Thursday, December 13, 2007

AMP Flash Fiction - White Swan

Copyright Roscoe James 2007

Standing on the blacktop apron, the sun at his back, he studied the lines and sounds of the White Swan and realized that, unlike most dreams come to life, this one didn’t disappoint.

His mind wandered back to his grandfather’s study. To dusty tomes arranged on dark-wood shelves that clung to plaster and lathe walls. Hours of sitting in a barrister’s chair that swallowed him whole behind an ornate desk that instilled an importance and sobriety seldom experienced by a seven-year-old spellbound by the wanderings of Huck Finn, the life and times of Tiny Tim and the swashbuckling ways of Long John Silver.

A collection of hand carved pipes standing in a carrousel beside a heavy crystal tobacco humidor still filled his mind with the smell of cherry and Prince Albert and recollections of the leather blotter on the imposing desk brought to mind Mr. Santini’s shoe shop.

The black-walnut grandfather clock off in a corner that set a cadence as words on the fragile yellowed pages flowed from paper to eye to mind setting his imagination free but capturing his soul forever still echoed in his mind.

The seed dropped in his heart while reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, the harrowing tale of a boy from a small river town that aspired to be a riverboat captain, floated in the muddy waters of the Mississippi at the base of the Gateway to the West.

Unlike her boxy predecessors she was graceful and majestic even when moored to the floating jetty twenty feet from shore. Five decks of white enamel hand carved woodwork with highlights of shiny brass and blood-red trim.

Her paddlewheels were intricate latticeworks of white and red aluminum cast to mirror the shipwright’s work that adorned the decks above and at four-hundred-and-fifty-feet long with a beam of ninety-seven-feet; the biggest steamboat never built had been brought to life in living, almost breathing, color.

The calliope provided a carnival atmosphere for the last few passengers as they left their luggage with the shore stewards and crossed the red-carpeted gangway to the main deck.


“Hey! Be careful with that you klutz!”

He nearly burst out laughing when he turned and saw a taxi driver struggling to pull a Louis Vuitton wardrobe steamer trunk from the back of his cab. Running over he grabbed a side and helped the poor man set it on the sidewalk before it crushed him while its owner admonished them both with a not so polite critique of their progress.

“You must be one of the stewards,” she proclaimed still clutching a promotional brochure between finely manicured finger tips.


“Look, it says right here, dock side stewards to receive your luggage. That’s you, right?”

In sharp contrast to her brusque manner she was willowy and graceful. Her almond shaped face, china skin with a smattering of freckles and intelligent green eyes, captivated. Fiery red hair cascaded in lush ringlets across her shoulders and halfway down her back and did much more than captivate; it took no prisoners.

“Why, sure am, ma’am,” he finally said with a chuckle while he watched the taxi driver stack a matching suitcase and makeup bag on top of the imposing piece of luggage. After receiving his fare the driver pulled out a puffy garment bag to add to the small mountain of luggage that had grown on the sidewalk, got in his cab and left.

And just as quickly she was gone. Looking back over her shoulder she said in an impatient pissed-off sort of way, “Well, come on. I don’t want my luggage left on the dock.”

He rushed to tuck the small suitcase under his arm, dangle the makeup bag from his fingers, tilt the trunk back on wheels set into the bottom and balance the garment bag across the top as he fell in step behind her.

“You’d think they could put a jet way and terminal up here. I mean, this is the twenty-first century, right?”

“I’ll be sure to tell the owner, ma’am.”

He smiled while she carried on about everything and nothing on their walk to the gangway. It was too humid, too hot, too sunny and too windy. The airport had been a mess, her taxi driver rude and she’d had to endure some one’s ten-year-old in first class. The boat was pretty though and that made him smile.

When one of the stewards saw them and cringed, dropping what he was doing, and started their way, he shook his head admonishing him not to bother, and followed her up the gangway where a smiling Mr. Blackburn, waxed handlebar mustache shining in the late afternoon sun, took her ticket and almost jumped overboard when he saw who was pushing her luggage. “Let me get you…”

“Sorry about that, Mr. Blackburn. I got here late. It won’t happen again, sir.”

