A Maiden's Voyage
On the Titanic: The Ship of Dreams
April 14th, 1912
Forward Well Deck
The thundering howl of the submerged, ripping steel resounded in my ears. The night was black and full of fog so thick you could swallow it. Although I was alone on the deck, I glanced all around for signs of anyone else. I could not have been the only one who heard it. That was when I saw it, rising from the water like a frozen, white grim reaper. His scythe had struck, and he towered over his conquest in resolute stillness.
The maiden voyage of the unsinkable ship. The ship of dreams. How cruel the irony. Let me take you to the beginning. Come with me, so you can understand all that was stirring in my broken soul only moments before the water in which we sailed toward dreams became the uninviting, liquid graveyard.
April 10th, 1912
I had watched the other passengers board after I had set the two bags of luggage in my room. I knew it would be simple, small. I had not expected just how cozy it would be. The other passenger in the room had either less than me or had not been to the room yet. As I stood with other third-class passengers on the forward well deck, I drew in a deep breath and steadied my hands against my dress. The trembling refused to subside. My scanning eyes paused when I caught a glimpse of him from the deck. He stood with a little girl about five years old on the first-class deck. There was something about his mannerisms as he watched the other passengers on his deck mingle and laugh heartily with each other, full of excitement at the venture we were all embarking on together. He seemed to watch them cautiously, holding his little girl's hand to keep her near. I didn't mean to stare, but when his eyes caught mine I blushed and turned away. Nervously pulling down the tattered sleeves of my dress, noticing yet another dark smudge by the wrist, I walked toward the railing and gazed upon the water beneath.
Take me far, far away.
Let me run and hide upon the sea.
My body will no longer stay,
Where my voice and soul can never be free.
April 10th, 1912
B Deck at 7:00 P.M.
My mind turned toward her only once after seeing her gazing up at me earlier as I stood upon the deck looking upon the third-class passengers below. She came to mind when I saw the exquisite dinner placed before me. I thought of her face, the way she looked at me as though she knew I was not one of them. Not so much in a judgement manner, but simply knowing. Claire, my little girl, will turn six in a matter of weeks. She sat beside me swinging her legs lightly back and forth in the chair. I placed my hand on them to steady her movements.
"That's not polite, darling." I whispered, catching the smiling gaze of a woman who introduced herself to me earlier. I believe she said her name was Molly.
"What brings you aboard, Mr. Wolfe?" She asked me, eyeing me closely.
"A birthday adventure for my daughter." I said, taking a bite to avoid having to answer another personal question.
"Daddy said we are going to play a game called 'Who's Who' while on the Titanic!" She shrieked, stabbing at the roast duckling upon her plate.
"Claire." I said. She recognized the tone and fell silent.
"Sowwy, Daddy." She looked up at me, her large blue eyes seeking a forgiving nod.
"Well that sounds fun." Molly replied, thankfully not questioning any further. She turned to the man sitting beside her and began inquiring of his personal life instead. She was friendly enough, but I very much wanted to keep my life and reasons for boarding the Titanic to myself. Not even my daughter fully understood what was happening, and I wanted it that way. I hoped she would not let anything else slip. The ghosts I am leaving in my wake must remain in the past, and the fewer questions about who I am and what we are doing aboard the ship of dreams - rightly coined - the better.
April 11th, 1912
There were several passengers in the general room when I entered. Some were playing cards at various tables, others were talking amongst themselves about plans once in New York and a few were sitting by themselves reading or taking in the atmosphere in the room as I was doing. I glanced back at one man sitting alone. I recognized him as the man I saw the first day on the first-class deck. What is he doing down here with us peasants? I thought and then cringed. I hated when my cynicism about my class began to speak to me. As my eyes rested upon the man, I studied him. It was odd. He was first-class, but I noticed the distinctly "third-class" mismatching of drab clothing, possibly given to him by a charity. His expression seemed more relaxed in this setting, as though he had found his people and could take a break from looking rich and superior each moment. He was clearly studying the room as well. There were few things to do traveling alone on the Titanic as a third-class passenger, so I decided to say hello. The worst-case scenario was he might be rude, in which case I'd only be on the same gigantic vessel with him for a short time until we reached America and it would no longer matter.
