RMS Titanic. Liverpool. 10 April 1912. Passengers board. Best clothes worn. Crowds cheer. Passengers stream onto deck. Bags thrust in lockers. Sun shines. Not a cloud. Tangible excitement.
A young woman is re-reading Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, a 1898 novella by Morgan Robertson. The story features the ocean liner Titan, which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.
She sits by the pool on the front deck watching a couple slide into the water and vanish under the surface. They emerge in churns of water, broad grins facing her, then they dive back in.
There is too much leisure here, she thinks. In the book, the disgraced former US Navy officer is about to be found out. She too has a past, a husband gone, parents too. She heads to one of the dining areas to drink, acting as if she is waiting for someone.
As the journey procedes, the woman continues the book. She knows how it will end, in cold miserable slow death, kids clinging to lifeboats, a thousand heads banging against the hull as they swallow gallons of sea.
Everyone is being entertained to death, she thinks, as she nears the end of the book, four days in. Her plan: read it slowly, relishing the words, so that the prediction of the book, the inevitable demise of the vessel, will coincide with the reality of the approaching iceberg, huddled in fog.
She receives attention from male suitors, even female, as she paces the upper deck, book in hand. She brushes aside all interest. Her only concern is the text in front of her face.
It’s getting near now, when they will meet the iceberg and the hull will break and the windows will implode.
The quartet plays, couples dance. There is intrigue on the boat no doubt, as in the book: cross-class affairs; poker; alcoholism. She leaves the last remaining pages for the next day, the strike. She takes a cocktail at one of the quieter saloon bars. A man approaches her, they exchange small talk about the weather. He asks her if she would like to accompany him on a stroll on the upper deck. Perhaps tomorrow evening, she replies, when she knows they both will be dead.
The hour has come, as the expression goes. She needs to be at the head to see the iceberg. There it is, larger than she thought. She reads the last page of the book, her eyes jumping words to the last word. The book shakes in her hands. The disgraced former US Navy officer, now a deck hand, is saving his young paramour by jumping onto the iceberg, where they find a lifeboat on the iceberg. This is the end of the ship, their ship, my ship, this folly, the whole stupid idea that you can conquer nature, the whole screaming impossibility of it all.
But it doesn’t happen. There are no alarm calls, no urgent, blasted announcement from Captain and crew. The RMS Titanic sails comfortably past the iceberg. The damned iceberg even has an audience. People take photos, admire its austere beauty; there is a ripple of applause.
The woman hurls the book into the sea, returns towards one of the bars. The man who asked her out is not there. This is a good sign. Even more than before she wants to be on her own. She will have cocktails: a Manhattan, a Tom Collins, a Punch Romaine, whiskey, port, gin, a beer even. What is the phrase: drown your sorrows? Yes, that’s the ticket.
Laurence Pritchard is a writer and translator (French to English) based in Bristol, UK. His work has been published in Nanofiction, The Big Issue, UFReview, Chincha, and PANK. He can be found on Twitter: @laurence99
More of Laurence’s work can be found here:
Dear Fire Extinguisher – 3:AM Magazine
Fucking Mermaids – PANK Magazine