Lost Lens – #TDWC  #CFFC

I was planning to participate in Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge today. Then, as I was organizing the Thursday Doors Writing Challenge page, I was inspired by the photo below. So, I ended up with a twofer. Cee’s CFFC challenge this week is “Crooked or Squiggly.”

“This week our topic is celebrating Crooked or Squiggly. Basically, anything but straight lines. Just make sure the squiggle or crooked part is clearly visible in your photo. Have fun.”

Most of the photos in today’s gallery are there for CFFC. Now for the story.

St. Joseph North Pier. This appears to be the inner light. Courtesy of the Wheat Salt Wine and Oil blog.

Lost Lens

Jean-Léon paced the floor of the reception area to the first-class dining room as if he were part of the waitstaff. Unexperienced in the art of meaningless small talk and unprepared for the stress of meeting people, he would rather have found a way to eat in his cabin. He was certain that Mr. Blanchet would feel perfectly at home in this crowd. He’d probably be chatting in one of the groups of large leather chairs along the windows.

“Would you care for a cocktail, sir? Whiskey perhaps, or a glass of wine?”

Léon was startled by the request. Trying to look the part, and imaging that ordering from a random steward would be easier than ordering at the dinner table, he gathered himself and nodded. “Whiskey will be fine. Thank you.”

Léon tried to move closer to the dining room door. He was hoping to see place cards. Assigned seating would be so much better than having choose a table. He didn’t see any. Perhaps he would be able to get in quickly and sit at an empty table. The steward tapped his shoulder from behind. “Your whiskey, sir.”

Léon, overcome with dread, sighed, and asked, “do I pay you? Should I tip you? I’m sorry. I’ve never traveled by boat before.”

The steward smiled. “First class tickets include select drinks before and during dinner. There is a cash bar after dinner if you want brandy or cigars. Our gratuity is also included in the price of your ticket. Enjoy your meal, and your time aboard our ship, sir.”

He missed whatever signal had been given but noticed the crowd moving toward the doors. He fell in line behind a couple. He thought briefly about his wife, but that pleasant thought was quickly pushed aside by the panic setting in as he realized he was the only single person in the group he could see. He moved with the people as if on a crowded street.

Once inside, he was awestruck. The dining room spanned the entire width of the ship. The tables near the windows were filling fast. Instinctively, he moved toward the center of the room.

“Would you care to join us young man?” The voice came from a table behind him. He turned awkwardly to the older couple occupying a table for four. Léon smiled and sat.

The man introduced himself. “Charles Baumann. This is my wife, Helen. You looked like you’re by yourself. I frequently travel alone, and I know how stressful that can be. Did you board in Cherbourg? I don’t recall seeing you last night.”

Shaking the man’s extended hand, he greeted the couple. “Jean-Léon Endres. Thank you for inviting me to join you. I did come on board in Cherbourg and I skipped dinner last night, as I was trying to get used to being on a boat.”

“You look somewhat uncomfortable, Jean. Do you go by Jean?”

He smiled at Helen. “I prefer Léon, ma’am, and I am quite uncomfortable. This is a new and unexpected experience for me.”

“Please, call me Helen. Ma’am sounds stodgier than I hope to be considered. If I may ask, you say the trip is unexpected. Did you not buy the ticket?”

“No, M… Helen. My employer, Mr. George Blanchet was supposed to be making this trip…”

“George Blanchet, of the Blanchet Glass Works?” Charles interrupted.

“Yes. Do you know him?”

Charles nodded. “I do. I have met him at several business functions in London and once in Paris. Why did he decide not to travel?”

Léon took a sip of his whiskey. Now he was concerned that his fiddly behavior would be reported back to his boss. “He fell.” Léon paused to gather his thoughts. “I’m sorry, he fell down an iron staircase in the plant. The workers either didn’t notice or were unable to leave their station. I picked him up, bandaged a gash on his head that was bleeding terribly, and helped him to the infirmary. The doctor on staff had me take him to a hospital. They released him, but he was in a lot of pain when I finally got him home. He couldn’t make the trip, so he gave me his ticket and assigned me to the task in America.”

“And what task would that be? I’m sorry to be so inquisitive.”

“Oh, that’s OK. Mr. Blanchet was to meet with the engineers who are redesigning a lighthouse on Lake Michigan. The Saint Joseph Light. I am an engineer, so he figured I could step in for him, since I ‘speak the same gibberish,’ as he put it.”

Helen sipped her wine and tried to steer the conversation away from the weariness of her husband’s inquiry. “What does your company have to do with the lighthouse?”

Charles answered his wife, first. “I’m sure they’re building the lens, dear.”

Léon instantly became more comfortable at that question. “Exactly. We will build the Fresnel Lens for the lamp. The lighthouse was originally constructed with a stationary red light. They are upgrading to a moving lamp that will be visible for eight miles.”

“Isn’t it odd to visit the site? I would think the dimensions and specifications could be communicated without the expense of an in-person visit, especially, no offense, a first-class passage.”

