups of students with their parents pose with the First Mate at an angle that showed the flying bridge in the background.
Drusien took several photos with her smart phone and looked like a professional photographer herself.
When the shots were all taken and most of the ‘Golden Horde’ had moved on, Connor was closing the tripod up into a smaller, more manageable configuration when a woman began walking right at him. He glanced sideways, then relaxed as he realized she was someone he used to talk to every morning at the bus stop while he was there to make sure nobody tortured Emily.
He was trying to remember the woman’s name as she came closer, then stepped right up next to him, “Connor- I haven’t seen you in-” then she winced, “Since your brother died. Oh, wow, I’m sorry.”
The woman had a very cute young student with her, probably a 4th grader, who wanted to know- “Can I see my picture that you took?”
Connor smiled, set the tripod down, with the camera now at almost the perfect height, “The picture will be really small-”
Drusien pulled out her smart phone, came down to the two of them and said, “You might be able to see yourself better on this.”
And the student smiled, peered more closely into Drusien’s phone, then compared the two side by side, “Can you send me a copy of this? Or do we have to pay for it?” the student asked.
“Give me a good email address and we can send it to you.”
“We have email now-” she glanced up at her mother.
Her mother was fumbling through a fanny pack, looking for a pen.
Connor had a lined pad of sticky note paper in his pocket, and two pens, “Blue or black?”
The woman chuckled and chose the pen with the blue ink, “Oh, the sun’s too bright here- can we step over into the shade?”
Connor nodded as he followed. The fourth grade student stayed with Drusien who was now sitting crosslegged on the deck, looking through all the photos Drusien had just taken. The girl pointed to most of the faces with comments like, “He’s cute- this one’s a real jerk-” and named most of her friends, usually with a smile on her face, “She’ll hate this picture-” or, “Yes, her mother will want copies of this one, if she offers you money, take it. My mom says they got really insulted when she tried to give them something they had offered to pay for, like maybe instead of being generous we were telling them we thought they were too poor to pay for it.”
The student’s mother stepped inside, into the shade, through what a landlubber would probably call an archway and began scribbling her email address on the sticky note, “That’s Kaitlyn, isn’t it?”
“Shhh- I don’t think Mrs. Strickland wants anybody to realize that.”
“She was such a good kid, I was even thinking of asking her to babysit for me-”
“Yeah, this must be the baby sister- she looks just like Gretchen-”
The mother nearly snorted, “Mackenzie- same cute, whole different set of issues, little miss perfect grew up into a snarling perfectionist and this one wanted to play spin the bottle at her seventh birthday party.”
Connor couldn’t help it, he shook his head while he managed to laugh pretty close to silently.
Mackenzie came hurrying to her mother and Connor, whispered, “I need the washroom-” while doing a little dance. The First Mate was walking their way, “Ladie’s room? That one’s busy, here, let me unlock this room,” he did, “This is a first class cabin with a private washroom, we call the washroom a ‘head’ aboard ship-” Mackenzie ran into the room, turned around, located the ‘head’ and ran inside, pulled the door closed behind her.
The First Mate handed the key to Connor, “Doesn’t have much of a view, but if anybody needs a private washroom, steer them in here-” Then he headed for the nearest ladder up to the bridge.
Mackenzie’s mother stepped into the first class cabin, It had a smallish ‘double bed’ a single bed, a small booth table that would fit four adults and a built-in seat that was almost the size of a ‘love seat’ – near a smallish porthole that had a view of the world beyond a bit of deck.
“This is pretty nice-” Mackenzie’s mother was genuinely impressed, “Hi, Kaitlyn-”
Connor turned in time to see Drusien’s jaw drop.
“I’m Drusien now. We moved, changed our names legally-”
Mackenzie’s mother nodded, “Your secret is safe with me- I’ve had a few of my own secrets lately.”
Drusien drew in a deeply relieved breath and sighed, came all the way into the room, “Gretchen should be, what? Sixteen years old now?”
Mackenzie and Gretchen’s mother nodded, “She wants very badly to drive, but she’s so terrified she’ll make a mistake she won’t let me okay the driving part of her Drivers’ Ed course. I think the driving teacher is also her History teacher.”
“You know what? You should have Connor take you and Gretchen out to the old mill and let her drive around there until she gets enough confidence.”
“Did he do that for you?”