"Good morning." I said. His eyes met mine, and it was like looking in a mirror at my own. "I couldn't help but notice you were in first class yesterday. Visiting the luxuries of the third-class for entertainment?" He grinned slightly at this.
"Yes, actually. It isn't so stuffy down here. You couldn't even imagine how exhausting it can be. Or- I mean- I'm sorry. That wasn't how I meant it." He looked down at his feet, which were enclosed by ragged boots. When he glanced back up at me, I made sure to be smiling. "Would you want to join me for dinner this evening?" He asked.
"Oh my, I would be honored. I'm afraid this is the nicest dress I have." I said, waving my hand over the ratty hand-me-down.
"You look stunning." He said, his cheeks reddening. "Are you traveling alone?" He asked. I shook my head.
"Yes. My name is Darcy Lyons." I said. He laughed.
"I'm Kenneth Wolfe. What a pair we'll make tonight."
Later that evening, as I carefully dabbed my neck with the only expensive perfume I owned, I took a final look in the mirror at my pale, gaunt face. I remembered his face when he looked at me. It was as though he was looking at someone beautiful. Oh, how I had missed that feeling. Pinching my cheeks for some color, I sighed. This is as good as it will get, I thought to myself. I met him on the forward well deck in third-class, and he walked with me to the restaurant located on D Deck. I took a nervous gulp before we entered. He seemed to have felt me stiffen and he grinned down at me, patting my hand. His dark hair was slicked back and his eyes shimmered. He looked genuinely happy and, I was quite surprised, it seemed I was the reason for this. He had all the luxuries of first-class, but looked miserable before. And now, as he stands with me at his side, he looks bright-eyed and somehow more blended in with the other smiling passengers on D Deck.
We made it through dinner without any incidents. When he introduced me, he simply said, "This is Miss Lyons." He did not mention I was his guest up here, and he seemed to dodge invasive questions himself when asked. It wasn't until later that evening that it occurred to me - the little girl. Where was she? Who was she? After dinner, which lasted nearly four hours total through all the courses, we stepped onto the deck and walked to the bow. I turned to him at the bow once we had a good distance from everyone else on the deck.
"Is the little girl who was with you yesterday your daughter?" I asked. He looked out upon the water, avoiding eye contact.
"Yes, she's mine. Her name is Claire." Although I waited for more of a response, he remained silent.
"Is there a Mrs. Wolfe?" I prodded.
"Claire doesn't have a mother. We are leaving every bit of that life behind us and starting new."
I began to speak again when he interjected.
"I returned one day from work and Claire was gone. I asked where she was and the maid told me that she had been dropped off at the girls' orphanage. That was the last straw. To make a very long story short, here we are now, making a fresh start." He kept his eyes on the water then bowed his head. I carefully placed my hand on his, as I watched the icy water gushing in billowing white clouds against the great ship as we sailed through the night.
April 11th, 1912
Bow of RMS Titanic
I have no idea why I told her that. From the moment I purchased the tickets for Claire and I to flee from Southampton, I swore to myself that no personal information about myself or what we were fleeing from would escape my lips. Starting new involves commitment and confidentiality, at least in my case. I have already fractured the latter to an extent. I couldn't reverse it, but I sure as hell could make sure I didn't say anything else I shouldn't. I had to make an excuse to leave, but she had her hand on mine. She began whispering something in my ear. As the words began registering in my mind, I felt something break inside me. "It's all going to be okay. You will be able to start clean. Don't look back, keep moving forward. You can do it. It's all going to be alright. I've been where you are, I am where you are." She said to me quietly, barely audible above the water ripping against the ship. Pulling her dress sleeves up to her elbows, she exposed bruises in clear, handprint patterns.
