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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

amanda continued

I'm not sure how many minutes passed.  It could have been 30 or 300.  We hunkered down in that fancy first class hallway awaiting Joey's return.  I tried to entertain Grace and cure Lizzie's incessant screeching by telling my favorite fairy tales -  the Billy Goat's Gruff, Hansel & Gretel - and I hope the words absorbed their minds for a spell.  For me, the stories were just a rote jumble of words, but I thanked God for the strength to conjure up these tales while the ship's bones roared and swayed one way then the other.  

I heard the pounding of running feet and looked up in hopes of seeing Joey but it was a waiter from the dining room.  "What's happening up there?  Can you tell me if there are any life boats left?" I called out as he approached at lightning speed.  

"Not a one Missus.  The crew is helpin' people over the rails with just floatin' rings on their waists now.  People are jumpin' off the decks and tryin' to swim to the life boats.  God help us all!"  And with that he continued racing down the hall.  I wondered where he was running to.  Maybe he knew of a secret boat or was searching for a friend.  Should I run after him?  I started to think about Joey.  Where could he be?  

I was fidgeting.  I considered nursing Antonia, but thought better of it.  I peeked into the sling and she was sleeping so heavily I dared not wake her in this madness.   A flood of reality washed over me.  Joey was not coming back, he may not be alive.  I thought about charging up the stairs for help, but knew there would be no one to help us.  The incessant cries and desperate screams from the deck above were evidence of that.

We were going to die there.  I could feel it.  I envisioned our bodies being thrown against the wall by a giant wave bursting through the hall, my children being ripped from my arms and tossed into the abyss.  And then I imagined the ship descending into the sea slowly, first an inch of icy water at our feet and then two...  I couldn’t bear the thought of such a terrifying end.  So I took control. 

The stewards’ pantry door was open.  I hustled the girls in and shut the door.  I dug through the unlocked storage lockers and pulled out cakes, breads, fruit, anything I could find to keep Lizzie occupied and quiet so I could sit and think in peace.  And then I saw the paring knife.  

While Lizzie gorged herself I grabbed the small blade and slipped out of the pantry with Grace and into the laundry deposit nextdoor.  I sat down on the floor and scooped my sweet Grace into my lap, nestling her next to Antonia mercifully sleeping in the sling.  I kissed her and rocked her for a few minutes, humming a favorite lullaby in her ear.  Grace said nothing.  She just stared into my sad eyes. 

“Mama, I’m scared.”

“I know, baby.  But you don’t need to be afraid anymore.  It’s time to fall asleep and forget about this place.  When you wake up you’ll be with Mama’s friend Jesus.  He’s so nice.  You’ll love him.  Look for him in the light, baby.  You’ll feel no pain, no fear.  Just love and peace.  Doesn’t that sound nice, honey?”

“Yes, Mama.  But I don’t want to go alone.  Will you come to see Jesus with me?”

“I’ll be right behind you, Grace.  And so will Lizzie and Antonia.  Okay?  We’ll all be together.  Do you trust me?”

She nodded silently and I closed her eyes with my fingertips.  “It’ll only hurt for a second,” I said and I dragged the paring knife from her right wrist, following the thick blue vein up to the inside of her elbow.  And then I did the same on the left.  She hardly uttered a sound.  Just a quick gasp as the steel sliced through her skin.  Then she just fell asleep in my arms as the ship rocked us back and forth.

How far I had come from my careless days by Dovercourt Bay.  I thought of my father, of how sweetly he loved me, and wondered if he would now be ashamed of the girl he had raised.  I thought of the books and the games, the coming of age, the flirting with boys and the nonsense of social obligations.  Grace would not experience these things.  Not in this lifetime.  I recalled my own wedding, the high hopes and expectations I had for my life and my marriage.  I recalled the better times with Henry and wondered where he was at this moment, considering that he may be meeting Grace right now in heaven.  I remembered Antonio, my lover and my friend, a man who taught me the meaning of adult romance.  I remembered easy love.  The kind of love that made me feel like I had wings.  The moments my newborn babies were placed in my arms, then the moments they hugged me back for the very first time.  And now I held my lifeless baby here in my lap.  Still warm, still beautiful.  Just a minute ago she was here.  And now…

I wished to end my life there with her.  But I had two other children about whom I had to think.  I kissed my Grace goodbye and wrapped her small limp body in a soiled sheet from the hamper.  I left her body on the floor, wiped my eyes, pressed the paring knife into my pocket and returned to the pantry to find Lizzie. 

