A Titanic Challenge

The human mind is the scariest thing of all.

My writing group meets monthly to hone our craft. This month’s exercise was to write a short piece based on a picture of a Titanic survivor (at right), combined with a prompt (below)

It was easy for us to hide in third class.

Steerage, you called it. That large, slow-moving filth. You were in first class, so you barely considered us human.

That was if you considered us at all.

Years later, when you’d see photos of the victims, you’d cringe at the fate of so many people like us. When you see the photo of my mother and I you think about the tragedy.

How unfair, you’d think.

Lifeboats on Titanic were reserved for first-class passengers and there were not enough lifeboats even for them. Buried away her belly, we third-class passengers the smallest chance of survival of anyone on board. Of the one thousand, five hundred and seventeen souls who died that night, three out of four were third-class. The youngest was but a year; the oldest nearly 75.

They were terrified strangers screaming into the void for their lives to be saved. Seeking a new life in a new land of promise instead they instead froze to death or drowned.

What a waste, you’d think.

And you’d be right. Those things really did happen. That story is true.

But it is not my story.

My story will make you feel much different.

For while others screamed, we survived.

My mother and I had but one bag between us when we boarded; most everyone did. Battered and bruised and scuffed and scratched each nevertheless held the promise of a new life in an America that wanted them.

Our own country would not want us; nor would America had it know the truth.

In my mother’s bag was survival.

We felt the collision before the others and when we did, we knew what to do. Quietly my mother removed from the bag the dresses that she had taken from the dead woman and her daughter. My mother had been their housekeeper in Southampton and the woman had always remarked with much affection how my mother and I were the same size as she and her own daughter. They could have been friends in a different life, she said.

The last time she said it had given my mother the idea. With the money my mother had also taken after the murders we had enough for a third-class ticket.

It was no trouble finding a lifeboat. My mother knew they would be loading women and children into the lifeboats first. With the woman’s clothes and the remaining money we floated away in the second boat to launch. A few hours after the murder Scotland Yard would name my mother the prime suspect but by then it was too late. We were already miles away when we saw the boat’s enormous bow rise up, linger, and then come crashing down into the blackness.

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