Jayme stretched her long legs out in front of her. First Class definitely had its advantages, she thought. After her flight to Aruba in coach four years ago, she realized how much she had depended on Donald talking to her to keep the claustrophobia from closing in. The extra room in First Class helped, but it wasn’t the same as a companion. It was also much more expensive, but her best friend, Peggy, had always told her, “You’re worth it, babe.” As Jayme’s thoughts turned toward companionship, she began to realize how much she missed having some one close. Was this the key? The missing element in her life? The thought was interrupted.
“Would you like some champagne, Miss Haller?” the perky blond flight attendant asked. It was nice to have a stewardess who attended the needs of only a handful of travelers instead of an entire plane load.
“No, thank you. I would like some iced tea, though, if it’s not too much trouble. Unsweetened, please.” A drunk driver had taken Peggy from her the year before she lost Donald. Jayme had been crushed with the loss. Consequently, she drank very little herself, and had no patience for anyone who drank too much.
“No trouble at all. I ’ll be right back.”
As she sipped at her iced tea, Jayme gazed out the small window, the white puffy clouds moving steadily past below them. This is a far cry from the trip to Aruba, she mused, remembering how nervous she had been to travel alone, but knowing she would have to sooner or later. That trip changed her life. It was a change in herself Jayme had been looking for – and found.
When Jayme had returned home after that first trip, she contemplated the ‘assignment’ Katherine had bestowed upon her. Never one to do things half way, she decided on a unique approach. She watched the video she had taken over and over again. On the second viewing, she began making notes. By the fifth watch, she was excited over the prospect of editing and running a clean tape of sixty minutes. Weeks condensed into one hour, definitely a challenge. Jayme had spent so much time at the multimedia center over the shoulder of the technician, he suggested that next time she buy her own editing equipment. So she did, using some of Donald’s abundant insurance money. That first sixty minute tape on Aruba was what Katherine had watched. A newly edited version of thirty minutes was what Katherine showed at It’s Time To Travel.
Jayme’s next trip, to Bon Aire, was even better. She knew more about her camera’s capabilities and the editing process, and more importantly, she knew more about what people wanted to see. On her trip to Curacao, now completing the ABC Islands, she began making verbal notes directly onto the film, when possible. This helped her make accurate, on the spot observations, and she was able to delete the original notes from her final copy.
Jayme always made a copy of her tapes before editing, at the suggestion of the media tech who had edited her first tape. Then used the original tape for editing with its higher resolution. The result was quite professional, and Jayme being the perfectionist she was, was pleased. She then made an hour version and a half hour version. This delighted Katherine. It gave her an option with her travel clients, some who professed to not have the time to watch an hour long travel log. No matter what length, the film was thorough; Jayme’s own low sultry voice was the only narration, sometimes mingled with local music, and the tape always ended with a spectacular sunset and Jayme saying “Sunset in (wherever she was), there’s none like it anywhere else in the world”. It soon became her trademark.
The Reef Roamer was an instant hit at the first travel convention Katherine took it to. The orders for the half hour versions began to swamp Jayme’s post office box. The Reef Roamer was in business.
A business it was, too. For as much pleasure as Jayme received out of the vacation and diving, it was still work to get the right shots, go to places she didn’t feel like visiting, always playing the naïve tourist, and then the editing, which sometimes took weeks to get just right, and which she always insisted on doing herself. Work it was. But it never ceased to amaze Jayme how well she was paid for having fun. This was a definite bonus, since she didn’t like to use Donald’s insurance money to live on, although there was enough of it that she could have. The anonymity was also fun. The more well known The Reef Roamer became though, the more she found years of acting in community theater helpful to throw suspicion off when necessary. Jayme could change character at will. It was all too easy to slip into the grieving-widow-looking-for-something-to-do role when she had to. People didn’t like to be around grief and that role kept them from getting too close to the truth. Jayme usually used the I-don’t-know-anything-about-my-camera scenario when tour guides got too interested in what she was doing. An airhead couldn’t possibly be The Reef Roamer! Mostly, suspicion arose because she was very attractive and exuded self confidence. And beautiful women rarely traveled alone, unless there was a reason.
Setting her iced tea down in the airplane lap tray beside her, Jayme rummaged in her oversized bag for the travel documents. The bag was another prop, this one being bright orange with yellow and pink flowers that were meant to look like hibiscus. Katherine was so very thorough in her arrangements, that Jayme rarely even looked at where she would be staying until she was in the air. Hmmm, she thought, Fantasy Island. Would there be someone on the ground ready to shout ‘De plane! De plane!’ she chuckled out loud, causing the other first class passengers to glare in her direction. This had to be a real tourist trap, she mused. She herself would have avoided places that sounded too touristy, but this was after all, a job, and others wanted to see these places before they spent their money. Even if it wasn’t quite her style, Jayme always tried to make the best of it.
Next on the agenda was two weeks on Holm Cay. From being in the islands before, Jayme knew that cay was pronounced key, which indicated one of many islands. The brochure was quite promising. The resort boasted spacious rooms, air conditioning, and plenty of hot water; a fresh water swimming pool and white sand beaches; a restaurant and lounge open from 7am to midnight. They also offered snorkel and scuba tours to the area reefs, and plenty of peace and quiet. Just what Jayme would need after a week of being a ‘tourist’! She could feel herself relaxing at the thought of long walks alone on a deserted beach. A sudden stab of loneliness surprised her, and she turned her attention back to the papers in hand.
Then, there would be the final week in Marsh Harbor. That realization sent Jayme’s pulse racing. Was she really ready to face all the memories that place would bring? She knew she had to try. She’d been struggling the past five years trying to build herself a new life, one without Donald, and felt she was almost there. She could now think of him without her throat closing up and her green eyes turning liquid. This would be the final test: Returning to the place he died. Maybe, thought Jayme, I should even try to find Miguel and dive that wall again. It would make some interesting footage, the thought fluttered through her brain.
Jayme shuttered involuntarily. The last video she took on that wall was locked away at home.
A month after the funeral, her son Alan was helping her sort and put away all the scuba gear that had been unceremoniously dumped in a corner of the basement. Alan had found the camera, its battery pack long dead. He had removed the cassette and slipped it into the nearby VCR, rewound it and set it on play. Silent images of staghorn coral and triggerfish filled the screen. A passage through a coral tunnel. A close up of a Scrawled Filefish hiding in the rocks loomed at them. Jayme and Alan stood mesmerized. The scene suddenly jerked, then blurred from movement too fast for the auto focus to work. The camera stilled and the focusing lens centered on the steel gray gody a shark moving quickly away. A murky red cloud momentarily fogged the camera, then the scene aimed at the bottom. For the rest of the footage, the camera was obviously not being controlled, as it hung from the tether at Jayme’s waist. There were scenes only of scuba fins and bubbles. For a few seconds the bubbles parted, and there, for the first time, Jayme saw the shark had indeed returned and was circling below them. A cry escaped from deep in her throat. The camera, still running, was then dropped from its tether onto the deck of the boat, taking pictures of water splashing and surf-shoed feet. A dark, red pool began forming inches from the lens. Jayme couldn’t tear her eyes away from the horror being played out in front of her. Mercifully, the camera was then pointed at an air tank. Shortly after, the film went blank. Alan turned the VCR off and turned to his mother. It was the first, but not the last time they cried together.