When I entered the pantry, Lizzie looked up from her picnic.  She pointed at my dress, at my blood-stained dress and bloody baby sling and demanded loudly, “Mama, where’s Gracie?”  I tried to calm her redirect her attention but she started screaming frantically, “Where’s Gracie?  Where’s Gracie?  Where’s Gracie?!”  She pulled at her hair and scratched at her face, causing bloody gouges.  She saw blood on her own hands and thrashed uncontrollably.  She ran.  First down the listing hallway and then up the wide creaky stairs, back up to the top deck where she found a narrow set of stairs leading to the compass platform.  Even in the loud chaos below, passengers heard her blood curdling screeches and instinctively lifted their eyes.  Amongst the onlookers I spotted my brother.  He looked confused.  Of course he thought I was safely aboard the first lifeboat with the rest of the girls.  Just then the ship shifted dramatically, listing almost completely sideways.  As the ship toppled, I grasped for a rail to keep from being tossed into the waves.  Meanwhile my screaming Lizzie plunged, arms and legs spread like a star, into the cold waves below.  
The beastly ship lurched back to upright and from nowhere Edward grabbed me.  He breathlessly pulled me by the arm to the last collapsible rig to lower - the one he was about to board when the ship listed.  “Where’s Joey?” he asked, as if he already knew what I’d say. 

“He went looking for you.”

They had already begun to lower the rig down several feet when Edward called the commander to hold up and literally swung me and Antonia down by my arms and into a seat.  You can imagine my surprise to look around and see that that boat was full of men.  When I looked back up to the deck, my beloved brother was gone.
The life boat swung back and forth as it lowered into the water.  Again, the ship began to list and the two sailors pulled out their utiitiy knives and hastily hacked at the thick ropes that connected us to the sinking Titianic.  The paring knife.  I pulled it from my pocket and hollered to the men near the rails, ”Catch this!”  I tossed it over and, unbelievably, the knife made its way to the ropes in time for the passenger sitting closest to slice the last thread and release our wooden boat into the water with a cold salty splash. 

The commander directed his volunteers to heave their oars with all their might and propel the boat away from the massive sinking wreckage toward relative safety.  We rowed toward an island of 8 or so lifeboats, each with a small spotlight at the bow, and tethered to the closest one.  I expected that Jess and Emanuel were tucked away with their aunt in one of the rafts.  And with that small bit of relief, I felt my breast milk let down.  For the first time I thought solely of Antonia, sleeping soundly through the chaos in my sling, the way newborns do.  I peaked under the cloth for a look and saw her angelic face.  Her thick black eyelashes sealed her eyes shut tight, but the blue in her lips told me she would not awake from her heavy slumber.  I buried my face in her soft black hair and breathed her baby scent in deeply.  And, again, I began to weep. 

Too much was lost that night.  Just this morning I was the mother of six, on my way to start a new adventure in a new world.  And now… well, now is now.  I spun my body around in my seat and swung my feet over the edge of the boat.  I would at least hold true to my promise to dear Grace.  The frigid waves lapped at my toes and I quietly slipped into the water.


Amanda didn’t see Emanuel watching her.  Had she known, she may not have followed through with the plan she herself had helped devise.  Young Emanuel spotted her even through the darkness.  That white poplin bed sheet slung across her chest stood out against the blackness of the sky.  His relief was intense, but short-lived, as moments later his mother and infant sister vanished under the waves.

To be continued…

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