Chapter 10: Winner of the Year
Late the next day, Jake and Kate returned to the States—tired, but eager to get their film developed. It was a bit of a push to make a break for the darkroom straight out of leaving the airport, but their determination to make their pictures into a reality surpassed their flight exhaustion.
After chasing the sun for five straight hours, night had finally arrived, so they made a beeline for their next important destination under the cover of artificial lights. It was a quaint little room filled with enlargers and clotheslines, protected from the threat of the coming digital age by only Jake’s love for the classic photographic arts. On many occasions, the room had welcomed him with hanging duplicates of his favorite photos from memorable journeys around the country. But this time, it welcomed him with inviting temperatures in the positive side of zero. In both cases, Jake was glad to see a familiar sight waiting before his eyes.
Although he never did fill his briefcase completely, Jake was convinced that he had had enough pictures to make his calendar a smash. And even if the mild moments of savage beasts performing crazy tricks weren’t enough to dazzle the masses, he knew that at least the science and event magazines everywhere would hound him for his discovery of the amazing phenomenon. No matter what, he was bound to turn heads in short time.
As he removed his color treated negatives from the clothesline, he searched for the best picture to represent his December Lightstorm. After deciding the third shot had the most action and definition, he transferred his colored images onto three sheets of matrix paper, and finally overlapped them to construct the picture he was eager to show to the world. All he had left to do was to wait.
Once the time was right, Jake shut down the darkroom and immediately ran into the next room to find Kate cycling through her less-inspired photos. He knew the pictures he had in his hand were going to blow hers and everybody else’s away, but he figured he would at least try to be discreet about it. He sidled up next to her, unable to contain the glee in his eyes.
“Great pictures,” he said. “Ready to see my masterpiece shot?”
Kate set her pictures down and leaned close to his shoulder.
“Impress me,” she said with a smile.
Jake quickly shuffled through his pictures of wolves, and lemmings, and various other action shots until he found his…masterpiece?
“Is that it?” she asked. “Wow, you’re right. That’s pretty amazing. I’m sorry I missed it. But—”
Jake held his hand to her lips. He didn’t want to hear her comments. For the first time tonight, the light of the room revealed what the darkroom couldn’t show him. Even though the image had accurately reflected the power of the storm, which in itself made for a rather amazing shot, the heart of the photo was missing. The very element that had given the storm its magnificence and beauty had taken another flight to some kind of neverland. His masterpiece had fallen short in translation.
“I swear,” he said, “it didn’t look like this the other night. The colors were indescribable.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Kate. “This looks red to me. This one over here has a bluish tint.”
“They weren’t red or blue that night, Kate. These lights had colors that didn’t fit our spectrum. I don’t believe this.”
“Come on, Jake. This is still an amazing picture. I mean, you didn’t even have to feed it an apple.”
He couldn’t believe she was making jokes about this when the most amazing thing he had ever witnessed was degraded by modern technology. But, then again, how could she really know? There was no way she could’ve imagined the truth of what he saw when she wasn’t there to see it with him.
“You still believe me, don’t you?” he asked. “Isn’t it possible that I’m right and our stupid printing dyes just can’t reproduce the true colors of this image?”
She had a sympathetic look on her face.
“It doesn’t mean it didn’t look differently in real life, right? You have to believe me.”
Kate took the pictures out of Jake’s hand and placed her soft palm on his shoulder.
“If our cameras can photograph only one spectrum of light, isn’t possible that our eyes are limited to the same spectrum?” she asked.
“I know what I saw, Kate.”
“And I know that you spent many hours alone in the cold after being bitten by a wolf. That’s not to forget that you were also very tired all day. These pictures prove that you saw something, but colors from a different spectrum? I really hope you go to the doctor and get your leg checked up tomorrow.”
“My leg is in the best condition it’s ever been. And I wasn’t delusional…”
He took the pictures back from Kate and looked at the Lightstorm image again. It certainly looked like an over-the-top falling fireworks show. There were definite lights of rainbow colors raining in the sky. Maybe that really was the way he had seen it and his mind had just interpreted it differently. It was certainly possible, though disappointing to think about. He set the pictures down and leaned against Kate’s shoulder.
“Maybe I should start taking safe pictures like you,” he whispered.
Exhaustion finally set in as Jake closed his eyes. The truth was that after all he had dealt with these last couple of weeks, he had had enough of this journey.
A couple of months later, Jake sat in his office, looking over some photo catalogs, when Kate entered the room holding up two calendars in hand. “Icy Wonders,” the calendar to her left, consisted of family-friendly nature stills complete with icebergs and snowfields, while “Greenland’s Fury,” the calendar to her right, was slightly less orthodox, consisting of rampaging animals and defiled landscapes. She set “Icy Wonders” down gently onto the desk, brushing away a couple of dust motes in the process, then slapped “Greenland’s Fury” down harshly, as if she tried swatting a mosquito. Her entire face lit up as she smiled.
“Remember our bet?” she asked cheerfully. “The one we made on the tour boat?”
He tried to forget about that. In fact, he tried to forget about Greenland entirely.
“Flip the calendars over.”
Jake flipped the calendars to see profit margins listed for each one. According to the charts, Kate’s calendar sold three times as many as his did. But, after all the disappointments he had had in that last day, and in many of the days preceding it, he really didn’t expect anything less. He had spent the entire trip convincing himself that he had the stronger idea, but in the end, Kate was always right. This just proved it.
He decided to open it to see the contents inside. With all the harsh comments he had made during the production of her calendar, he figured that he owed it to Kate to check out the fruits of her labor. The January picture was of the image of the underground river flowing through the giant blue ice walls of the icehole. It actually looked pretty good.
“I guess this means I lost,” he said finally.
He looked up to see her nodding. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen so much of her teeth at one time.
“So, how are you going to humiliate me?”
Kate removed the calendars from the desk and placed them under her arm.
“Just tell me my methods were good and I’ll give you your peace,” she said.
Jake smiled at her compassion for his failure.
“I’d say three times my sales power makes your methods incredible.”
He wasn’t sure he really believed that line, but her smile made it worth saying.
“Thanks, Jake,” she said. “If it’s any consolation, I’m glad we made the trip together. I’d do it again if the opportunity ever presents itself.”
Kate hugged him before walking out of his office. A part of him was glad, too. Maybe even more than just one part—but he didn’t really want to acknowledge that just yet. The question now, though, was whether or not he would ever consider doing it again. He put his feet on his desk as he gave it some thought.
Then she came back into the office. Without a word, she walked across the floor, took his hand into hers, and kissed him on the lips. It lasted for only a second, but it was enough to send his feet hovering an inch off the desk. As soon as she parted faces with him, she leaned back, smiled at him, and ran her hand through his hair, probably messing it up. Then she patted his cheek.
“I figured you’d like a better consolation prize than just my appreciation,” she said.
Then she left again.
“Yep, that sounds about right,” he said.
As he closed his eyes, he found the darkness turning into a kingdom of colors that he had seen only once before falling from the sky. As he stood out in a field, miles away from a castle, the beautiful princess ran to him and embraced him. She softly whispered into his ear that he had won.