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The Morning After

the first lifeboat off the Titanic

By Bonnie Joy SludikoffPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
2
The Morning After
Photo by Limor Zellermayer on Unsplash

"Daisy could sleep through the end of the world," my mother always said. And I guess she was right. 

I used to lament this strange defect of mine. I'd sit up with my older brothers and sister while they sat around the kitchen table, feeling my eyelids grow heavy as they discussed matters well over my head. As they laughed and chuckled and sipped dark tan liquid out of their big glass mugs, I nodded along, pretending I was part of the conversation. 

All I wanted was to be part of their world and since mama never had time to put me to bed, I could usually sneak a few moments of their almost-grown adventures. 

Bailey tried to give me a sip of his drink sometimes, but somehow he was always caught by our sister, Louise. She was a stickler and my second mama; ours was often busy working at the diner up the road. On the bright side, she always brought us home plenty of day old bread, which tastes just fine if you put it on the stove for a few moments with some butter.

It was Louise's idea to go on the Titanic. She dreamed of a better life for us. A life better than Bailey taking a job in the mines and dying early like papa and grandpa, and Uncle Theo.

It's not that we didn't all want the best for our strong, protective men, but mine work was what our family had always done. Men worked in the mines. Women kept house. 

For generations, no woman in our family had ever worked, but when papa died so young, we didn't have a choice. In fact, soon Louise would be leaving school to help make ends meet, even though she had two years left.

Oh, that's not why she had the idea to go on the big ship. It wasn't for her. It was for all of us. 

"This is for you most of all, Daisy," she told me one night while giving me a makeover with her pigmented lip balm and a light brushing of rouge. 

She told me I would be a lady before I knew it, and a lady needed to be educated - not relying on some man who'll just get broken down in a dead end profession.

I didn't really know what that meant. I was busy enjoying my reflection in the mirror. I was nearing 11, but with a little bit of make-up, I could pass for 14. Nearly an adult. 

Mama didn't notice my make-up on the day of our trip aboard the Titanic. She had tended so carefully to our luggage - we couldn't afford to lose anything. But even Bailey at 20 years old could barely remember to pack his underthings. 

Louise, nearly 16, did a nice job. But of course, mama had to pack my suitcase, and a small bag for baby Randall. And then there was Leonard.

As we got on the ship, someone mistook him for our papa.

"What a lovely family, sir," the steward said to my oldest brother, reaching out to assist the rest of us as we boarded the ocean liner. 

Of course, Leonard said nothing. I held his hand. That had always been my job. Whenever Louise tried to hold onto Leonard, he pulled away, and mama had difficulty being gentle with him after the accident. He hadn't meant to knock Randall out of the bassinet, but I can understand why mama had a difficult time getting past it. After all, a mama's job is to protect her babies.

Of course, Leonard had been her baby, once. I don't know what things were like back then. When I was born, Leonard was already fourteen and taller than everyone, including papa. He was stocky and serious and never said a word. But with me, he was gentle. 

I took him on walks to the pond most afternoons. We laid on the grass and looked up at the clouds. And though we didn't talk, I always felt I could tell what he was thinking.

Leonard's 25th birthday was supposed to be a special night. We had a whole party planned. April 14, 1912, Louise had painted on the little portrait she'd made of our family. It was meant to go next to Leonard's bed at his new home. Of course, no one had told me.

New York City had the best place for our silent brother to be taken care of, Louise had argued one night over dark tan drinks. Bailey and mama had resisted. Uncle Paul and Aunt Mary had agreed, though they'd miss us.

That must be when Aunt Mary gave me a little squeeze. I had been drifting off to sleep and missed most of the conversation. 

"Daisy can sleep through anything," someone had joked, as usual. 

"That's all for the best," Louise had said. "This will be hardest for her."

Louise was wise beyond her years and knew I would not be the same without my Leonard and our quiet times together. Everyone knew I was the only one who understood him, but no one seemed to see that he was the only one who understood me.

But even though he never spoke, there was so much more to my older brother. He was brave and gentle at the same time. And sometimes he didn't know his own strength, but I was never afraid when I was with him. Not of anything. 

On that fourth night on the ship, Leonard's birthday, we were all meant to have a nice dinner in the dining room. But at the last minute, a rich family claimed the spot a nice steward said he would reserve as a favor. 

"It's just as well," Bailey had said. "Drinks on the lower deck are more our speed." And Louise had agreed. They even talked mama into joining. 

The rest of us wouldn't miss them much, they figured. Randall would be asleep by 7pm and with a little bit of whiskey in his bottle, he'd be out all night. I was to have lights out by 9pm, and of course a rowdy bar was no place for Leonard.

But I hated everyone for leaving Leonard behind on his birthday. I held his hand. "Don't worry Len. We'll still have fun! We're going to stay up all the way until midnight. We are going to celebrate every last moment of your special day."

Leonard resisted, but I finally talked him into going for a late night walk on the deck. I knew mama would just about murder me if she found out, but I'd heard Bailey say that the parties on the ship went all the way into the morning hours. So we bundled up baby Randall and walked onto the deserted decks like first-class patrons.