"I understand so much more than you might realize right now. We may only be passing through each other's lives at this point in time, but I am here for you and Claire. You are not the only ones trying to escape the grasp of evil." She said with such conviction I couldn't help but feel a connection to her, and by that connection I felt the desire burn within me to hold her close. Her soft lips pressed against my cheek for a brief moment and when she stood back there were tears brimming in her eyes, and those eyes were mirroring my own. There were two choices before me - start clean at this moment and say good night to this broken angel beside me, or start clean with her written into Claire's and my new story. I kissed her cheek and said good night, for tonight at least. If she is to be written into my story, I finally decided, I must make careful plans - more so than before. I busied myself the following day with plans of the arrival in New York, recounted the bundles of cash I had hidden away - one hidden in the drawn bed curtains, another in the locked desk drawer, the heaviest bundle hidden away in a safe that itself was hidden away in a large piece of luggage. I practiced what I might say when I saw her again. She would be unable to come up to any of the first-class areas, but I could choose to descend to third-class at any point.
April 13th, 1912
I decided after he said good night and did not show up anywhere in the third-class rooms or decks the following day that he had decided it would be too much to gain a friend on his journey, and that he was safest and in control to the greatest extent when moving upward and onward alone. I was subtly surprised then at seeing him dressed quite smart in a black tuxedo and standing upon the forward well deck. He appeared to be waiting for me.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Wolfe." I said, feeling myself flush.
"Miss Lyons, will you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to dinner again this evening?" He asked, flashing a brilliant smile. I agreed, coolly containing the burst of excitement beneath my chest. We ate like royalty that night. After our meal, we explored the first-class rooms together - his humility apparent with each blush upon his face when I commented on how exquisite it all was on this level. Shaking himself, he took my hand.
"If all I can offer you is a second-class life, will that be enough?" He asked, sitting me down on a deck chair. The night air was quite cold and I shivered. He wrapped me in his coat and asked me once more. "Will that be enough?"
"It is such a sad state that one lives in when all they see is material value in life. What of love? What of adventuring together, creating memories with your truest and dearest friends? I must say, and I preach this to myself as I speak it, that is a first-class life. Not diamonds or lavish dinners and waiters in tuxedos, not money being used to buy temporary happiness and create a sense of superiority one is not deservingly entitled to and, I dare say, shows how lowly that person truly is to put themselves 'above' others. If you are my friend, and perhaps more than this some day, will you take adventures with me? Will you love me and protect me always, as I would you? If your answer is yes, you will give me all I need in this world to be happy. Perhaps it is this ship, the majesty of it, that is bringing such strong emotions to the surface and making them bubble over, but I cannot deny that I'm convinced our paths have crossed at this exact point in time for a reason." I said. It was true - the beauty and power of the Titanic seemed to grip me with a sense of determined, unabashed hope. Anything felt possible, as though all good things would come to me once I reached America. The sea was bringing me nearer to my dreams. Perhaps the term I continued hearing from passengers was true - the Titanic is the ship of dreams.
April 14th, 1912
I woke and turned on my side, gazing into her face. Dark brown waves of hair flowed across her pale face. Her hand stayed upon me all night through and now rested upon the velvet blanket. Seeming to know she was being watched, her eyelids fluttered open and she smiled at me.
"When we reach America, stay with me." I said, stroking the hair away from her face. She slid toward me and rested her head beneath my chin. We had missed breakfast, and I can't say that I was disappointed by this.
"I have made plans." She said, rubbing her eyes and refocusing them again. "Plans that I made as soon as this ticket found its way into my hands." I was unsure where she was going with this, and I felt myself falter a little. "I know the type of work I can find in America. I had planned to remain in New York. Is this what you had in mind?" I nodded, still holding my breath at what else she might say. "And what about Claire? Will you be happy to raise her there?" She asked. I smiled.
"I have something to show you." I said, turning over and opening the drawer of the night stand where I had my map and dozens of pages of scribbled plans. "New York. A new beginning in the New World." She cooed and kissed my cheek.