“No- but way back before the fit hit the shan-” she grinned, “He let me and Emily go for a ride while he let one of their cousins drive there- She was so nervous she thought she was going to throw up- He sat beside her in the front with Emily and me in the back seat, and let her drive around for at least an hour- until she was pretty much over her panic behind the wheel. Looking back, I think he was one of the most patient and supportive driving coaches I could imagine.”
Mackenzie’s mother nodded, looked at the door to the washroom, whispered, “We never believed a word of that nonsense between your parents-”
Drusien closed her eyes and looked away, managed to regain her composure and glanced back, “My father never touched me- not that way, that was pure bullshit.”
“He didn’t seem the type to take his own life-”
“No- and he didn’t- my mother shot him in a drunken rage and got away with it.”
“How could you go on living with someone like that?”
“She had me convinced that I couldn’t go anywhere else. Nobody else would want me. I mean the only thing close to a boyfriend I ever had wouldn’t talk to me, he called me a whore in front of his friends and spit at me-” she was close to tears, “And I thought somebody had to stick around and protect my little brother.”
“That took a lot of strength-”
“And a whole lot of stupidity- I used to fall asleep crying every night wondering what would happen if the police found out she did it and took us away- maybe we’d get separated in different foster homes, either one or both of us might bet molested by foster parents or foster sisters and brothers…”
The washroom door opened and everybody changed their expressions, Mackenzie’s face peered around the edge of the washroom door, “Mom- There’s a sign that says don’t flush the toilet when they’re in port. Are we in port?”
“Does the door lock automatically when we leave?” Mackenzie’s mother asked.
“I don’t know- We can probably hang around outside the door until you’re finished in here.”
Mackenzie’s mother nodded, “I think we need to do that.”
Connor stepped out into the hall, still carrying his stuff. Drusien followed and closed the door behind her, then tried the handle- nodded, “It’s locked.”
Connor still had the key.
Drusien looked around, up and down, sighed and sort of collapsed back against the door with her eyes closed, “Mrs Strickland called after the electricity went out Thursday night- I told her the only way my mother would let me go is if she thought I’d be babysitting for somebody and earning some money she could steal from me and use for vodkha or gin. She’s moved on from Jack Daniels, thinks she can away with being drunk all the time if nobody can smell it. She also smells like she badly needs a shower all the time.” Drusien shook her head, then shuddered.
They stepped across from the door to gaze out at activity on the pier.
The blond guy came along, “the Captain wants to know if you’d like to take some video of the pier as we cast off and make ready to get underway.”
Connor nodded. The blond guy smiled and hurried off, stopped, “We cast off in five minutes.”
Connor winced, “We need to find the model with the camera on her head.”
“Is it still recording?”
“This has real blackmail potential-”
Connor knocked on the door.
Mackenzie’s mother opened it.
“Yes the door locks when you close it, I have the key. The Captain wants video of the pier fading into the distance behind us,” he handed the key to Mackenzie’s mother.
“Now I have the key-” she smiled, pointed behind herself, rolled her eyes, “We’ll be a while.”
Connor and Drusien found the model with the camera still attached standing with Mrs Strickland and her mother.
The student with the camera tiara looked nervous, everybody around her looked excited.
“How are you doing? Do you want a break, or do you want to stand and keep yourself steady while we watch the crew on the dock untie us and we start to move off into our great adventure here?”
The student model looked like he just convinced her that everyone had lied to her and there really was a Santa Claus.
Connor turned to her mother with the sticky note pad in his hand, ready to scribble, “We’ll have to use footage or at least a snap shot of her with that weird tiara she’s wearing and give her credit in whatever video we produce, whether it’s just a copy for you or something the Captain and his crew swears they will pay for.”
The mother took the pad, looked at Mackenzie’s mother’s name and email address, frowned, “Should I use another page?”
Connor peeled Mackenzie’s mom’s email from the top of the pad, stuck it to the back of a bigger pad of sticky notes, “Make sure you write down “GoPro student” The camera’s manufactured by ‘GoPro’ company.”
“We know, we’ve seen them on several television shows and seen commercials for them…” The model’s mom scribbled away, added, “And this is our phone number, do you have a business card with you?”
Connor searched through his pockets, then pointed, “They’re in a bag that’s locked up over there, I’ll get you one as soon as we can, they’re about to start casting off-”
And the Model practiced her perfect walking as if there was a book on her head as they walked to the railing near the blond guy.