Léon wanted to agree, but he didn’t think that would reflect well on his boss. “Since it’s a replacement, the lens will have to be brought up through the structure. I suppose that’s why Mr. Blanchet wanted someone to be on-site.”

Charles laughed. “Well, don’t tell him I said so, but I’m sure he used that as an excuse to get away on holiday. My guess is you will actually study the situation while he would have merely pocketed the on-site engineer’s report.”

Léon squirmed a bit in his seat. “I will be able to go into more details of the arrangements, but Mr. Blanchet is familiar with the installation process.”

Helen gave her husband a stern look. “Dear, you’re putting Jean-Léon in an awkward position. He certainly isn’t going to agree that his employer was hoping to be off on a lark.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry if I put you on the spot.”

“It’s quite alright, but I am mindful of my position, and this is a fantastic opportunity for me.” Léon looked around gaping as a small child would. “Despite my obvious discomfort.”

A waiter arrived at the table. He set a large platter of fruit and bread in the center and asked if anyone wanted anything else to drink.

Charles answered for the table. “The young man and I will have another whiskey. My wife would like a glass of Moselle…”

“Oh dear, that’s too sweet before dinner.”

Charles corrected himself. “A glass of dry Riesling.”

Léon wasn’t much of a drinker. He became worried at the thought of two whiskeys on an empty stomach. He wanted to eat some of the fruit, and some of the bread, but he didn’t want to go first or look as hungry as he was. He decided to wait until Helen or Charles took some food. Charles grabbed for some grapes when Helen softly put her hand on his. She picked up the grape scissors and cut a bunch loose for him.

“Would you care for a bunch, Léon?”

“Yes, please.” He was trying to act more sophisticated than he was, but he didn’t want to embarrass Charles, not that he thought that was possible. “I would never have known to use the scissors, and I have to say, I don’t know what to do with most of this silverware.”

Helen smiled. “They’re serving a ten-course meal, you will end up using most of that. Just start at the outside and work your way in. Follow my lead if you like.”

“Thank you. My wife and I don’t eat out often. I know it’s becoming more popular, but we have two young children, and…  I’m sorry, as my wife would say, you didn’t ask for my life story.”

Giggling, Helen looked at Charles as if it was a common affliction.

Charles smiled. “My wife is trying to let you know that I, too, usually offer a longer answer than what is necessary. It’s a shame George was traveling alone; your wife would probably have enjoyed this sailing.”

“Why would George be traveling alone, dear. It’s such a lavish ship, I would think he would have planned to bring his wife along.”

“You would, but I’ve met Suzanne. He paused and looked at Léon. “Mrs. Blanchet, and she’s quite the shrew. I’m sure traveling alone is a bit of pleasure for George.”

Léon took a bite of bread and followed that with a generous sip of whiskey. He studied the small dinner plate as he set the slice of bread down.

Helen noticed his interest. “Is something wrong with the plate? Is it chipped? They’ll bring you a new one if it’s chipped or dirty.”

Léon shook his head as if coming out of a daydream. “No, no, the plate is fine. I am simply amazed that the flag logo is on every piece of china and silverware. It’s really remarkable.”

Helen smiled. “That’s the White Star swallow-tailed burgee. They are quite proud of that logo.”

Charles chuckled as he added. “You should nick one of the spoons as a souvenir.”

Helen smacked his shoulder lightly. “Don’t listen to him. I’m sure there are items in your stateroom that they mean for you to take home.”

“Stationery, and a pen or pencil. You’ll use them or lose them in a few months.” Charles picked up a small spoon and pretended to put it in his breast pocket. “Easy enough to do, my boy. You’ll stir your tea with a spoon from Titanic’s maiden voyage for the rest of your life.”

68 comments

  1. Hi Dan, this is a great story. I liked your ending and poor Jean-Leon. I took my family on a tour of the relics of the Titanic when the display was in Cape Town several years ago. It was so incredible sad looking at the remains of all the people who died. There was a pall of death of everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Robbie. I have been fascinated by the Titanic since I was very young. I read the book “A Night to Remember” – which was later made into a movie – and I was both interested and sad. So many people died, needlessly. When I looked into the history of the lighthouse, I read about the upgrade and how the lense was made in France. The timing was right, so…

      I’ve never been to an exhibit. I would like to go someday.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You certainly squiggled your way through this story. Pam must be coaching you on twisted (crooked) endings. The ending really took me by surprise,

    You found perfect photographs to illustrate the prompt. I love the reflection in the raindrop!
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. I wasn’t planning for the story to be squiggly, but you never know where my mind is going to go. It’s rarely a straight line.

      I knew I had squiggly photos, and today is the last day for that prompt, so I had to make it a twofer.

      I hope you have a nice week – Wind and sunshine here.

      Like

    • Thanks Judy. I’m glad you liked the story.