I dressed and gave him a final kiss before heading back to my small cabin in third-class. The passenger rooming with me, who I believe was an Italian woman just shy of forty years old, gave a polite nod when I entered. When she left for high tea later, I opened my suitcase, the leather straps weathered from years of use. I had written several letters to myself - letters to keep myself determined on my journey, to not turn back - in fear of the unknown - to a certain hell behind me. Nothing waited for me in Southampton besides more pain, and I knew this. I had tested the waters so many times they were in their own sense a personal lake of fire, and I swore to myself that part of my life was over and done. America would promise a fresh start. As I read my own words in the smudged letters - wrinkled from crushing the pages in my shaking hands and bleeding from the dripping tears upon the ink - my heart began to flutter. This was supposed to be a fresh start, I began to think wildly. What if I stepped back into the same trap as I had before, only not realizing it because it was a different face smiling at me, a different voice saying the words I wanted to hear? I looked in the tiny mirror in my cabin and saw that I was quite pale. Having been swept up into the freedom of the sea and beauty of the great ship, I may have lost my footing that was so sure when I first stepped on board. The next few hours passed. I could not tear myself away from the cold safety of the tiny cabin. I covered my shaking body with the White Star blanket. The damp chill that filled the cabin when the sun went down was enough to freeze the bones. It felt especially cold this evening. It was nearing nine o'clock at night now. My stomach ached with hunger. My sweet Italian cabin mate entered with a few bites of food that she insisted I eat when she saw my pale face poking out from the blanket, failing to keep me from trembling.
"Mangiare. Il cibo ti scalderà." She said kindly, as she gently propped me up. She gestured to take the food and slid her hands up and down her arms to signal it would warm me up. The food was no longer hot, but it was warm enough to provide physical comfort and ease my rumbling stomach. Pulling a picture from her only piece of luggage, she pointed to it. There was a man holding a small child. She smiled at the image and pointed to the child then to herself and said something in Italian I could not quite understand.
"Is that you as a child?" I asked. She nodded.
"Padre." She said, and although the following words were foreign to me, the tone in which she spoke could be understood in any language. I smiled and ate the few bites of food in front of me and excused myself when she prepared to dress for bed. I decided to roam. Perhaps Kenneth would be near enough to spot. I felt guilty for not meeting him at the deck this evening for dinner. It was not exactly making the impression of commitment I would have liked to have shown, but I was consumed with anxiety that had gripped me the last few hours up until now. I felt like the brief cloud had cleared in my head. I only needed to speak to him.
April 14th, 1912
I spat into the sink and placed the toothbrush in the holder. My hands gripped the sides of the sink. I felt like shaking it off its hinges and tossing it through the door. I was not making the fresh start as I had hoped. Allowing myself to believe I had found some enchanted dream upon the sea was apparently only a joke on me. She did not show when I went to the forward well deck this evening. In fact, I had not seen her at all since she left my room this morning. It felt like an extra jab in my chest. Still, I could not stop wondering, hoping. Maybe she fell ill. I would try once more to find her on the deck. Kissing Claire good night, I closed the door to her room and exited the cabin in search of Darcy. When I arrived at the entrance to the forward well deck, I scanned all the faces. There were a surprising number of people for the temperature and hour, but I suppose not having all the luxuries as first-class passengers, being able to look out upon the starry night sky and twinkling sea below was the best form of entertainment at that hour. Others were inside the general room playing cards, and there were scattered passengers in the smoking room still. There was no sign of Darcy. I turned, spat upon the deck as I passed through, and went back to my cabin. As I closed the door behind me, the tight knot in my stomach seemed to shift into anger. I punched the wall, causing a stir to come from Claire's room.
"Daddy?" I heard her little voice say.
"Go back to bed, darling." I said, walking toward her room and pausing at the door. I listened to her pitter-pattering back into bed. I smiled. There was one girl who would always be by my side.
April 14th, 1912
Forward Well Deck
My hands were trembling and my breath was coming in ragged jerks. I didn't care who was blocking the entrance to first-class. I had to find Kenneth. The urgency to do so multiplied a hundred times over at the sight of the iceberg. The fogginess that enveloped the Titanic in as little as an hour suddenly made more sense - we were in a sea of icebergs, many submerged far beneath the surface of the water, slick as glass. I ran as fast as my feet could take me, only stopping to warn my cabin mate of the iceberg strike. I knew that she was already aware as soon as I flung the cabin door open. She was sitting straight up, still as a statue.
