A Living Nightmare

Julia Fisher, Guest Writer

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As the hand on the grand clock moved in its slow, rhythmic motion, my heart did the same. My mother, Tabitha, had entered the mansion an hour ago, promising to return in “a short while,” and now I’d been standing on the side street of Hobart Drive, Southampton, England for over two hours. The clouds hovering overhead promised rain, and my heart sank at the image of my best dress being soaked. Finally, the two huge front doors of Haverly Estate swung open, revealing my mother and Mrs. Haverly. The two were whispering quietly, politely, and I strained with all my might to grasp a few words.

“Thank you so very much, Tabitha.” Mrs. Haverly waved gracefully as my mother sauntered toward me. “I do hope we meet again soon.” With those words, my eyes flew wide open and my entire body threatened to jump out of its skin.

“Does that mean!” I exclaimed loudly before my mother forcefully hushed me.

“Yes, Lillian, we need to pack.” Her voice came out even, but I could sense that she held the same amount of excitement that I did.

Mr. and Mrs. Haverly were too old to travel the long distance that so many others were preparing to travel. For years, rumors had floated all over Europe of the biggest ship ever made, the most extravagant way to travel to America. The tickets purchased by Mr. Haverly were going to be used as a present to his son, their son’s wife, and their new born daughter, but the family had desired to travel east for some reason. Regardless of the reason, the tickets to America needed new owners. My mother had cleaned for Mrs. Haverly for years, and my father played cards, at times, with Mr. Haverly. So, when the news came around that certain tickets were available, my mother had to inquire about them. After much deliberation about stocks and gold that Mr. and Mrs. Haverly desired to own, the tickets were ours. My father had left months ago for America, for a supposedly better life for our whole family. Personally, I’d always questioned my father’s loyalty to the family; never had he been fully involved with us and only us. But now, our turn to remake the lives we held had come without him.

*     *     *

As I grabbed my one small suitcase in my right hand and headed to the main entrance of the huge ship, the loud, bellowing horn sounded in my ears. My mother and sister, Rosalie, weaved through the crowd behind me. Our tickets held the status of first class due to the fact that they were purchased by our very wealthy employers. Disapproving stares met our tattered skirts and worn shirts, but I kept my head high as we moved passed the “royals.” Finally at the entrance itself, my mind went hazy as my body swayed slightly.

“Miss?” I blinked a couple times, staring at the man collecting the tickets. “Miss, are you alright?” I nodded slowly, collected my mother’s and sister’s tickets, with mine, and handed them to the man. The slight rocking of the ship caused my already nervous stomach to do a backflip. The ticket master looked at us for a moment, then glanced at the tickets. His eyebrow rose ever so slightly and he opened his mouth to speak. But, without saying a word, he turned and walked into the ship.

“I’m sorry to say, but you and your family are being moved to third class,” the man said in a monotone voice when he returned. Anger spread through me, but when I felt my mother’s hand on the small of my back I restrained myself and let her speak.

“And why would that be?” My mother’s voice did indeed come out softer than mine would have. “Our tickets say first class.”

“Well, uh, yes ma’am they indeed do, but my captain desires to keep a certain look to the, uh, entire experience of the Titanic. Not that we do not want you here, we simply believe you would feel more comfortable in the third class section.” My mother’s face appeared hard, unmovable, but I knew she seethed underneath. With a nod and a grab of my hand, we walked down to the third class corridor.

*        *        *

“I can’t believe the people here! So entitled, so stingy… Ugh.” My mother unpacked our meager belongings in our small cabin as I rambled on. She hummed a little tune, one she used to sing to my sister and I when we were sleepy or fighting. It reminded me to stay calm, so I inhaled a deep breath.

“Why don’t you take Rosalie and explore whilst I come up with the arrangements of this small room?” I chuckled at her attempt to stay civil, even though her frustration danced in the time of her voice.

*        *        *

The sea breeze blew my hair every-which way as I walked with my sister along the bow of the ship. Forward, backward. The Titanic plowed through the waters below, just getting started on the journey. We were on our way! A new life in a new land. Opportunities were endless!

“Mercy! Oh mercy…” A scream pulled me out of my train of thought as Rosalie and I turned to face the first class tea room. “My job, I’m fired.” A red-haired girl, wearing the mandatory maid uniform of the ship, slumped against the wall with her face in her hands.

“Are you alright?” My voice came out slow at first as I tried not to scare her. Her eyes met mine for a second, then she peered down and shook her head.