Drusien took a couple shots of them along the way and at the railing and showed hwe photos to the mother as the blond guy turned to Connor- “Are we ready?”
Connor checked the read out on the camera on the model’s head, stopped and restarted the camera and then nodded.
The mother was facing Drusien with Connor behind her back when she asked, “So are you his assistant?”
Drusien shot a slightly worried glance to Connor.
Drusien smiled and nodded.
“So he can get the photos you’ve just taken to us at this email address?”
“Okay, good, because they look like something that should be in her portfolio.”
“Who knows, she might even enjoy being behind the camera more than in front of it,” Drusein smiled.
“Were you a model, do you have any contacts you can share with us?”
“No- but I had two friends who were models. They hated it. Everybody promised them the cover of vogue and they were lucky if the got to be in a tiny little newspaper ad for a second hand store.”
The mother held her finger to her lips, “We’re still hoping for the cover of Vogue-”
Connor asked the model, “Do you mind if I touch your head just a bit?”
She shook her head a tiny bit, said quietly, “go ahead- I really want to get this right.”
And the mother watched like a hawk while Connor barely touched the girl’s head and changed the angle just a bit.
“He’s good with kids, isn’t he?” the mother asked.
Drusien gave her a broad smile, nodded.
“What are his rates like?”
Drusien almost panicked, recovered well, “You’ll have to ask him, I think he would give you a special rate, but if I give you the wrong quote, he might not want my help for a while.”
The mother nodded, turned toward Connor, but the engines began to make a lot of noise all of a sudden and Connor was very focused on not quite touching the model as the boat began to move.
The mother handed Connor the pad and he tried to read it while keeping a hundred and fifty percent of his attention on what the camera was probably capturing, then he smiled and thanked the mother.
The mother shouted a question and he cupped his ears, shrugged and shouted, “I can’t hear you-”
The boat moved away from the pier and Connor adjusted the Model’s head very slightly a couple times and then managed to ask her if she wanted to walk to the back of the boat using hand signals. She smiled. They walked.
When the pier was all but invisible behind them Connor guided her head down a bit to catch the wake for several seconds and then, “That was fantastic. You’re good. Want a break?”
He turned the camera off and lifted it from her head.
She beamed for a couple seconds and almost ran away to the small knot of friends who had followed them through most of the railing and back of the boat session.
“Wait a minute-” He mother caught her shoulder, conrnered Connor, “How well equipped is your studio, do you do portfolio shots? What are your rates?”
Drusien made a face, “I told her you might give her a discount-”
“I have a sliding scale,” he said, I told you I have my cards locked up in a bag up that way- I also have a brochure I can give you. I don’t carry price sheets around with me because I don’t want to scare away somebody who needs a lower rate that won’t bankrupt me, and I don’t want somebody who can easily afford the full price to know that the unemployed single mother across town paid a couple dollars less.”
“That- sounds reasonable. I’m a single mother.”
Connor glanced toward Drusien with a grin, thinking, yes of course she is.
Drusien almost blushed while she shrugged.
The mother kept her hand on her daughter’s shoulder while they walked toward the ‘short cut’ through the indoor section where all the kids inside were adjusting their life jackets.
“What do you have at your studio?”
“A whole range of different light and reflectors, background shades that pull down, that can really look like you’re standing on a beach or on a snowy mountain top- Your daughter’s a minor so you would absolutely have to be there.”
“I couldn’t drop her off with you and your assistant?” she pointed to Drusien.
Connor shook his head, “If we establish a long term professional relationship and I know that I can trust you and your daughter, then maybe somewhere down the line we could talk about something like that- but a friend of mine did have a nice suburban mother and daughter try to shake him down for more money than he’d ever make, trying to convince him that they would take him to court for something that he’d never do. He did turn the table on them with a video that caught the mother threatening him and telling him that the fact that was completely innocent wouldn’t hold up in court-”
“I think I remember that case-” She let her daughter join her friends, who were the last to be fitted for life jackets with two women members of the crew smiling and looking like they’d been flight attendants demonstrating where the oxygen masks were and how to use them in a hypothetical emergency.
Connor, Drusien and the mother walked forward to where his stuff was locked up, unlocked it, fished through the stuff in there, came up with the business cards and the brochures and the mom was happy, “But you still haven’t told me how much this would cost.”
