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If You See Eva

by Kalina Isoline 2 months ago in Historical
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An unreal story based on real events.

The American Seaman’s Friends Society Sailor’s Home, 1908.

April 18, 1912 - New York, NY

As Margaret aged, she secretly suspected that her life had a purpose larger than working front desk reception at The American Seaman’s Friends Society Sailor’s Home, but the feeling came and went. Now nearing 30 and unmarried, she spent less of her time improving the social and moral welfare of seamen received through Manhattan’s West Side Piers, and more time thinking about herself.

The Sailor’s Home, which some likened to an upscale hotel, was a boarding house for traveling seamen. The red-bricked Hudson waterfront fortress included a chapel, concert hall, bowling alley, and a beacon that played over the river from the polygonal observatory. Compared to Margaret’s windowless studio on the Lower East side, it was an elaborate heaven. Her job was to ensure traveling sailors were received, checked in, and taken well care of.

William was not an affectionate or gregarious man, but managing the Sailor’s Home did not necessarily require either. His face was as vast and meaty as a six rib roast, and pursy too, if you can imagine a pursy roast. At 57 years old, he had never been in love or attempted marriage. Whenever Margaret began to express an opinion William sighed and left the room. Together William and Margaret made up the entirety of the Sailor’s Home front house staff.

On April 18th, 1912, Margaret wore the same deep red two-piece uniform that she wore every other day before that, a pencil skirt and a blazer with strong shoulders. She pinned her hair back into the same French twist, always tighter in the morning and slightly undone by day’s end. A gold rectangular name tag that read Margaret.

By 11AM, she noticed William going into a tailspin that caused him to close the door to his small back office rather loudly. This was not unusual. 20 minutes passed, then 30, at which point William materialized from the office into the grand lobby where Margaret was responsible for greeting guests. He looked more like roast beef than ever before.

“Everything alright? Margaret asked politely, turning in her seat. A pause while William seemed to think very hard about the question.

“Can you clear space for 305 guests?”

Margaret giggled a little before realizing there was no joke being made and clearing her throat. “We don’t have that many rooms, sir.”

“No frivolities necessary.” He turned sullenly before adding, “9 hours!” And the door was shut again. She wondered what frivolities meant.

At 10pm, the first group of survivors from the Titanic shipwreck arrived through the doors of the boarding home. The walk between the street level revolving doors and the check-in counter was too long to start with, and longer now. The furnishings of the grand lobby were unnecessarily Persian, and the lighting was sleepy no matter the time of day. One unavoidable chandelier lit the oversized room from the center, to reiterate its importance.

Margaret had seen poor before, she was familiar with destitute. But this was something else. These were rich people who had been made to look poor, angels fallen from grace. The terror in their eyes had lost its urgency and turned to daze, and the blankets over their shoulders were juniper green. Woman still had intricate corsets on, brooches affixed only by a thread, men wore 3 piece suits. Everything that seemed familiar and pleasant felt suddenly ugly. The only people allowed to cry were children. Margaret thought of something to say but nothing came to mind.

The survivors of the Titanic shipwreck did not arrive all at once, which gave Margaret more time to distribute the rooms as agreeably as possible. Families could share accommodations, but with only 200 rooms and 48 already occupied, she would have to pair up strangers too. The lots of survivors continued coming in throughout the night, most accompanied by volunteers who had received them straight from the RMS Carpathia at Pier 54. Sometimes none for hours, then suddenly a hundred at once.

Eyelids heavy around 3AM, Margaret heard the front door open and her eyes flickered awake. Walking towards her was not a group of people, just one. A man, her age or a few years older, dark hair matted down across his forehead, a once white shirt untucked from too-big tattered corduroys and boots just barely held together, not with glue, but gravity. His hands had countless cuts and small gashes, and his fingernails were caked with dirt.

“I’m sorry if I woke you,” he said, arriving finally across the desk. His eyes were not the evil kind. Very obviously, he was not American.

“No, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ve had a very long day…” she said, standing up.

“Probably not as long as mine.”

“Oh God, of course. Yes,” she stammered along, “What am I saying. Are you hurt?”

He chuckled. “I’m just having a laugh.” From his intonation, she could now discern he was an Englishman.

Margaret massaged her eyelids and tried to smile too. “A laugh. That’s incredible. I haven’t heard a laugh today.”

“Me neither.”

“I don’t have any rooms left. If you are willing to share with a family I can ask in the morning. Otherwise you can try St. Vincents. We only have 200 rooms and they sent us over 300 people —“

“It’s okay, Margaret.”

“How do you know my name?”

“You’re wearing a name tag.”

“Oh,” Margaret sighed. “What’s your name? You haven’t got a name tag.”

“Hank.”

“I wish I could help you.”

“You have.”

“I have a pastrami sandwich.”

“That’s good.”

“I mean, are you hungry? Would you like to have it?”

“If we share.”

Margaret retrieved the pastrami and ketchup sandwich she had made that morning from the back office and placed it on the counter between them under the single chandelier of the boarding room’s lobby. There was silence in the city for the first time in ages. The sound of chewing was melodious.

“You haven’t asked anything,” Hank said eventually.

Margaret swallowed, of course not. She had wondered about the right thing to say and settled upon the conclusion that it didn’t exist and so she wouldn’t say anything.

“No,” she said matter of factly.

“Why not?”

“Scared, I guess.”

“What if I want to talk about it?”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know yet.” There was a long pause. “It feels like I’m dreaming.”

“Now or before?”

“Both.”

“You can try to continue perceiving it as a dream.”

“And that would be better?”

“I’m not a doctor,” Margaret said shyly.

Hank smiled.

“I live on the East side,” she said. “It’s a small apartment. A studio with no windows. Somewhat dangerous neighborhood. But probably better than St. Vincents.”

“This whole city is dangerous. Life is dangerous. Do you expect to live forever?”

“Sometimes I do. I don’t think about it until things like this happen.”

Hank raised an eyebrow as if this were news to him.

“I don’t know if my wife will like it. My staying in a woman’s apartment in a dangerous city.”

“I’m sorry, I should have asked. I had no idea you had a wife.”

“It’s alright, I don’t know if I have one either anymore.”

Margaret breathed in sharply.

“I should be crying, I think,” Hank said, “I’m not emotionless. I’m just not very demonstrative.”

“I understand that.”

“She was on a life boat. One of the first. If anything, she thinks I’m the dead one.”

“I believe your wife is alive.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’ll be at St. Vincent’s until I know.” Hank said.

“I suppose I’ll be here. If you should need anything.”

“One thing,” Hank said, and he pursed his lips, looking away from Margaret for the first time. He closed his eyes tightly as if he were casting a spell. Then he turned his head in such a way that his face began to look like someone else’s face, someone different from whoever walked through the lobby moments before.

“If you see an Eva,” he said finally. “Can you let me know? Eva Wheeler,” he repeated, touching Margaret’s hand just barely, an acknowledgement that she was there and he was there, that this was not a dream.

Then he said, “So long.” •

Historical

About the author

Kalina Isoline

New York

writer/designer

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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