Boatman's dream 33
By Parson Thru
“Ben! What time do you call this? I’ve been trying to contact you all morning.”
Ben laid his camera on the desk.
“Sorry Peter. I was working on an article in the flat. The signal isn’t good.”
Well there’s been a hotel fire while you've been missing. I think it’s the Salt Winds – up by the old pier. Go and get what you can. The fire brigade should still be damping-down. I want some striking images. Human interest, all that.”
“On Pier Road?”
“Yes. But the road’s closed. You’ll have to park by the gardens.”
Ben hooked the camera strap on his shoulder.
“Ok. I tried to email you the shots from the “man overboard” at the boatyard. Did you get them?”
“I'll have a look. Go and get me the story of this fire. The story, mind. I don’t want an Instagram upload.”
“I’ll get you something. Catch you later.”
“Oh! Ben! There’s a letter for you. Someone dropped it in this morning.”
Ben took the letter and headed out. He could smell smoke on the breeze. He hadn’t given it a thought earlier.
He found a parking space up by the gardens. There was a good view over the old pier and into the bay. The Salt Winds was immediately below. It had been empty for some time. It looked like it was finished now. The roof was gone. Grey smoke billowed from the gutted interior. Firefighters were aiming jets through the empty window holes.
A crowd of onlookers chatted by the garden railing, smoking and taking photos. Many were in slippers and night-clothes. They were in good humour.
Ben walked around the gardens, composing the scene. He had to push through to reach the best vantage points. He took some shots of the appliances and the collapsed seaward wall, then spoke to a few people to get witness accounts. They showed him videos from the height of the blaze.
When he had sufficient material, he sat on a bench and observed from a distance.
On a whim, he slipped the lens-cap off and started taking foreground shots of the onlookers with the charred upper storeys behind them. Smoke piled into the clear westward sky. He liked what he was seeing and moved around to cover the angles, picking up on the ambivalence of the scene.
Feeling that he’d got something, he sat back down, remembering the letter in his pocket. He took it out. Hand delivered. No return address. He opened the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of A5 notepaper.
Do you remember I told you about the party on the wharf? The one on the night of the fire? Danny showed me something Arthur had said to him. He’d written it down. From memory, it was this:
‘The universe has no meaning.
It has no ontology.
It simply is.
That’s until you introduce humans.
Humans fill the whole thing with questions.
Not just What? and How?
And they’re always disappointed when you tell them it’s just a place to wake up.
That it just is.’
I don’t know why, but it really seemed to get to Danny. He sat outside on his own in the rain for the rest of the night. When I took him a beer, he told me Arthur had just killed his hope.
The fire happened a few hours later – just before dawn. Danny hasn’t been seen since.
After the firefighters and the police had gone, I had a look around in the grass where he’d been sitting. There were fragments of notes scattered everywhere. They’d been soaked by the fire hoses and rain. The fire brigade found burned spiral binders in the bottom of the boat.
I thought it might make some sense to you. It doesn’t make any to me.”
There was no name, but Ben knew who’d dropped it in the office mailbox.
He read it through again and folded it back into the envelope, remembering Kevin’s reaction when he’d asked if Danny might have started the fire: “Why would he do that?”
Ben stared at the burned-out hotel and its assembled voyeurs. People do very strange things.