Chapter 4: A Bet of Tastes
They landed at the port in Uummannaq to find a medium-sized sightseeing boat waiting. Jake and Kate rushed off the helicopter and boarded the boat as quickly as possible to ensure their place on the deck before departure. Once they stepped foot onto the wooden planks, they took a spot near the starboard railing and waited. The railing seemed almost too cold to touch, but Jake had gotten so used to the unrealistically low temperatures since coming to Greenland that he touched it anyway. He wanted to make sure he had some leverage to look into the ocean once they got far enough out, even though he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to be looking for. Kate told him the plan earlier in the week, but he had forgotten already. He figured his memory would return once they actually got out there. Kate, meanwhile, leaned against the railing beside him and breathed a pleasant sigh. She took her camera and snapped a picture of the tiny icebergs floating in the water.
“Yep,” said Jake. “That was the prize shot.”
She briefly glanced at him through the corner of her eye, but said nothing. A second later, she directed her focus back to the outer seascapes.
Jake leaned against the railing and watched the frost form out of his mouth with each breath. He wasn’t sure how long it would take for the boat to set sail, so he decided to pass the time by tapping his fingers against the metal rods under his elbows. His stomach churned slightly as the waves rocked him and the sightseeing vessel back and forth. But, he swallowed hard and sucked up his mild discomfort. After a moment of increasing boredom, Jake took his camera out of its bag and checked the shot counter. As he estimated the number of test shots he could allot versus the number of winning shots that he needed to take, he hoped that this side trip wouldn’t turn out to be a bust. At first, he decided to trust Kate’s judgment for booking their seats on the tour, but then he questioned what in the world he could possibly find worth capturing in the middle of an ice-ridden sea. As the thought of wasting time settled in like an unwanted in-law, Jake found his spirits quickly dropping, and he hoped for some excuse to return to the helicopter. The only thing that prevented him from turning tail and walking off this oversized floatation device was the fact that he really didn’t want to upset Kate, and he knew he would do that if he backed out. So, he swallowed hard and sucked up his mild discomfort.
As he accepted his place on this nightmarish tour that had yet to begin, he took another gaze at Kate to try to figure out what in the world she had found so fascinating about floating icebergs. In the small handful of years that he had known her, she had always been interested in still life photographs—the shape of them, and the depth of them—but she had never quite explained why she found motivation in them. He at least admired her passion for capturing images so stagnant, but he couldn’t decipher the logic that had created such a desire in her. It had been his mission each time he’d seen her to solve this riddle, but so far all he could come up with was the fact that she was just unique. His inquisitive mind needed a little more to feed on than that, but then there were a lot of things about her that he still wanted to know. The problem had been that he never really knew the right questions to ask. Or, more accurately, he never quite had the guts to ask her the deeper or more serious questions. There had been several occasions in the past when he’d gotten close—even managed to eke out the first couple of words to the question—but she often had so many critiques of him that he thought another question would’ve yielded another comment, so he dropped it before he finished. And, as he stood upon the deck of this vessel, thinking of the leftover unknowns of her psyche, the unfinished questions left him with the urge to tap his fingers against the metal railing again.
And that was the only action he could find in that moment: the tapping of his fingers against the railing’s metal rods.
As they continued to wait on the swaying tour boat, Kate looked out toward the cliffs of the fjord and snapped a couple more lifeless pictures. Now sensing another form of action occurring, Jake snapped a picture of her taking her pictures, trying his best to capture the beauty shot, as she would call it. Something about that satisfied his spirits.
“I’m glad I amuse you,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m what this calendar needs.”
“But you’re stagnant on the water,” said Jake, “so it’s a perfect fit. Now pose for me, darling.”
He snapped several shots in succession of her motionless stare at him.
“That’s it, darling,” he continued, “give me that angry look. Pout to me, you’re a supermodel. Scream desire to me, let your hair flow in the breeze.”
After snapping off at least ten or twelve rapid shots in a row, Jake reasoned that it would be better to save the rest of the film for his assignment, so he strapped the camera over his shoulder and leaned against the railing once again. If anything, he knew he could finally walk away with something worth keeping, even if there was no way he could use it for the calendar.
“What happened to keeping the camera in your hands at all times?” she asked.
“Nothing’s gonna happen here. We’re on a boat.”
Kate scuffed her feet for a moment before strapping her camera around her shoulder. She placed her hands on the railing and looked out over the sea. The slight tint of blush in her cheeks gradually turned pale as the bitter, frosty breeze pressed against her face. Jake noticed her skin shiver slightly as she maintained her intense focus on the ocean’s horizon.
“Little cold out here, isn’t it?” he said.
