The Souring Seas
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
One day in late June, Beth returned from the Smugglers Cove studio in tears.
“The show’s cancelled,” she blurted between sobs as she collapsed onto the sofa. “We were struggling with a scene when Mr. Brockleman stomped in and pulled the plug. It’s done, finished. We have five episodes in the can, but they’re dust. I’ll be lucky to recover any salary.”
“Can’t they sell it to another network?”
“I’m sure they’ve tried. I’m back to the grind of endless auditions.”
He gathered her into his arms. “What about your other projects?”
“One appearance in another Drug Squad episode. And I no longer have an in with the local fashion photography business. Justin was my link, and I’ll never work with him again!”
“What happened? A problem with the pregnant woman book?”
“That project’s fine, and Justin’s good at producing them.”
“Yeah, the impresario of naked women pictures.”
She pushed away from his embrace. “You don’t like him, but his reputation as a fashion photographer is solid, and his art books are successful.”
“What went wrong?”
“Nothing. The book’s done. Photos of the month-to-month development of my pregnancy will be an interesting thread running through a photo essay about love-making, pregnancy, and birth. It was his attempts to involve me in his next project.”
“His next project?”
“One day when you and Marc were real busy.”
“After taking masses of hideous postpartum photos, he asked me if I wanted in his next one. I stupidly said yes without asking questions.”
Tony stared as Beth struggled to find the correct words. He’d never met Justin Kilburn, and until tonight, Beth always said good things about him. Now his original gut reaction appeared vindicated. “And…”
“Photos to illustrate a book his friend is writing about BDSM.”
“What! Bondage and dominance and sadomasochism?”
“Yeah, I backed out, and he got upset.”
“Models must pass on projects.”
“They got all belligerent. I feared his assistant would take out her anger with whips and stuff.”
Tony jumped from the sofa. “You mean you’d actually started working on this?”
“They were showing me what they wanted. Anyway, after some histrionics, they let me go. They were real scary.”
“This is intolerable.”
She reached up and tugged on his arm. “Calm down. It’s okay. It happened months ago, and it’s all dealt with.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yeah, right, and have you storm out with vengeance on your mind. My problem, and I solved it without getting you and Michael upset. I shouldn’t have mentioned it, but with the Smugglers Cove cancellation, it slipped out.”
Tony pushed damp strands of blond hair from her face and pulled her close. Despite living together for months and cooperating on raising her child, they were, in many ways, leading separate lives and pursuing their individual careers. He could understand her desire to deal with her problems, but they’d obviously become too much to handle.
“What now?” he whispered.
“My prospects are lousy, but me turning into a stay-at-home mum with no income wasn’t in our plans.”
“Don’t worry. You remember me telling you last October about that engineer who listened to my interview with Becky Smith.”
“Clive Grainger. He wanted to produce methane from your low pH phytoplankton, but you said it wouldn’t work.”
“I was wrong. He’s making it work, and he’s been paying me a retainer for advice I give him. With that and my stipend from Dr. K’s research grant, we’ll manage until something turns up. We’ll be a team working together.”
“Like being married?”
Tony sighed. “Closer, more honest with each other. An opportunity to develop your role on our climate change website. It will keep you from obsessing about your work situation and help make a better tomorrow for Michael. And for us an enduring life together.”
She melted into his embrace. “Happy family, forever.”
Tony’s campus life was also unfolding, but in a manner affecting graduate students everywhere. By October, Jacinta had successfully defended her thesis and returned to Spain. Tim Wilkes was focused on the completion of his studies, and Rosie Parker, their summer student for two years and bachelor’s thesis candidate in her final year had graduated five months earlier. The void in Dr. K’s climate change group was partially filled by Marc Lavoie, but the place still felt abandoned.
One morning in November, Steve Matthews sat alone staring out a coffee-room window.
“What’s with you, sitting here staring into space?” Tony asked as he approached the coffee pot.
Steve turned, smiling. “Not very friendly. How goes the epic battle with the acid ocean? Have you heard from Jacinta?”
“Not yet. She doesn’t start work until January, so perhaps she’s taking a well-deserved vacation.”
“But the paper you’re writing together is back on track?”
“It’s Jacinta’s paper, with Rosie and me as supporting crew. Nothing has changed. You lower the pH and you get enhanced and extended growth.”
“Which leads to your project based on enhanced sequestering of carbon in a low pH environment?”
Tony hesitated after he poured his coffee and dumped a loonie in the tin. There was something odd about Steve’s demeanour. “You’re jumping the gun because I haven’t finished my proposal, but I’ve passed the ideas by Dr. K, and he’s onside. I’ve also talked to Dr. Wharton, and he thinks it works.”
“You’ll be investigating a scenario that might explain how plankton production generated fossil fuel deposits in the Cretaceous?”
“Cretaceous and much earlier periods when many coal fields were laid down. Atmospheric CO2 was higher than current levels in those periods, so it’s a factor I must consider. If carbon dioxide was higher, it’s certain oceanic pH was lower. But why are you winding me up?”
“Hey, don’t get snippy. I’m interested in what my colleagues will do after I’ve departed.”
Tony set his cup on Steve’s table. “You soon planning to submit your thesis?”
“I’ve withdrawn from the PhD program. I’m going home to help my mother rescue the family business from the mess my brothers made.”
“You’re kidding! Can’t they hire management specialists if your family members can’t cope?”
“Apparently not, and my brothers aren’t incompetent. They’re marketing oriented, and they need someone to handle engineering and production.”
“And you’ll do that?”
“Yeah, Mr. Tony Atherton, Master of Engineering. It may surprise you, but I also studied engineering before I arrived here.”
Tony paused thinking Steve seemed like the antithesis of a typical engineering student. “I had no idea you were an engineer. But my question stands. Why give up your dream of an academic career? Can’t you hire engineers to run your factory?”
“Innovation is the problem. It’s difficult to hire innovators. The family firm needs me, and I must do my part. I can’t expect my mother to keep it going.”
“What happened to your father?”
“Don’t go there.”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have pried. When will you leave?”
“Christmas, when I’ve completed the course I’m taking. If we get the company functioning again, I may return.”
As Tony left the lab that evening, he imagined rats abandoning a sinking ship, but students moving on was standard fare at universities.
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