      The planter operation was several years ago. We wanted to put flowers in two antique copper buckets, but we didn’t want to fill them. The hanging planter was too big, so we cut it, squished it into the bucket to get the right size and welded it at that point.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Who can resist “squiggly”? Even the word is lovable! The shadows behind Preston are perfect, and I have no doubt he planned them that way. The photo of the frozen drop is one of my all-time favorites. I noted how effective it was to begin your story with a description of social awkwardness, something of a universal experience, I’d think. Since I have such trouble telling a story myself, I try to figure out how others do it. Is there an element of autobiography in this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha – I think there’s an element of autobiography in everything I write. They say “write what you know,” and social awkwardness is clearly something I understand. Writing my books was more of a challenge, as some of those characters are strong and in control – now that’s fiction 😊

      As for “squiggly” – yeah, I couldn’t resist. Finding a search term that leads to squiggly photos wasn’t easy. That’s what I added the new photos from the children’s playground. The key thing in the Preston photo is the, “you’re late with my dinner” look on his face.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderfully written story, Dan! I really enjoyed it, especially the ending- sigh! Your photo gallery is perfect for the prompt, thanks for including Horton. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like your story. I saw the Titanic exhibit when it came here. When we entered the exhibit we were handed a card, our identification as an actual passenger. At the end of the exhibit we found out if we survived. It was chilling and memorable. I survived, btw. Z-D didn’t.

    Love the photos of the playground twisty thing. I’d enjoy playing on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I checked the playground thing – ages 4 – 12 :(

      I don’t recall a titanic exhibit coming here. Maybe Boston and NYC, but I missed it. Too bad about Z-D, but I’m glad you made it out. I left it up to our imagination. By the end of the story, I liked all three characters – I didn’t want to write that any had died.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well done, Dan! I am a true Titanic fanatic. Despite the artistic liberties taken in the film I loved it and saw it in theater 5 times. I own it so suffice it to say I lost count. I had a feeling at one point that’s where you were headed but you spun your tail wonderfully. Love all the photos as well. Good job with the photo prompt!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A lovely story, Dan. I suspected the Titanic when Cherbourg was mentioned. My latest has a whole scene on the Titanic so I did a fair amount of research on the sinking. I loved the flow of your dialogue so very natural.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks John. That’s the thing about fiction and research, isn’t it. I researched the lighthouse and discovered that the lens for the retrofit was made in France. I didn’t have to act on that fact, but it felt wrong not to. Then I discovered that Titanic sailed from Southampton to Cherbourgh. I didn’t figure too many people would know that. I’m not surprised that you did ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Fantastic story, Dan. And the ending was perfect! BTW, you are an impressive writer. I really enjoyed the dialogue and your descriptive scenes. Now I can’t wait for your books!! Bravo! 🎉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kudos, Dan. This is a great exercise. Snap! I loved the “Oh-oh moment” at the end, Dan. Lots of details on the dining room setting to bring it to life. I read this before I got up this morning, but I’m only just now sitting down at the computer.
    I’m hoping to use these prompts to “Just write!” since PTSD anxiety is keeping me from the intense focus I need for Dead of Winter. I actually chose this lighthouse for a second story, not realizing anyone else had used it, let alone you. Anyhow, here’s a link to my first prompt response. I’ll also put it on the correct page.
    Hugs on the wing.

    Monday, but a Thursday Doors Challenge #1, @DanAntion, Deborah M. Zajac

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This was good, Dan. I thought the ending was going to be Charles was the engineer Jean-Leon would meet to change the lens–didn’t see the ‘Titanic’ ending coming. I do like when I’m reading and thinking, ‘ah, I’ve got this one’ but it turns out to be something else entirely. Great job!
    Preston, I wish you could meet White Paws. You both look to be rather ‘big boys’–in the nicest possibly way. 😸

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Really enjoyed the story. well written with captivating dialogue and details. Liked how you chose to end it–I began suspecting disaster (am familiar with Titanic details) but can now imagine perhaps a dramatic but happier ending. Also loved the squiggle photos, especially the playground items … a side story regarding your title “lost lens” … years ago, visiting with my mom while attending a nearby university, I dropped my slr camera lens cap while walking along the pier towards the lighthouse, and we sadly watched it slowly sink.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I decided to end it without specifying the degree of disaster.

      I’m glad you liked the photos. I don’t normally mix challenges, but I didn’t want to pass up “squiggles.”

      I can imagine that lens cap sinking. Good that it was the least expensive thing you could have dropped in the water.

      Thanks again for the photo. Looking up in the comments, it looks like you inspired another person to use it in the near future.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Excellent twist at the end, Dan, but I admit when I started I was so relieved that you hadn’t lost a camera lens that it took me a moment to switch gears (so to speak.) Love the Horton shot and the meal looks amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my. I didn’t think about the negative connotation of the title. I was going to go with “A Night to Remember” but I figured that would give away the twist.

      I love the Horton statue – squiggly trunk.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This story reminds me of a story written by Agatha Christie. I have been to a Titanic exhibit with my uncle and my mother a few years ago It was really interesting. He was a history buff and it was something I knew we all could enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

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