Title: Just Starting
Synopsis: Pre-shipwreck. One castaway changes the life of a Hawaiian photographer. The shipwreck and its aftermath, as told by an original character.
Special thanks to Sally (sallycandance), my friend on LiveJournal, who was my fabulous beta reader!
Note: This is a pretty different kind of a story, speculating about the things that happened prior to the shipwreck for one of the castaways (Ginger). I'd love to see any of our other talented writers do something similar with some of the other characters. I know it's a bit different being mostly about an original character, but I hope you like it! I welcome feedback!
+ + + Just Starting + + +
My name is Keone Akana. I'm a fashion photographer in Honolulu. You might have seen my work. Actually, I'm certain you have. You've never heard my name before? Of course; that's because I publish my photos under my professional name, Ken Akana. I'm going to tell you about my most memorable day on the job. You'll see why soon. It was one of the sweetest, saddest days of my life. One I'll never forget, as long as I live.
I was born in Honolulu, and have lived there ever since. It is home. I started my career as a photographer when I was just a teenager. I became an apprenticeship under a fashion photographer, and took many pictures for local magazines. I did some editorial work, too, when it was relevant. I covered the Miss Hawaii Pageant, for instance, every year. I also photographed hula dancers and other performers for magazines.
So, it wasn't out-of-the-ordinary for me to receive a phone call from an agent, asking me to cover a glamorous young starlet's performance at the Tiki Lounge. Her name was Ginger Grant. I'd seen her in a few films. The agent wanted to send Miss Grant to Honolulu to perform for one weekend only, as a sort of publicity stunt just before the opening of her new movie, Waikiki Baby. He wanted me to photograph her in the club, and to spend a day with her, taking assorted cheesecake pictures of her frolicking on the beach and the like.
It sounded like a good assignment to me, and I accepted the job. Miss Grant's name was well-known; she was a real up-and-coming star. Photographing her, I thought, would certainly help me get my name out there. Sure, I was known in Hawaii, but this assignment would expose the mainland United States to my work, and I was excited for the opportunity. I agreed to meet Miss Grant at the airport.
Ginger Grant landed on Hawaiian soil at six in the morning on a hot Saturday in August of 1964. The idea was that we'd have some time to hit the beach for some photos before there were too many people there to get in the way. I drove to the airport, parked, and waited at the gate. People began exiting the plane, and I watched carefully, waiting to escort her to my car.
Her agent told me to expect her wearing a dark wig she used to detract attention when she traveled. Still, even from far away, I spotted her immediately. She had a curvy and statuesque body, and wore a pretty white sundress. She stood several inches taller than others around her, and had a distinctive walk – I'd seen it in the movies, and here she was. She emerged from the crowd, and I came forward to introduce myself.
"Aloha, Miss Grant," I said, extending a hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Ken Akana."
She shook my hand and smiled. "Aloha, Mr. Akana – the pleasure is mine. Call me Ginger." Her smile was warm and pleasant.
"Only if you call me Ken!" I said, taking an olive green case from her. We headed to the baggage claim and retrieved her luggage, and then we drove to Ginger's hotel to drop off her belongings.
We chatted in the car. Ginger was so taken with the scenery in Hawaii. "I've never been here before," she confessed.
"Are you kidding me? Weren't you in three pictures set in the Hawaiian islands?"
"Sure – four actually, if you count Waikiki Baby. But they were all filmed in Hollywood."
"You don't say." I pulled into the hotel's parking lot. Ginger was quick to unpack, so we wouldn't waste the early morning daylight.
I felt a bit shy asking Ginger outright to put on her bikini. Fortunately for me, she took care of that problem herself. "Which bathing suit do you like the best? Green, white, or leopard?" She held up three options.
"Let's go with the green one," I said. I felt like I might've been blushing.