With overblown bluster that belied his surprise Mr. Blackburn fixed him with a scrutinizing stare and finally replied, “Right. Well, make sure it doesn’t. And Miss Holloway will be staying in the Director’s suit on deck four.”

That explains it. So this is Teresa Holloway, intrepid freelance journalist and member of the very elite club all journalists worth a tinker’s damn aspired to, a Pulitzer-prize winner, here to write an in-depth article about - how had she put it - that idiot with more money than sense that wants us all living in the nineteenth century. She’d never confirmed, and neither he nor his staff was sure, she was going to show up.

Pushing her luggage toward mid-ship he listened to the click of her heels on the teakwood planking and wondered if he should tell her now or wait for the gala later in the evening.

“Do you know the owner? What’s his name? Nash Floss?”

“Fross,” he corrected while he waited at open double doors for her to precede him into the main atrium area.

“Right, that’s it. Nash Fross. You know him?”

He didn’t get to answer.

“Damn,” her voice was one of amazement and awe. Finally she added, “Well, when you see him, tell him the atrium impressed the hell out of me.”

Five stories of twin open curved staircases, satin finished mahogany, two replica scissor-gate elevators, plush wool carpet, all capped off with stained glass was intended to impress and he was glad it had.

There was hardly room for the two of them and her luggage in the elevator but they managed. When they stopped on deck four he followed her out and was rewarded again when she stopped to peer over the banister muttering ‘damn’ once more.

As they neared her suit he explained, “The original designs of the White Swan were found in a desk sold at auction in the 50’s. They were drawn up in 1926 by Ward engineering for the Reid Steamboat company just before the rails took over the riverboat trade.

“Originally designed to house 526 passengers in three classes, along with freight, the interior has been redesigned with twelve luxury suits and eighty-eight junior suits…”

“No longer carries freight,” she interrupted, “has five restaurants, all highly rated on the Michelin list, one cinema that will seat three-hundred, a top deck swimming pool, two workout rooms, one cabaret, ten bars, twenty-six stores, crew of ninety-seven and is propelled by two paddle-wheels powered by twin turbo-diesel electric plants. Need I go on?”

Pushing her door open he handed her a key card and laughed, “You sure know a lot about the White Swan, ma’am. And here’s your suit.”

“It’s my job to know a lot about a lot of things. Would you like gross weights, range and how much Mr. Floss paid for this little dalliance of his?”

Wheeling the trunk through the main sitting room, past the bathroom and leaving it at the foot of the king-sized bed the fun had evaporated when she referred to the White Swan, his White Swan, as a dalliance.

His smile was strained when he turned to leave and said, “That’s okay, ma’am. I’m sure Mr. FROSS has his reasons.”

When she shoved a twenty in his palm and said, “I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” he wanted to poke her in the nose but found the act of receiving a tip entirely too distracting. Pulling the suit’s door shut behind him he scowled, saw another steward rush by, shoved the bill in his hand, and said, “Journalists!”

“Thanks, Mr. Fross. I think we’re ready to leave. The captain was looking for you.”


Maura Anderson said...

oooh - very nice!!!!

Roscoe James said...

And you're being too kind, Maura. But thanks. At least someone read all of it.

Jill said...

It is good to see another part of your writting! Yup, it took me long before I decide to read it!
Are we gonna see when she realise that he is Mr. Floss??
Good description of the boat!I could see myself there!

Roscoe James said...

Glad you liked, Jill. Going for a lot of romance and light comedy in this one.

We'll see how it goes.

Jill said...

Where is your Poetry Train post?? I,m waiting for something new!!

Jill said...

You don't answer to my request anymore??

Rhian said...

waving hi. as you were.

Lisa Andel said...

Happy Holidays RJ!