"We hit an iceberg. Hurry, come with me." I said, trying to pull her by the arm to follow me. She yanked her arm away and shook her head profusely, shouting Italian and beginning to cry. "Please, come with me," I pleaded, "I will keep you safe." She pushed me away. I can't force her. I needed to find one of the crew to see if the damage was going to be as ominous as the towering iceberg appeared to be. And Kenneth - I must find Kenneth.
A stewardess came pounding on my door about a quarter past midnight.
"Mr. Wolfe?" She called out, pounding once more on the door. I recognized her as the stewardess from the first day on board. I wrapped a robe around myself and went to the door.
"Mr. Wolfe, I don't mean to alarm you. We have hit an iceberg, and while we want to reassure all of our passengers that we are not in imminent danger, we would like to have everyone-"
"We hit an iceberg? When? I didn't even feel anything." I said, as if this would disprove what she was saying. I desperately wished that it would.
"Please, Mr. Wolfe, I must inform the other passengers." She began, but I left her at the door and hurried to collect Claire from her bed. Shushing her and grabbing her doll from the bed, I quickly exited with her in my arms. The thought struck me as I overheard two crew members speaking to each other in excited tones about where the iceberg hit the ship. Darcy. She was nowhere to be found in any of the third-class rooms. I pounded on all the doors. One door was already cracked open and when I began pounding upon it, the hinges creaked loudly and I saw an Italian woman sitting up, terrified, in her bed. I managed to pull her to her feet, though she dragged behind me like her feet were made of stone.
"Hurry! Fretta!" I shouted to her above the other passengers now rushing through the small corridors. I followed where the rest of them were heading. Behind me I heard screams from some of them and a loud voice exploding above the crowd. They were being turned away nearby. I continued running with the rest of the crowd, Claire now crying upon my shoulder in confusion.
"It's alright, sweetheart." I said, but my own voice was wavering. I cleared my own path to get her through to safety. As I arrived with the other third-class passengers to the area where several crew members were beginning to uncover several lifeboats. I felt all the blood drain from my face. The confusion whirled around me. I held Claire tightly against my chest and began softly singing to her. I'm not sure how long I did this before I heard other voices joining in song. I realized it was the band members. I carried Claire toward where the singing was coming from and we waited there - for what, I'm not sure. I then heard the crew members shouting above the crowd.
"Women and children first!" I felt my stomach drop from me. I looked at my little girl. I was all she had, and yet.. I ran zig-zagging across the deck, scanning for Darcy and shouting her name. My voice was joined by dozens of others, desperately trying to locate their spouses, friends, parents, lovers - all separated by the confusion of the last hour. I heard my name shouted from behind me. Darcy was running toward me, tears streaming down her face.
"Listen to me!" I shouted above the chaos, "They are putting women and children on the lifeboats. You have to take Claire." I said urgently, giving her a hard kiss on the forehead and shoving her into Darcy's open arms. Darcy gripped her with fierce strength, held me tightly and gave me a kiss before wiping the tears from her face and carrying Claire in her arms as Claire began to cry out in a panic. I heard, as though all other sound was drowned out, Darcy's reassuring words to her. "There, there sweetheart. Be still, you're alright. I will watch over you. We are okay." Her voice did not shake, for she was strong in the protection of my little girl. And as I saw them lowered from the side of the ship minutes later, I blew a kiss to my girl and held my hand over my heart for Darcy, a silent thank you.
"There are not enough lifeboats. Many people will die." I heard a man behind me say. His face fell when I turned to him. I would die beside him less than two hours later, both of us holding with all our strength onto the railing as the sea opened its great mouth and swallowed us into its ice-cold grave.
April 15th, 1912
Aboard the Carpathia
My arms are enclosed tightly around the softly-breathing bundle wrapped in a White Star blanket. I think back on my words to Kenneth - words said in earnest, meant for him. And now, as I hold this little girl in my arms, I understand the great importance of meaning what you say before you speak. Thank God that I did mean it. I meant the words for him, and it now translates to being fulfilled in my carrying out those promises for all that is left of him - and I am holding her now. And I will not let him down.