Ginger left me sitting on the hotel room's balcony while she changed in the bathroom. Thirty minutes later, she emerged, clad in the emerald-colored bikini and a sheer sarong. She was exquisite. She had the longest legs I'd ever seen on a woman. She'd removed her dark brown wig, and her signature fiery-red hair was styled into a soft flip. Her makeup was freshly applied.
"What do you think?" she asked, turning on her heel like a fashion model so that I could see all of her, in the round.
I barely knew what to say. She was spectacular. I must have looked pretty foolish, standing there with my jaw hanging down. Finally, I answered, "You look…"
I was at a loss for words, and she knew it.
She giggled. "Thanks!" she said, giving me a playful wink.
I knew then that we were bound to have a fun day working together. Ginger was a star, but she was a human being, and she was professional without being haughty. She was well aware of the effect she had on men – including me – but she seemed to see the humor in the situation, and she made me feel comfortable right away. She was also equally as career-driven and ambitious as I was, so I knew we'd be a great team.
We headed to the beach, and spent an hour and a half – and four rolls of film – taking bikini shots. Ginger posed leaning against palm trees. She waded in the surf (but refused to go in more than waist-deep – she couldn't swim). She frolicked in the sand, drawing hearts in the sand with her finger. The glorious Hawaiian backdrop paled in comparison to the beauty that oozed out of Ginger Grant. I could tell she'd done some modeling before; she was very good at posing – with or without my direction. There was not a bad shot in the bunch.
The beach began to get crowded with tourists, and Ginger and I were beginning to attract some attention. Ginger politely signed a few autographs, and we snuck off to the hotel. Once there, she donned another sundress and packed her makeup, sheet music, and a garment bag in the car. We drove down the street to the Tiki Lounge.
As I rounded the corner, the Tiki Lounge's marquis came into view. It read:
STAR OF WAIKIKI BABY
1 PM, 10 PM SATURDAY, SUNDAY
Ginger beamed when she saw it and clapped her hands happily. "See that?" she said, pointing.
I nodded in response.
"I never get tired of seeing my name in lights. It's just starting, you know. It's just starting to happen." The way she said it, in a dreamy sort of tone, I wasn't sure if she was talking more to me or to herself.
I slid the car into a parking spot. "C'mon, Ginger! Let's get a picture of you by your sign!"
We dashed from the car to the sidewalk, and Ginger stood tall and proud beneath her sign, just beaming. I snapped a couple of shots. Ginger waved at me and the camera, giggling. I bent down on one knee, capturing the girl and the monumental sign behind her. She blew a kiss, she smiled, she paused coyly. She pointed up. I kept snapping photo after photo.
They were gorgeous photos. I knew it when I snapped them. But I never could have guessed that one of them – a simple pose of Ginger Grant smiling a hundred-watt smile, one hand raised in a waving gesture, eyes shining brightly and looking directly into my lens – would become the most famous image of my career.
She wore a brand-new gown that afternoon, beige – almost flesh-colored. Sequins and beads encased her ample bosom; the rest of the dress hugged her perfect hourglass body. She preened in the cramped dressing room until it was time to perform.
I photographed her getting ready for her 1 PM performance, applying makeup, and studying sheet music. She only asked me to stop once, while she did some vocal warm-ups (only then did she find my photography distracting). She sang a few scales before sitting to relax prior to her performance.
I looked at my watch; it was 12:45. "I'd better take my seat if I want to get some photos of you on stage."
"Thanks for everything, Ken. You've been terrific." She reached out to me and gave my hand a little squeeze.
"Break a leg, Ginger!"
I was surprised. A 1 PM show is not customarily sold out. However, Ginger packed the house. It seems a large group of Navy men were ashore for the weekend. Undoubtedly, most of them had seen Ginger's movies, and had come to see her in the flesh. You should have heard them hooting and hollering as Ginger took the stage.
She was breathtaking. Did I mention that her gown was a kind of a flesh color? If these sailors used their imagination, they could easily visualize everything under that dress.