“Not really. I was supposed to be in charge of the music. I was supposed to ask Mr. DuBois to play piano. It was my job!” This girl continued to ramble on about how it was her fault, but I didn’t have a clue about anything she was saying. All I heard was piano. I love the piano. Mrs. Haverly had placed me on the piano bench for the first time when I was barely two years old. She guided my fat, little fingers up and down the ivory chords. Ever since that moment, I have always loved the piano. Secretly, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to move to America. The opportunity to start a name for myself as a professional pianist is a dream I’ve held dear for a long while.

“I’m sorry. You don’t care about my short term memory loss.” The girl’s face again dropped to her hands in defeat.

“Are you looking for something more toward the classical level? Or jazz related?” Her eyes widened at my question.

“Can you play?” She inquired, hope filling her eyes.

“Well, yes I can; but I don’t for other people.”

“Please! Oh please. You would save my job.” The pleading in her voice plucked at my heartstrings. Never had I played this for many people, especially not elite groups such as the ones waiting for me in the tea room. I looked back at Rosalie who nodded with childish amusement.

*        *        *

The room hushed over the sounds of the chords dancing through the air. Every symphony on my fingers had the crowd leaning closer. Regardless of how enthralled they were, I blocked them out. I focused solely on the task at hand, like Mrs. Haverly had taught me. After one movement, however, I opened my eyes and glanced around the room. Everyone looked pretty and pampered, like I’d expect, but one gentleman caught my eye. His dark hair was slicked back in the style common to the rich folk. His suit was tailored to perfection, and he wore an impressed smirk on his chiseled face.  Bright blue eyes bored into my green ones. It took everything in me to pull away and start the second movement. After an hour of playing, dinner was ready to be served for the first class passenger, and I was getting hungry myself. Rosalie appeared before me with a smile.

“You did so amazing. Mrs. Haverly would have been impressed. Oh, and a gentleman is waiting for you on the deck.” Her green eyes that mirrored my own glistened with that same childish amusement as before. I quirked my head as she took my hand, leading me out the side door. The sun was beginning to set and the rushing water reflected the red and pinkish tones that the whispers of night presented. As we turned the corner, that same dark haired man was leaning over the railing, gazing off into the distance. I stopped short and took in his tall figure. He had to be older than I was but not old, maybe mid-twenties. Rosalie skipped toward him and hung on his arm.

“Thomas! I got my sister like you asked.” His eyes flicked from Rosalie to me.

“Ah, yes, I see that. Why thank you, Little Messenger.” His voice was gruff, but had a warm and inviting undertone. “Hi. I’m Thomas Wilson,” he said as he stuck out his hand.

“Lillian Crowell. And you’ve met Rosalie, I guess.” Confusion filled me as I questioned why this man was introducing himself. His eyes searched mine for a brief second before he explained.

“I’m heading to America to pick up where my deceased father left off,” I recoiled at the thought of his father’s death, but he simply brushed it off. “His work was oil and gold mines. Money wouldn’t be an issue, but my heart doesn’t lie in oil or even gold. Seeing you play piano tonight made me realize that I, too, need to follow my passion. Music. I can’t sing or play even the slightest of a tune, but I have a passion for supporting those who do hold such talents. I want you to be my first client. I will put you through whatever schooling you need and help get your name known in the community.” His words were now falling on deaf ears as my mind hazed over. This gorgeous man couldn’t be serious? Finally, he stopped talking and was simply staring at me. The passion that he was just talking about filled his eyes, but also something more. I began to nod, a smile forming on my own lips to match his.

“I- I don’t know what to say.” Was all I could manage.

“Then say yes. Lillian, you’re talented and young. You could really go somewhere.” His voice was so sincere that I had to believe him.

“Eighteen isn’t that young,” I announced “But, alright, yes!” His eyes danced with excitement as he stuck out his hand toward mine. Taking it, I shook with a sense of a new future ahead of me.

*      *       *

The fourth day of our journey had come so quickly due to Thomas. Once he found out about the whole ticket fiasco, he moved my family and me to a first class suite just across the hall from his own. Every waking moment he seemed to be beside me, and I didn’t mind one bit. He cared for my music, of course, but he also cared for me personally. We would attend breakfast, lunch, tea times, and dinner together, talking about our drastically different lives. Even though they had their huge differences, some aspects were the same. We both suspected that our fathers have and had loyalties outside our own families, music drove our souls in one way or another, and the chance for new adventures outweighed the fear of failure.

Dinner had just finished when Thomas asked if I wanted to walk the deck with him. The cool night breeze had me shivering some as we strolled the long deck. Stars were all I could see for miles. It almost looked as if we were floating in a galaxy. Thomas’ hand wrapped around my own and warmth instantly filled me.