The First Mate cleared his throat, “We are asking that parents and photographers wear life jackets- when you have a moment-”
Mackenzie and her mother came out of the first class cabin and handed the key to Connor. They were already wearing their life jackets.
The two flight attendent like crew members were fitting the model’s mother while the First Mate handed two adult life jackets to Connor and Drusien.
Connor put almost all of his remaining paraphernalia into the storage space before he climbed into his life jacket.
The model and several of her closest friends approached and the model looked distressed, “Mom- they’re passing out snacks and I don’t know how many calories I can have-”
Drusien and Connor looked at each other and gasped.
The model’s mom may have caught that- nodded to her daughter, “I’ll be back-”
The first mate checked their life jackets and grinned, “If you want to escape for a bit there’s an observation deck below us at the bow that might be a really great place to shoot a few pictures… come on,. I’ll show you-”
Like most larger boats, the decks on this one angled up toward the bow and after they disappeared into a semi hidden stairway, and emerged on the deck below. they walked uphill until they were probbly at the same height they had been on the deck above.
The First Mate tapped the glass with his knuckles, “Special glass- it can take more pressure than any of us can.” He pointed to a hand crank and made the motions of cranking it without actually touching the thing, “It can also be opened so anybody can stand here and become thoroughly drenced if the seas get rough enough.” He made his sort of salute and left them.
Connor looked around. This room was probably about twenty feet long, maybe fifteen to eighteen feet wide at its widest and it came to a point a couple feet in front of where he and Drusien stood.
The First Mate smiled and pulled a door with a frosted window pane closed behind himself.
“Should we open it?” Drusien wrwinkled her nose.
Connor shrugged and tried the crank. It worked- He cranked and one of the Starboard side windows (which didn’t quite reach the bow, but probably ran from about a foot and a half back) slid partially open. It continued to opened until about a 6 feet wide swath of cool damp air rushed at them, and the window hadn’t quite disappeared into its frame. There was a tubular brass (or something that looked like brass) rail at a height of about 3 and a half feet above the floor another below that one. The window had begun about 6 inches below the rail and covered a verticle space that ended at about 6 and a half feet above the floor. The ceiling, over their heads, was probably 8 and a half feet up.
Drusien leaned into the wind and closed her eyes with a happy smile.
Connor took a careful look at the rounded edge of the thick glass, then he walked across to get a closer look at the other side where the window was still closed, the curve of the glass barely perceiveable, and yes, there was another crank over there. but he left that one closed and wandered back to where he was standing when Drusien had closed her eyes.
“Just standing here, looking at the water, feeling the wind-” she smiled, “Even if I got in trouble for this, which I probably won’t, but it would be worth it.”
He nodded, “I’ve been out on the water a few times – A couple times on a couple ferries- Two or three times on one friend’s fishing boat, and twice on another friend’s sailboat- And almost every time – I get a feeling that is so amazingly good- It’s funny that you forget that so easily-”
She nodded, smiled and leaned her head against the wall, gazed ahead and out to sea.
Standing there, closer to her than they’d been before, he realized how tall she’d grown. She was still quite thin, but not alarmingly so.
He turned and stared ahead, felt the moisture in the wind, might have actually caught a bit of spray. He thought he felt her hand on his shoulder, glanced sideways, she was using both hands to crank the window closed again.
“I wonder if this locks closed-” she played with the crank for a few seconds, then shrugged.
Someone knocked on the door and the First Mate opened the door and stood outside, “We’ve had a report from someone flying up ahead that whales have been spotted about an hour from here, we are correcting our course to try to intercept, or catch up with the pod, depending on which way they’re moving.
“About an hour?” Connor wondered.
“Give or take-” the First Mate smiled, “The mother of the young woman who was wearing the camera before asked if I knew where you went, I told her I thought you wer talking to the Captain about something and would relay her message that she wants to talk to you some more whenever I saw you-” he may have winked, then sort of bowed and pulled the door closed.
They could see him, as a blur, walk away.
This room, or compartment, had a long built in seat along the wall with a two inch thick plastic or maybe even leather cover. There were also two matching built in couch things (a light neutral grey) below windows without cranks, but they did have wide, inside window sills that looked like they’d been designed to hold drinks inside circular wells, cut or drilled into the – Connor touched the sills, “Wood-” with a flat neutral off white paint and a lot of water-proof low gloss finish.
Drusien walked to where he had moved and sat down, leaned toward the window, “Not the most comfortable seat in the house-”
He sat down where he was and leaned back. The wall was at a slight angle, but the window sill was at an awkward height.
