Seven Years Old

February 2, 2011
By , Brunswick, ME
Robina held her mother’s hand.
This boat was big. The bottom half was black, like her pinafore. On the top of the boat that was bigger than a church even, were four huge towers. It was a wonder that this boat could stay on water all the way to America.
She clenched her mother’s hand tighter as they boarded the boat. She was reluctant to step on the deck, afraid that her small amount of weight would set the boat down into the misty waters. Margaret Ford smiled at her seven-year-old daughter and said: “Can you read the name of the boat?”
Robina squinted even though there was no sun in the dewy April sky. “Ti...ti...tan..tic!”
“Exactly, this is the safest and strongest boat to date,” her mother led her down dark wood steps on the boat. Robina noticed that women with puffed up dresses and men with pleated pants were going up a polished staircase. There was a glass dome overhead and a statue of a child holding a torch in the center of the railing.
“I want to go up there,” she said.
“That’s for the rich people. We have to go down here,” said William, her sixteen-year-old brother.
“Why?” she inquired.
“Because we have to. You wouldn’t understand,” Dollina, Robina’s twenty-year-old sister, cut in. Robina knew she would understand if she would tell her.
“Where is our cabin?” asked eighteen-year-old Edward.
“Somewhere on the F-Deck, which I assume is this deck,” said Robina’s Aunt Eliza. She and her husband, Andrew, were traveling with the Fords’ to Essex County, America.
“Cabin eighteen,” Uncle Andrew remembered.
The entire family immediately started searching the cabin doors for the number eighteen. They found they were in the forties, so they backtracked.
“Eighteen! I found it!” Robina ran away from her mother and pointed to the door.
“You’re right, Robina. Let’s see the inside...” Mrs. Ford opened the door and the party of seven peered inside.
There were four berths. No sheets, but there was a pillowcase on each of the small makeshift beds. The floors were linoleum, and the walls were steel. There was a washing area on the far end of the wall. Not exactly luxury, but it would hold them until they arrived in America.
“So...” William broke the silence. “Who’s bunking with whom?”

Life on the big boat wasn’t as scary as Robina had thought. There was a large dining room that served her favorite breakfast food: smoked herring. She was small enough to spin around on her bottom in the round-backed chairs, until Dollina strictly told her to stop as she smiled at a young man passing their table.
She would stare at the water through portholes in the hallway. The boat sliced through the sea. Little pearls of water bounced from the splashes, and Robina wondered what they would look like as a necklace.
Robina was lucky enough to have her own bunk in the cabin. The party flipped a coin to see who would sleep where, and the odds were in Robina’s favor that week. Other than scoring her own bed, she ordered the last batch of currant buns at lunch on Friday and saw a slight glimpse of a whale’s back on Saturday. Silently, she hoped that the boat would go off course, so she could stay on board longer.

Robina said an extra Our Father as she climbed into bed Sunday night. She stretched her limbs and ruffled her long hair. Uncle Andrew was snoring, and one of her brothers was tossing on the bunk above her. Her mother and Dollina were in the berth across from her, and she faced that way. She clutched her doll close to her content heart and quickly fell asleep.
Robina was awakened by a violent shaking.
She wearily opened her eyes to see Dollina’s face. Her countenance was a cross between anxious and completely terrified.
“Robina, wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” Dollina was still shaking.
Robina lazily wiped her eyes. “Why? It's still nighttime, Dolly."
Dollina ripped her from under her blanket and shoved her tiny blue slippers on her feet. Robina looked around and noticed that her mother wasn’t in there.
Out in the hall, people of all ages were running and screaming. Babies were wailing, and men were hollering:
“Women and children first!”
The boat was rocking left and right, right and left. It was bouncing up and down.
An older child pushed Robina down in an attempt to run faster. Dollina fiercely grabbed Robina’s nightgown and carried her.
“Where is Mother?” Robina yelled to be heard. "What is happening, Dolly?"
Dollina was silent. She ran.
Again, Robina heard a man yell: “Women and children first!”
“Why are they screaming that?”
“The boat is sinking, Robina, the boat is sinking!”
Robina’s grasp around Dollina’s neck was tighter.
“Where is Mother?” she screamed.
Somewhere down the hall, a woman hollered: “An open porthole!”
Dollina dashed.
Down the hall, past toddlers trying to run, laughing, thinking it was a game, and then mothers scooping them up, tears welling.
“Where is Mother?” her throat felt raw.
She could see the open porthole now. She could see the outline of a slab that echoed the moonlight, and people were jumping into the black ocean.
“Hold your breath, Robina!” Dollina screeched as she jumped.
Cold shocked her little body and the water pierced her eyes.
They went down.
Dollina kicked her slippers off and tried to the same to Robina’s, but could only manage one. She kicked up and up, trying to breach the surface. Robina only focused on holding her breath and closing her eyes off to bitter water. She raised her hand to try to find air and could feel one feeble breath of it on her middle finger tip. Her lungs tensed. She couldn’t hold it in anymore...
Someone jumped off the highest deck and landed on her head. The impact knocked her out of Dollina’s arms.
She felt no need to kick up or to hold her breath. The only sound she could hear was the soft wish-wash-wish-wash of things in water. She opened her eyes for the first time and saw dark turquoise with white dots floating around and around her face. She closed her eyes. She breathed in, allowing the harsh water to fill her, succumbing to the cold. Then the world went black like her pinafore, and she floated down, like a feather, straight to the bottom.

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