Ginger was accompanied by a three-piece band: piano, bass, and drum set. She sang a string of jazzy standards. "It Had to be You," "Embraceable You," "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and the like. She sounded great. I know I got some wonderful pictures of her, shimmering up there on stage. The crowd was very receptive; they howled and cheered, and I could see that Ginger loved every minute of it. She sang one song as an encore ("Beyond the Sea"), and the crowd erupted into applause and whistles as she disappeared behind the curtain.
I sat at my table for a few more minutes, snapped a few pictures of the crowd for Ginger's agent, and headed back to the stage door to met up with her. The door was open and two sailors were there with Ginger. I could tell they were inebriated, and I could tell Ginger was politely thanking them for seeing the show, but eager to escape them. As soon as her eyes met mine, she lit up. "Oh, there you are, honey!" She reached for my hand, tugging me closer to her side.
"Hi, my dear. You were lovely," I said, placing my arm around her waist.
She turned her attention to the sailors briefly. "I do appreciate your compliments. Thank you for coming to the show! Now, if you'll excuse me…"
The two drunken sailors took the hint.
As soon as they were gone, Ginger laughed. "Thanks for playing along!"
"Ken, you've been working awfully hard today. I think you ought to take a break before the ten o'clock show."
"What are you going to do between now and then?"
"I was thinking of taking a walk down by the Marina. Maybe I'll do some sightseeing."
"I think I'll walk in that direction, too. My apartment is near the Marina. I might just head over there and take a rest before the show."
We walked out of the Tiki Lounge, passing clusters of sailors who'd just seen the show. They made their appreciation known with abundant whistles and comments to Ginger as she passed. Ginger merely smiled and waved.
I walked her to the Marina to ensure she was safe from the wolves (as she called them). It was three in the afternoon. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky. It was as clear a day as any.
Ginger was noticing the names on the sides of the boats. One was called "Veronica." I explained that ships were often named after people – wives and daughters of the sailors who owned them. Ginger seemed to like that. "Do you think someone would name a boat after me someday?"
"Sure, I don't see why not!"
Another boat caught her eye. "The S.S. Minnow," she read. "What a funny name for a boat. A minnow's such a tiny little thing, and this is quite a boat!"
Just then, we noticed a couple getting on board. They were dressed to the nines. A skinny sailor in a red shirt and white cap was hauling the well-dressed couple's luggage. "Funny they should have all that luggage," I whispered to Ginger. "The sign here says this charter boat just takes three-hour tours!"
Ginger stared at the boat, entranced. "Hey, Captain!" she called. A heavyset gentleman wearing a royal blue shirt and a Captain's hat looked over the S.S. Minnow's bow.
"Yes, miss?" he asked, a genial smile on his face.
"What time is the tour departing?"
"In fifteen minutes," the Captain responded. "We'd be glad to have you aboard!" he said jovially.
Ginger turned to me. "I could go on the tour and be back by seven!"
"Sure you could!"
"What if I met you back at the Tiki Lounge at eight? I'd get to see some sights, and you could get a little peace and quiet?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Ginger smiled. "Thank you again, Ken, for everything." She gave me a quick hug, and a kiss on the cheek. "See you tonight."
I turned and started to leave.
Ginger's voice made me pause once more. "Hey, Ken?"
"Yes?" I said, turning to face her once more.
"What did you want to be when you were growing up?" she asked, her eyes twinkling in the afternoon sun.
I laughed. "A photographer. How about you?"
"A movie star," she said, beaming. "Guess we're not doing too badly, huh?"
I felt myself break into a genuine, warm smile. "No, not at all!" I replied. Ginger and I were very alike, and I couldn't help feeling a kind of a kinship with her. "Have fun!" I said, waving.
As I made my way back down the pier, I heard the catcalls and whistles of some of the sailors that had seen the show. I turned and looked. They may have been harassing her a bit, but the S. S. Minnow's Captain shooed them away, and escorted Ginger aboard.