She glanced down and tested the life jacket she was wearing, yes, it was still snug. She looked at him and smiled, “I’m surprised they don’t make everybody wear these things to high school dances.”
He grinned, remembered the couple dances he’d actually gone to in high school, “I managed to avoid most high school dances. When I did go it was because my girl friend at the time wanted to.”
“You never got married, did you?”
He shook his head, “Two problems there- one, my father was an ogre and treated my mother like she was an idiot, I heard a lot more name calling than happy talk. Every once in a while, after a couple drinks, he would be lovey dovey and affectionate and say things like, “I love you, you know I love you-” And I never wanted to put anybody I cared about through that, just in case I was doomed to repeat what I’d seen-
“And, two, I have this horrible, questionable talent of being able to know, – on a first or second date, that something would never possibly work. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I have a real talent for letting people know they can trust me, they can relax and be themselves and I won’t judge them-”
“I might not be judgmental, probably not at all, but when they relax enough to tell me that they believe that all people of colour are animals, or all Jews are out to enslave the rest of world with questionable financial tactics or that only assholes keep dogs for pets, or something like that-” he shook his head, sighed, “Well- I try to keep smiling, try to make sure they have a pretty good time, try to avoid kissing anybody goodnight and breath a sigh of relief when I get away.”
She laughed, sort of halfway between “Wow” and, “Gee, I wish I had that talent.”
He was about to ask her if she had a boyfriend, thinking that maybe he should ask her what she asked him- but-
She leaned back and looked away, then sighed and turned to him again, “I had one almost-boy-friend before we moved away. He heard that my mother had charged my father with molesting me so she could get a divorce? He called me a whore and spit at me in front of everybody at school. I’ve had a couple…“ she shrugged, “flings? It’s hard to let yourself get close to anybody when you don’t really trust anybody.” She laughed, “I think the best fling I had was with a nerd, I had to tell him in so many words that he could kiss me if he wanted, so he did. And I told him to stop staring at my boobs and touch one of them. He did. We hugged and clutched each other and I think he came in his pants. I felt like, wow, I might actually have a boyfriend I can trust. The next morning he sent me email saying he was sick and his parents were cutting their vacation short to take him home. He said he would send me email, but never did.”
Connor was thinking she had to trust him to tell him something like that when,
“Sometimes I thought you were probably the only adult who ever treated me like I was an actual human being with a mind of my own.”
“And a pretty good mind at that-” he said, nodded, “You’re sharp-”
Her eyes sparkled for a minute, then maybe she remembered she couldn’t trust anybody, she looked down, she turned away, “My mother brought me the newspaper that said you’d been arrested for child pornography-”
“I still carry the whole newspaper around with me where they printed the retraction. On the front page. Konrad Ryland was the guy, Konrad with a K and Ryland with a D.”
“I know-” she said, “I bought that newspaper and read every word of it. I thought about throwing it in my mother’s face, but I realized if I did, she’d accuse me of sleeping with you or worse and I figured it was best to keep that all to myself.”
“Keep what all to yourself?”
There were tears in her eyes, “A couple times when I couldn’t sleep I thought that if I had any idea where you lived after your brother died, I’d run away, maybe bring my brother with me and show up at your door in the middle of the night telling you my mother would kill us if you sent us away.”
He was shocked, almost choked the first time he tried to speak.
“You were probably the only person I knew I could trust in this whole world, everybody else who could protect me was dead.”
He nodded, “I would have let you in- I would have been terrified that the police would come banging down the door and arresting me for kidnapping or something like that, but I would have let you in.”
They stared at each other with unreadable expressions for several very long moments before he aske, “Do you want a hug?”
She seemed paralyzed for a couple more long moments, then nodded.
They moved slightly toward each other and she dove at him, threw her arms around his back below his arms and held him in a strangle hold where only her arms, neck, shoulders and one side of her face touched him while he let his arms fall around her shoulders and hugged her in that awkward position.
It lasted maybe at least five minutes, until she sniffed, “Are we supposed to go up to the bridge again? Is that what the Captain wanted?”
“I don’t know, I think so-”
She looked at his face and smiled, pulled a tissue from her jacket pocket (had to reach around and inside the life jacket to get it) and dabbed the wetness out of his eyes, then used the same tissue to dry her own eyes.
– to be continued –