She shivered again subtly, but remained quiet. Jake looked out into the ocean’s horizon as well, attempting to see if there was anything out there worth his attention. He figured if Kate could be lured by its attraction, then maybe he could, too. Of course he purposely lied to himself in that thought, but he wanted to at least try to identify with her, so he gave it his best effort. As the water’s distant edge hobbled up and down, he gradually drew his focus toward the foreground until the metal railing obstructed his clear view of the surface below. There he noticed the waves chopping briskly against the hull. Even though it was still remarkably stale, he admired the fact that there was at least a little bit of action on the frigid sea. Perhaps if he took out his camera a second time and snapped a picture of the breaking waves, he could successfully meld the two art styles of action and still life together, and maybe even gain some of Kate’s respect. But, in the end he realized that he could never stoop to that level. No matter how he looked at it, it was still just water hitting a boat, and not much anything else. To his dismay, the rest of the ocean shared the same tale.
He let out a sigh of disappointment from having ever awoken this morning.
“Not much to do when it’s cold…” He trailed off from his thought.
Following the dying end of his statement, Jake dropped his head forward, leaving him hanging motionless just a few inches above his folded hands.
After another moment of concentrated silence, Kate finally spoke again.
“I think it’s obvious we’re going to keep telling each other we’re wrong,” she said. “So, I’ve been thinking about it a little, and I think we should make a bet.”
Jake perked up from hearing this suggestion. For once, it had seemed as if she were willing to do something risky, if not remarkably absurd. The thought of her taking an adventurous turn delighted him. He raised his head again and gave her his full attention.
“Go on,” he said.
“The deal is that you do your calendar however you want,” she continued, “and I’ll do mine the way I want. The only rule is that we stop telling each other that our methods are bad.”
He thought about that. He enjoyed telling her how stupid her methods were—made his methods all the more powerful—but he was intrigued by this proposition. He wasn’t crazy about keeping his mouth shut on the matter, granted, but he did like the possibility of what might come from it. He realized he was on board with the plan.
“Okay, sounds good.”
“There’s more. The bet is that one of us will make a calendar that is more successful than the other’s calendar. The public and our sales reports will obviously decide who wins. The payoff is that the one with the losing calendar will be subjected to certain humiliation named by the winner. Obviously this means we have to tell the editor that we’re coming home with not one, but two calendars. He might not like it, but that’s how it’s gonna be. Are you with me so far?”
“One hundred per cent,” said Jake, laughing. “So, do you want me to tell you how I’m going to humiliate you now, or would you rather be surprised?”
“The penalty for breaking the rule, which I think you just did, is that you have to use five shots from your roll of film to take pictures of the other. Since you already have quite a few takes of me from a moment ago, I think an additional five is going to make this excursion rather difficult on you. But, since you agree with the terms of the bet, you gotta snap them, so—”
Kate placed her fists akimbo to her hips and smiled at him seductively while slightly arcing her eyes diagonally upward. Jake felt a little suckered by the bet at first, but he was willing to admit that his growing lack of available exposures for the boat trip was his own fault. Of course, he wasn’t going to admit it to her because she didn’t need any excuses to fuel the fire, but he was at least willing to admit his folly to himself. So, to make good on his screw up, he removed the camera from his shoulder, lifted it to his eye, and took aim at the loveliest and scariest creature within a hundred miles of here.
“Okay, doll,” he said, “look pretty for the camera.”
He snapped the first picture right away, setting off a click and a whir to make her smile. Satisfied with the initial pose, he flipped the camera vertically to get a head-to-toe shot. After the second shot, he instructed her to lean into the railing and kick up one leg backward into the air. She did the pose, and he snapped the picture. Then he jogged up next to her to mess up her hair. At first she tried to stop him, but he convinced her to let him craft his art, so she dropped her hands and waited. He tussled her hair in such a way that her bangs fell savagely against her eyes. He instructed her to pout with her lips, and she did so. He took the picture.
“Beautiful, darling,” he said. “Beer commercials are calling your name.”
For the last shot, Jake instructed Kate to lean her shoulders against the deck wall and jut one knee out while keeping her foot planted firmly on the wall’s vertical surface. Once the wind blew through her long, brown hair, he took the picture, and then kissed his fingers with delight. Kate dropped her foot to the ground and tried to fix her tangled locks.
“Lovely, darling,” he said. “You’re going to be a superstar.”
“Okay, Jake,” she said. “You can stop calling me ‘darling.’ It creeps me out.”
Jake strapped the camera over his shoulder and smiled.
“Yes, dear,” he smirked.