“Here, take my jacket. It’s chilly tonight. You know,” he continued to make small conversation, “these life boats just take up space.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, there aren’t really enough for half the people on this boat and the chance that they would be needed is slim.” His eyes looked past me as he played out the same event that I was playing out in my mind. “So, they’re useless, and they’re taking up deck space.” I nodded, silently agreeing with him, until I heard a bell go off towards the front of the boat. It’s ringing lingered in the frosty air as crew members scattered all around. Something was happening, I just didn’t know what.

“Hey, we should get inside. I don’t want us to be in the way of whatever is happening.” Thomas pushed my elbow in the direction of the first class lounge.

“What is happening?” Just as those words left my mouth, both Thomas and I were jerked forward and fell flat on the ground. When I glanced around, we weren’t the only ones affected. As my eyes scanned the people around me, they landed on a looming mountain overhead. A huge iceberg passed by slowly as we grated along. After it’s shadow was merely a phantom, the mayhem began once again. Crew members scrambling all about.

“That was a-”

“Iceberg, yes, I’m aware.” Thomas’ voice came out breathy. “C’mon. Let’s go inside.” We half jogged to the lounge, but right before we got to the door, I heard the captain whispering a prayer to himself in the navigation room. A prayer of surrender, a prayer that didn’t hold much hope at all. My stomach dropped as I once more looked at the life boats.

“What was that shudder?” My mom’s eyes filled with concern at my troubled expression.

“We hit an iceberg.” I announced looking off at all the folks mindlessly enjoying their tea and conversation.

“An iceberg? Mercy me. I was worried it was something to do with the propellers.” My mother’s face held relief, but the distress of the captain lingered in my mind.

“I want us to get emergency items together.” Everyone in our small group looked at me in confusion. “Please. I know it doesn’t make sense, but-”

“Lillian, we’re fine. No need to worry yourself.” Thomas comforted me, but I couldn’t shake the sick feeling growing by the minute. Rosalie was staring at me, and I knew she could see the real fear in my eyes.

“Lil, can you come and tuck me into bed?” Being eight-years-old, Rosalie hadn’t asked for such a request in a couple years, but I obliged, hoping it would take my mind off things. As we entered our suite, she turned to me and put her hands on her hips. “What do we need to do? What’s going on?” I was taken back by the questions.

“I think we’re all in a lot of danger,” I finally admitted. Her eyes grew wider as she studied me, checking for any hint of humor. When she found none, she grabbed her small bag and stuffed it with the things she loved. I followed, doing the same, whilst whispering prayers together.

“Put your life belts on!” A man’s voice echoed through the corridors and grew louder as he came our way. The door to our room swung open as Thomas walked in.

“You were right. They’re telling everyone to get prepared with our life vests and warm clothing. We have to be on the deck. Everyone does.” Rosalie clung to me.

“Alright. Well, you heard them. Where are the life vests?” Thomas, who was already wearing his, moved to the other end of our suite and brought out two white floatation devices. I strapped Rosalie first, then myself. “Where’s my mother?”

“Tabitha and my mother are waiting for us on the deck. Information should be given out up there, I believe.” I nodded along to Thomas’ words and hurried Rosalie out of the room and up to the deck. As soon as we were about to exit the first class halls, I heard screaming coming down from the second and third class corridor. My mind wondered back to our first day and how tiny and cramped the halls and rooms were of the third class lodging. Cussing and screaming was all I could register, until a female voice shouted, “Please, let us come up there. You can’t keep us trapped like dogs!” My own heart sank.

“What’s going on? Why are they being trapped in their corridors?” I asked, horrified.

“Lillian, we can’t focus on that right now. C’mon. We need to be with our families.” Again, I was pushed to the exit.

“Gather about, gather please!” A crew member stood on a barrel in front of many first class passengers. I searched the crowd for my mother and spotted her standing with Mrs. Wilson. “Please, everyone there is no need for panic. We are taking safety precautions, but we need everyone to stay calm.” Just as he said that, the ship beneath us seemed to shift on itself. The lights inside the ship flickered and then turned off completely for what seemed like minutes. Rosalie cried into my jacket as I held her. The ship was sinking. There was no way to convince my mind of anything else. Thousands of people were on this ship at this moment. Confused, helpless. Many were still inside struggling for information. It was at that moment I first noticed the slant in the ship’s stance. The front of the ship was dipped into the water and we were no longer moving. That small fact set me off more than any of the other events. We were no longer moving forward. No longer traveling to America. We were simply stuck in this one place, bobbing like bait waiting for the catch.

