Turning the Corner: Inimical (episode six)
Prompt and appropriate change of voice and manner in harmony with the changing effects of language, is indispensable to the art of expression. Discourse is often like the dissolving view, interesting and effective largely from its contrasts. It requires one or more of the corresponding contrasts of quality, pitch, force, time, position, countenance, or movement.
The sky was a silken, muted blue, smug in its gloss as costly porcelain; yet on the Northwest horizon—it might have been a hundred miles away over the vastness of the sea—a bank of low white clouds portended sloppy weather ahead. Rain or shine was of little concern to the seasoned Atlantic voyager, for whose diversion the modern ocean liner provided a plenitude of entertainments.
Despite the biting winds of mid-February, a few passengers had come up to the boat deck. Geoffrey Malcolm-Webb made note of a particular group striking poses (in truth, a single pose, being trialed by minute adjustments) before the lifebuoy, the inevitable tableau proving to friends at home that they had sailed on the SS Bremen.
A woman, aged near sixty, and a younger man—fair-haired and somewhat handsome—stood bookend fashion. They were alike short and stout of build. The woman wore heavy brown tweed; the man’s fur collared overcoat, though well-kept, was in the style of a decade earlier. He beamed at the photographer; the woman showed a twitch of impatience. While their traveling companion persevered, they bore up, producing intermittently stronger and weaker effects in pleasant expressions. The photographer was a young woman, only somewhat taller than her companions, her black coat trim and toque hat fashionable, though not expensive. She struggled, with each gust of wind, to keep a long fur boa from blocking the camera’s lens.
In the spirit of shipboard camaraderie, Malcolm-Webb introduced himself and offered assistance. The others nodded; the man stepped forward, hand extended.
“I am August Stauber!”
This was delivered as a loud announcement. He slapped Malcolm-Webb’s arm, and introduced the women: “Miss Greta Freund, Mrs. Aldwin Branstadt.” They, thoroughly American, proved chatty and welcoming; Stauber, an Austrian visiting the States for the first time, civil and showing signs of bonhomie, his efforts to communicate kept at bay—the typical fate, Malcolm-Webb thought, of a man traveling with two women.
“Shall I take the photos, while you join the others, Miss Freund?” he suggested. At close range, he noticed her enveloping scent of high floral notes, and the green and white pin stuck to her hat. The ship’s photographer, shouldering his case of equipment, appeared on deck at this moment, shooting Malcolm-Webb the glare of a competitor.
(2014, 2018, Stephanie Foster)