My apartment was above my photo studio, so I dropped my rolls of film off at the dark room before heading upstairs. My assistant began the developing process.
Back at my apartment, I fell fast asleep. I hadn't meant to even take a nap, but I was exhausted. I overslept, and it was a clap of lightning and roar of thunder that snapped me into my senses. Funny, no one had predicted rain that day. Looking up at the clock, I saw that it was already eight-fifteen, so I hurried to put on my shoes and load fresh film in my camera. I dashed to the Tiki Lounge to meet Ginger.
The rain was pouring down in sheets, and despite wearing a slicker and carrying an umbrella, my pants were soaked from the knee down, and I was downright disheveled. Once at the lounge, I went directly to the stage door and knocked. Burt, the stage manager, opened the door. "Where's Ginger?" he asked me.
I was a bit startled. Surely she was already here. "I don't know. She should be here already. I was just coming to meet her."
A look of fury crossed Burt's face. "It's nearly nine, and no one's seen her. Where has she been?"
"Well, she took a charter boat out on a three-hour tour. She should have been back by six-thirty at the latest."
Burt turned, and I followed him into the dressing room. I pulled a business card out of my pocket – one from Ginger's hotel. I dialed the number and asked to be connected to her room, but she wasn't there. We waited for a few minutes, both of us anxious. It was nine. Ginger needed to be onstage in just an hour.
"Do you have a local phone directory?" I asked.
"Yeah," Burt responded. From under the vanity, he withdrew a phone book and handed it to me.
I flipped through the pages until I'd found the number for Island Charters, a small office near the Marina that managed the charter boats. I dialed quickly. "Yes, hello. This is Ken Akana. A friend of mine departed at 3:15 this afternoon on the S. S. Minnow, and she hasn't returned yet." Thunder roared outside, and a flash of lightning illuminated the dressing room for a split second. "Can you say that again? I couldn't hear you. … They're not back? It's been six hours! Are they all right? … What do you mean, you can't reach them by radio? The storm, yes. I know. Yes, let's hope that's what happened. Please call the Tiki Lounge if you hear anything. Thank you." My heart was hammering in my chest. The storm raged outside, and Ginger was out there on a tiny little ship…
I hung up the phone.
"What did he say?" Burt asked.
"The boat never came back to the Marina. They can't get hold of the Captain by radio. They're hoping he paused at another island to wait out the storm."
We waited and waited. I called the Marina twice more. The man at Island Charters was starting to sound as worried as I was.
Burt canceled the show, to the dismay of the many sailors that had filled the Tiki Lounge. He called in a local girl to sing in Ginger's stead.
I couldn't stay there any longer. I threw on my slicker and headed out the door, in the direction of Island Charters' office. I burst through the door, panicked and dripping wet. "It's me, Ken Akana," I said. A team of four men from Island Charters was there, all of them looking distressed.
"We keep trying. We just can't get a signal through," one of the men said.
"The Skipper's a fine sailor. I'm sure they'll be all right," another added.
I felt weak, defeated, and helpless. Suddenly, adrenaline was coursing through me and I turned around and ran down the pier towards the empty space where the Minnow had docked earlier that day. Rain soaked my clothes. "Ginger!" I shouted. "Ginger!"
My chest heaved, and my face was wet – from rain or tears. I wasn't quite sure.
I didn't sleep that night. I went home, continually calling Island Charters every thirty minutes. At three in the morning, the phone rang. I leapt up to answer it, hoping Island Charters was calling me with some good news. Instead, it was a photo editor of the local paper.
"Ken, hey. I hear you spent all day photographing Ginger Grant."
"Yes," I said, feeling sick.
"We need a picture of her for the morning edition. Can you help me out?"
"What's the story? Have they found her?"
"No, no, not yet. She and the other six people on the boat are missing persons. They're being considered lost at sea."