"Ohhhhh, what a lahhhvely evening," I said, with a silly skip in my step. "Isn't it laaahhvely my dear brother? We shahhn't miss this spectaaahcular view!"

They said Leonard never really smiled, but I swear he almost laughed. That was as much as I'd ever gotten out of him. I held Randall and Leonard enjoyed running his fingers along every texture of the empty deck. He walked all the way out to the edge and deeply breathed in the ocean air.

"Too cold,"I told him. "Maybe we should go back soon."

It must have been close to eleven by then. Leonard shook his head and sat down on a bench, patting the seat next to him. We sat snuggled up for awhile, looking at the stars. We were right by a big lifeboat that blocked the view a bit, but if you tilted your head just so, you could see so much.

I thought about trying to take my brother to a more scenic spot, but the lifeboats blocked out some of the wind and I was freezing.

"No, Daisy." I told myself. "It's his 25th birthday and you'll stay out all the way till midnight just as you promised."

But I was getting sleepy. Sleep became so heavy it was almost like leaving my body and floating off. A few times I thought I felt Leonard tugging on my arm, but I figured he would just carry me if he needed to move me somewhere. 

When I woke up in our cabin the next morning, I could feel the light peeking through, even with my eyes closed. And then I realized how strange that was, seeing as how we had an indoor cabin with no portholes.

I opened my eyes to see 50 or more people, all lined up on benches beside me, some of them whimpering. And then I felt the wave of the our little boat. 

We weren't inside at all.

A woman next to me smiled. "Quite a nap you took there."

I didn't respond. I didn't understand where we were. But the woman kept talking.

"Seems like you could sleep through anything. I'm just the opposite. My Arthur just rolls over in bed and I'm awake."

I only half-listened, and quickly realized that though I was surrounded by people, I didn't know any of them. Was my family on the lifeboat?

I tried to speak, but it came out with a quiet cough.

"You rest dear," the woman said. "We'll all be needing our strength."

"M…my family," I told her. 

"Oh," she said, "Don't y'worry! They're just on a different boat, dear. Quite a bit of commotion last night, but of course this one's just women and children."

I turned to the woman, but I didn't know what to say.

"Did you know, this was the first boat off the ship? My Arthur and I scampered up to the lifeboats when we first felt that bump. He's so cautious! Arthur, I told him… Arthur, it's just a bump. This ocean liner is positively unsinkable. Boy will he get the last laugh when we all get to shore."

"My brother," I finally said.

"Oh he'll be all right, dear." the woman said. "My name's Hildy, by the way."

"Daisy," I said.

We were quiet a moment -  enough for me to hear the baby.

"Randall!" I exclaimed, trying to stand up.

Hildy and another woman pulled me down before I could half-stand up.

"I hear my baby brother. Do you hear him?"

"Only one baby on this boat, child," Hildy said, pointing down the row a stretch. "See? That your brother?"

I nodded.

"Oh good," Hildy said. "And see? Your mama's already here with you."

"That's not my mama," I said. 

I tried to stand up again, but got less movement than the time before. I called out. "Give me my brother now."

The woman across the boat was startled.

"I…I saved him," she said. "I earned me a spot on this boat." 

She was clutching Randall so hard that the woman next to her thought to unravel him carefully. He was handed across the boat and placed in my arms. He was crying, but seeing me face, he smiled that familiar smile.

"What happened last night," I said, looking into my baby brother's blank expression. "Where's Leonard?"

"Leonard your papa?" Hildy asked nosily.

"My oldest brother,"I replied.

"Oh," Hildy said, knowingly.

"What does that mean?" I asked, but she didn't respond. 

"What does that mean," I repeated. 

Of course she didn't know for sure and neither did I, but it was hard to ignore that we were the only lifeboat in sight. Shouldn't there be several? There were so many people on that ship.

It wasn't until we got to the shore that it started to sink in. We would be getting a fresh start after all, but not the way Louise intended. Louise made it onto a boat as well, but I knew right away she wasn't the same. It was almost as if she resented our little brother and me for surviving. Turning her from our second mama into our primary caregiver for life.

Leonard, who did not make it, would not need to be institutionalized after all. Bailey would not die in a mine like our papa, as he never made it out of the dance hall. And mama was finally free to be with papa in heaven.

But all that Louise had dreamed of for herself was gone as she became the guardian for her ten year old sister and one year old brother. She wouldn't be educated and pursue her dreams, she would do her best to marry well so that Randall and I would always be looked after.

She would tell herself that we were the lucky ones, but sometimes she wondered if that was true. Her husband, Gilbert had money and a gambling habit. But not so bad that he'd ever run out.

"It's as good an offer as we're going to get," she told me on the night she accepted his proposal. "And you know as well as I do, sometimes the only way out is to get on the first lifeboat."

But I didn't really know because I didn't remember. To me, it just felt like a bad dream.

Historical
2

About the Creator

Bonnie Joy Sludikoff

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insight

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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