He could see another smile creeping slowly but reluctantly across her lips. About halfway up her cheeks, she appeared to stifle the amused expression. Again, her actions were predictable.
Kate removed a small brush from her bag to finish combing out all the tangles that Jake had left behind. She slowly moved back to the railing as she raked through her darkened strands of silky hair.
“In all things considered,” he finally said, “you are beautiful. You could probably be on the other side of the camera if you wanted to.”
“What are you getting at? Is this some way of saying I’m just an all-out bad photographer?”
“No, this is a real compliment. If I were you, I’d take this one while you still have it.”
She paused for a moment before finally allowing her smile to complete its revelation.
“Okay, then. Thank you. You’ll have to show me the pictures.”
The whistle for the last call to board the boat finally blew. Jake quickly drummed his thigh with his fingertips as he consciously battled his will to either stay or go. Kate leaned against the railing and sighed.
“Wow,” she said, “I thought this trip would attract more people. Oh well, fewer bodies to get in the way.”
As the boarding gate slowly closed, Jake realized his chance to make a break for it had slipped away in the wind. Now he truly was committed to this slow-going journey.
The boat set sail from the port and headed out for open sea. He watched the waves crashing against the icebergs as the frigid wind blew hard against his face. The whole way out he held the camera in his hand, waiting for anything to happen out there. He hoped that maybe he would find a crashed Viking ship or some polar bears having a wrestling match on a chunk of ice. But, as he looked out into the horizon, he couldn’t see much of anything. Kate stood next to him taking a couple of pictures of the sun hanging a few inches over the ocean.
“How many people actually see whales this time of year?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know. But they wouldn’t have put us out here if we weren’t able to see any.”
Jake found himself tempted to put the camera away at this point.
They must have sailed for at least an hour before the first sign of anything appeared on the sea’s surface. But when the change happened, Kate snapped her camera the moment the water broke around a rising tail. There was nothing particularly epic about the subtle rise of the aquatic beast, but Kate was certainly ready to capture every detail of it anyway. Jake held his position at the railing, chuckling under his breath. As the tail slowly lifted out of the water, he knew there was no way he could lose this bet. The most action she was likely to get from this shot was the frenzy of water droplets battling it out over which could get the foamiest. There was no way she would win. Nonetheless, Kate quickly attached a telephoto lens to her camera.
“Look at that, Jake,” she said, pointing at the tail now high above the waves. “Isn’t that the most incredible sight you’ve ever seen?”
The tail came down and crashed into the white mist of the ocean water. Kate snapped another photo. Even though he didn’t want to, Jake had to admit that there was something pretty cool about watching the huge appendage of an aquatic mammal making big splashes in the water. It reminded him of his childhood days when he and his friends had held cannonball-splash contests in the backyard pool. He had his finger on the shutter button in case the whale decided to leap out of the blue and do a couple of flips.
A moment later, another tail emerged from the surface. Once again, Kate was quick to take a few shots. But Jake had something else in mind when he saw the second whale rise up from the deep. Now he found his opportunity to do the calendar his way.
“Isn’t this amazing?” asked Kate.
“Absolutely,” said Jake, now ready to change his environment. “But not amazing enough.”
Jake grabbed hold of the railing and stepped his left leg over. It was a difficult stretch, but he managed to straddle the metal as his foot touched the bottom rod. Kate grabbed him before he had a chance to step his other leg over.
“Don’t, Jake,” she said. “If you go out there, we’re not coming back for you. Let this one go.”
Jake gazed into her eyes. Something about her expression was foreign to him. It was almost as if she was sincere this time. A part of him wanted to fight her on this—make some excuse that she was infringing on the rules of the bet. But he changed his mind because, for once, it seemed as though she was actually looking out for him. Maybe in some strange way she had always been looking out for him, even if her comments had never really justified that possibility. If anything, he figured he should just accept her compassion this time without question. The important thing was that she didn’t want him to hurt himself, and that was admirable.
Accepting her tender warnings, Jake pulled himself back onto the deck. But he kept himself lean against the railing. If he wasn’t going to get this shot his way, he was at least going to get the shot somehow. He attached his telephoto lens for the extreme close-up.
Both tails emerged from the water simultaneously, with water droplets falling from each pair of fins. Kate immediately snapped another picture, capturing all the glory she had obviously found emanating from the scene. Beyond the shuttering of her camera, Jake heard the whale cries bellowing from the deep. It almost sounded as if they were crying for his attention. He wanted to swim out there and shoot a close-up of their eyes, or maybe the inside of their mouths. But instead, he had to settle for the disappointment of ignoring their calls. As the tails fell back down into the water, Jake sighed out loud. He snapped a picture.