I was silent for a while. Ginger was lost at sea. Was it I who'd lost her? One thing was certain. This fellow from the newspaper was trying to use a sexy picture of Ginger to sell some papers. Under a normal circumstance, I might've turned him down or told him to find his own damn photo. However, a part of me knew that the more people saw a picture of Ginger, the better her odds were of being found. If she showed up miles from here, even if she was hurt or confused, someone might recognize her and help.
"Come by in thirty minutes," I said, and hung up the phone. I dashed down to my dark room and looked at the negatives my assistant processed earlier. I selected a shot that was a clear, pretty view of Ginger, in front of the marquis at the Tiki Lounge.
Taking the negative I'd selected, I began to develop the photo. The photo-sensitive paper, once dipped into the developer chemical, began to darken and reveal the image. Ginger's face stared up at me from beneath the pool of clear liquid.
Before I had time to realize it, hot tears were pouring down my cheeks. I seized the corner of the photograph with a pair of rubber tongs, rinsed it in water, and hung it to dry.
As I stood there I cried. There was only one thing that kept coursing through my addled mind: Ginger can't swim. Ginger can't swim. Ginger can't swim.
The next morning, my photo was on the front of every Hawaiian newspaper. Huge letters read:
LOST AT SEA
Beneath the headline was Ginger's image, beaming happily and waving. There were other pictures, too. One depicted the kind, smiling faces of the ship's Captain and first mate. There was a picture of the rich couple I'd seen boarding the boat just before Ginger did. There were two more passengers, not pictured.
The storm was over.
I walked over to the Tiki Lounge. Someone was on a ladder, pasting a "cancelled" sign over the marquis advertising Ginger's show. When I saw this, I couldn't bear to go inside.
I walked to the Marina, looking again at the spot where the Minnow had docked. I passed the Island Charters office, where the same four men looked like they'd been to hell and back. Last I'd heard, search parties were scouring the area looking for the Minnow. I didn't ask them any questions as I passed the men. I simply nodded to them. I knew they'd call me as soon as something happened.
I knew there was nothing I could do to help the situation. All I could do was wait. And hope. I decided to go back to my apartment. Having stayed up all night, exhaustion was finally hitting me. I lay on my bed, tossing and turning restlessly, until I finally fell asleep.
My dreams were terrible. I watched a ship capsize. I watched human beings get tossed into the sea like oyster crackers in a bowl of chowder. I saw a woman in a gown, wearing just one high heel shoe, floating face down in the water, her red hair fanning out from her head. In the dream, I tried to turn away, to close my eyes, but I couldn't get the image to go away.
I woke up shaking. I had to try and stay positive. She was going to be found. I had to believe that.
The following day, my photo was circulating in papers in every state. The day after that, it showed up all over the world.
Weeks passed. Months passed. The search parties were called off. Ginger Grant and the other castaways were presumed dead. No one ever recovered any bodies or remnants of the ship.
Thirty years have passed since the day I spent with Ginger. That photo made me famous overnight, but it always makes me sad to look at. I'd have traded in my fame if it could've kept Ginger on this earth just a little longer.
I've kept a framed photo of her in my home ever since that day. It's not the one that all of the newspapers used. It's actually an outtake. The background's a little fuzzy, Ginger isn't looking quite into the camera. Her gaze is looking higher. Up. Into the distance. She's smiling.
Sometimes, thinking back on it all, I daydream a little. Some days I imagine that she didn't lose her life that day. I imagine she washed up on the shore of some tiny island no one's ever heard of. I imagine she liked it so much there, she just decided to stay a while.
I've retired from photography. I'm still here, in my native Hawaii. I bought a little fishing boat that I like to ride around in. I named it Ginger Grant. I think she would've liked that a lot.
Sometimes, when the sun is warm and the breeze is gentle, I think of her. I can hear her voice whispering, "It's just starting, you know. It's just starting to happen."