9:1 Below Deck


Giving up the idea of ever closing her eyes again and having few earthly possessions to be concerned about, Philomena wandered the ship as other passengers readied themselves for arrival in Kaua‘i. A persistent thrumming behind a closed door labeled CREW ONLY finally piqued the interest of the precocious girl. She had always been fascinated by how things worked and an unlocked door possibly leading to the guts of a working steamship was no barrier to her boundless curiosity.

Another peculiar rhythmic sound caught her attention as she mounted the iron staircase leading down into the belly of the ship sparsely lit by a single Edison bulb. Rather than dispelling shadows, the feeble lamp was fostering a whole new universe of them.

A quick flash of white linens revealing a surprised and angry Irish cabin stewardess was the first thing Philomena saw as she stepped from the landing into a dim passageway; the second was the bemused face of the very sailor who had helped her find her father in the salon.

The man adjusted his personage—as well as his uniform—as the stewardess gathered her skirts and fled back up the staircase. As the woman climbed, Philomena noticed that she had forgotten to wear bloomers of any kind.

“What are you doing down here, Annie Oakley?” the sailor tried his best to sound stern. “This isn’t a place for passengers, especially nosy monkeys like yourself.”

“I … ,” Philomena started but quickly realized that she had no good excuse for going where she knew she did not belong.

“Let’s take you someplace a little more appropriate,” the sailor chided her while making it sound like a golden opportunity. “How would you like to see the bridge?”

Philomena forgot all about the bowels of the steamship and nodded so enthusiastically she almost lost her balance as the ship gently vibrated beneath her.

“I know the captain is looking forward to talking to you again,” he said, ushering her back up the stairwell.

The Pride of Jefferson was the flagship of the Morning Star fleet and—at the length of a new regulation football field—provided a decent hike. As the pair climbed through several decks to the bridge, Philomena’s vertigo did not abate.

“’You all right, scamp?” the sailor noticed the girl’s pallid complexion.

Philomena stopped for a moment and held onto the railing and focused on the black smokestack that towered above them until her lightheadedness faded.

“I don’t know what’s come over me,” she apologized. “I’m not usually like this.”

The sailor stood and took stock of his young charge. Although the captain had asked to have her brought in to speak with him, the sailor had all but forgotten about it until Philomena ignominiously found him instead. Now he wondered if the girl was up to meeting anyone at the moment. He also wondered if she would mention anything about his dalliance with the stewardess.

This girl could get you put off this ship, a familiar devil on the sailor’s shoulder whispered in his ear. As if on cue, another—slightly disheveled—angel leaned into his other ear. It’s not that girl that’ll get you put in dry dock, and you know it.

Unwilling to dash Philomena’s hopes, but having second thoughts about the mission, the sailor offered up an easy out. “If you aren’t up to this right now, we still have a little time before we reach the islands.”

Philomena said nothing but motioned for him to lead on.

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