“Pull! Alright, now, push! To the left!” Crew members all around were uncovering and releasing the life boats. The necessity of them quite clear at that moment. People now started to get frantic, pushing and shoving to get closer to the small boats. I turned and saw third and second class passengers flowing out of the doors and trying to make their way up to the top deck. Another shudder went through the whole ship, making an awful screeching noise down below. I let go of Thomas’ hand and ran to the side of the ship. Glancing over, all I saw at first was dark, eerie water. My eyes moved along the edge of the boat looking for the bottom set of windows that I had admired the first day when we boarded the Titanic.  The windows weren’t there, however, and I nearly vomited as hot bile rose in my throat. Thomas grabbed my arm and tugged me away from the edge.

“We’re getting into one of these life boats. I promise you, we will.” He sounded so sure, but my mind wasn’t on my life. I looked down again, over the edge and saw crowds of lower class people pressed against the windows and railings underneath me.

“Why- why won’t they let those poor people up!” I shouted.

“Because! Because there isn’t enough room for everyone. Anywhere. Not up here, not in the life boats, no where.” Thomas’ voice was so harsh. Tears started to prickle at the edge of my vision. He sighed and grabbed my hand, running his thumb over my knuckles. “Let’s go. I will keep you and your family safe.” He guided me back to the line for the life boats. Cries were heard all around, but suddenly the screams from down blow got intense. Running and trampling was heard as each life boat, filled with only fist class passengers, was lowered to the water below. Finally, after only a moment it seemed, I was being hoisted into the boat by my life vest. My hand was tightly around Rosalie’s, pulling her with me. When we were both seated, I reached out for my mother. She, too, was placed beside me. I looked at Thomas, waiting for him to step forward, but he didn’t. I looked and him and made a hand motion, but he stood firm.

“Thomas?”

“Women and children first,” he said, cutting me off. Sadness was laced in his strong voice. The tears I had held back came streaming full force as the boat began to lower. After a few seconds, he was out of my sight. Down, down, down until the tiny boat hit the unforgiving water. My face was buried into Rosalie’s hair. The few men on the boat began to row, and after a few minutes of silent sobbing, I lifted my head. My breath caught in my throat at what met my eyes.

The Titanic, the unsinkable ship, was slowly disappearing into the water. People all over were jumping, screaming, thrashing to get to some safety point. A flash almost like lightning showed in the night sky, and I looked up to see a distress missile falling from above to the sea below. No one is around for miles, hundreds of miles, I thought to myself. I could tell from the distance we were that water had begun to fill even the second and third top floors. Everyone seemed to be rushing to higher ground. Suddenly, the front part the ship lifted as the lights went out once again. Screams, horrifying screams, erupted from the boat. The lights blinked several times and then a huge crack, grind, snap. The entire ship was split in two pieces. We could hear the gushing water all the way from the distance of our little safety raft. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the living hell before me. Down went the back end of the ship, up went the front. Like a cork in water, it bobbed. My life would never be the same after this evening, but at least I still had a life to call my own. The knowledge that any of those people could have been me was painfully present in my mind.

Hours passed it seemed after the remaining half of the ship had sunk into the depths. The men paddling our boat had stopped, saying that a rescue ship had to be coming soon. We were all freezing, but of course didn’t say so due to the fact that there were actual dead bodies frozen to death in the water just a couple hundred feet from us. Rosalie, somehow, found rest snuggled between my mother and myself. I couldn’t sleep knowing that all the lives lost in the water had no fighting chance, knowing that they all desired new lives, but instead got no life at all. This thought ate away at me. A whistle sounded off in the distance, and I glanced its way, realizing help had finally come. A life time would pass for me, but never would I forget the day thousands of lives were lost and how I witnessed it all.

 

 

Bibliography

P. T. Davenport-Hines, Voyagers of the Titanic. Published by William Morrow, 2013.

Tikkanen, Amy. “Titanic” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic. 15 April 2019.

History. com Editors. “Titanic” History. com. A&E Television Network. 9 October 2009 https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/titanic. 16 April 2019

Life Jacket. Digital Image. http://most-expensive.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Titanic-Life-Jacket.jpg. 11 April 2019.

Documentary. Directed by Sweeney, Maurice. Release date: 13 April 2012. Saving the Titanic https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_the_Titanic. 15 April 2019

Navigation Room. Digital Image. https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3667/8891974216_d59c075d9a_b.jpg. 12 April 2019

 

 

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