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The silver liner; a Titanic story
When I looked at Belfast all I saw was industry. The constant pulling and pushing and turning that powered the mechanics of the city. The city with no recreation. The fumes that churned away in the factories chocked my lungs and I wanted nothing more than to leave, but how could I move when I made no progress? The vicious cycle of earning a salary that would only buy my family each meal. No progression. It's something that could drive a person insane. The city was wrapped in a grey cloud, not only because of the smoke and dust but the people's depression. It was a world warped in class and segregation, and the only thing that shined above this grey cloud was what I liked to call the 'silver liner.' Titanic was the pride of the city.
I worked dawn til dusk on that ship and always considered myself a sedulous worker, however day by day I was getting bored. The pay was minimum and I often fantasized about being a passenger. I would listen to the other builders talking about how it was going to sail to America and it would be the biggest ship the world had ever seen. Unsinkable they called her, and only to this day do I regret believing their words.
The ship was magnificent. Huge steel plates were held together by rivets to create the beast of the ocean, and I was proud to say I helped build her. The work was tiring however, and collectively hammering in thirty million rivets proved to us to be mundane. Most of us realised that we could almost double our work speed by using the cheaper rivets used to make anchors and chains, as they were easier to work with. It didn't make Titanic as strong as she could have been, but I was almost certain that nothing would sink her, so why did it matter?
I lacked purpose, that was my problem. I knew that out there, somewhere there was a whole world full of possibility and I was stuck in a damn shipyard everyday staring new life straight in the face.As I thought about the new life I could give my young daughter and sweetheart, a surge of ambition came upon me. In seconds I had ran to the ticket office just before closing time and in my hand I held three pieces of paper. Pieces of paper that would take me across the Atlantic. Three third class tickets for the RMS Titanic, which would set sail from Southampton on the 10th of April 1912.
The ship of dreams they called her, however mine were almost shattered before I had even set a foot on board. I was widowed at the age of twenty one with a daughter who was one at the time, and five years later I was with another woman named Alice. Although I was trying to save our relationship which looked broken among the pile of arguments and shattered crockery. I thought presenting her with a ticket for the greatest ship the world had ever seen would make her happy but that's how she left me. I had spent all of our money and she told me she had found a better man, someone who could look after her and whose heart didn't lie within a boat. So I took my daughter, Grace and headed for Southampton. I had expected to feel heartbroken but I guess my heart really did lie within Titanic.
Southampton was a blizzard of excited faces and posh hats. They were the 1st class cats and we were the 3rd class rats however it didn't phase me, as today was the day.
“Daddy, I want a pretty dress like that lady has” Grace said sweetly and I bent down amongst the mass of people to look at her. I told her
“don't worry my little dove, when we get to America I will buy you all the pretty dresses you want, you will have pink ones and purple ones with lace and bows, would you like that?” I tucked a brown curl behind her ear and she nodded before I grabbed her hand, holding it tightly
“Stay close to me, you don't want to get lost” I said and then we boarded.
I remember exactly where I was when the ship hit the iceberg. It was twenty to twelve and while Grace was sleeping I went to the deck to have an evening stroll, but my leisure was interrupted as a shudder shot through the boat. Like a baby giant had picked it up and shook it like a rattle the ship convulsed and trembled knocking people off their feet and then it stopped. The shock only lasted a few moments but those moments were long enough for the wave of fear to wash over me. Those moments were long enough for people to laugh and carry on with what they were doing but not for me. As a shipbuilder I knew that when a boat rocks it's not something that should be taken lightly.
“Why has the boat stopped?”
“We can't slow down!”
“How dare the captain knock me off my feet”
“It gave me such a shock”
Those were the cries and shrieks I heard from the upper deck where the 1st class passengers were. Interesting how they differed from us. We all just fell silent. Most of us shipbuilders, joiners, maids or cooks we knew that something was very wrong. Then came the part where the crew lied to our faces. Put your life jackets on they said, nothing's wrong, they said, no need to worry, they said. I thought it was better to leave Grace asleep while they sorted things out as I didn't want her to be worried so instead I approached a crew member.
“How many compartments?” I demanded not meaning to, but he only cheerily replied with
“You know what I mean, how many compartments?” I refrained from shaking him there and then when he replied with
“I don't know what you are talking about sir, everything is fine”
“I know damn well that everything is not fine, now you tell me how many compartments are flooded or I will make sure that you are the first to drown” after I said this he gave in his act and muttered a reply under his breath
“Pardon?” I said
“Six sir, six compartments are flooded which means -”
“I know what it means” I interrupted “I built this ship”
I ran down below the deck faster than I have ever ran in my life. There was at least a few inches of water on the floor in the hallways and it splashed up as I skidded down the corridors , past frantic families running for the stairs but I was going the opposite way so I saw all of their faces. Their faces which were twisted with fear. Bursting into my cabin I saw my daughter crouched on her bed, her knees pulled up to her chest by her arms. She was trying not to cry. She knew I would come for her.
Back on deck they were lowering the lifeboats and I approached one of the boats with Grace in my arms. 'Women and children only' the crew were saying but I refused to leave my daughter. If I let her live and I died she would be alone.
“Come with me” I said to her and we climbed up several staircases to the higher decks. The first class deck was so profuse with pretentious decoration it blinded me and I couldn't believe the lack of panic which excised just two floors above. I imagined by now the whole of 3rd class would have flooded as water was starting to seep under the doorways of this deck, and conceited ladies tried to avoid getting their feet wet. A crew member marched up to us and told us that our ticket did not permit us for access to this deck. I politely told him that my ticket would be lying at the bottom of the ocean in a few hours so if he would excuse me, and we walked past leaving him bewildered.
“Where are we going Daddy” Grace asked me and I stopped and looked at her before I replying with
“To get you a pretty dress” because that's what I intended to do
On the last night of my daughters life she wore a pretty dress. I watched the line of the hull plate as rivets popped off one by one and all I could think about was my poor job at hammering those rivets in. I helped send the ship to it's demise all because I was too lazy to make better work of my job. As the water flooded the top deck that we stood on I hugged Grace into my chest, for the last night of her life she was a princess, she was my princess and we went down together.
When cold water hits you it's as if your brain cells freeze. When icy water hits you it's if all the pain in the world has come crashing down on top of you and your brain is paralysed. After the shock had absorbed I started to swim, pulling my body along with the last of my strength. I carried her on my back as we swam away from the ship because I knew that the suction would drag us under but I felt that my daughters breath had stopped long before I wanted to admit it, and when I saw the lights of the lifeboat it was the greatest feeling I had ever experienced but I had forgotten that Grace could not experience that feeling with me. So as I sat on the life boat with her on my lap, when someone came over and asked if she would like something to eat I simply told them that she was sleeping, for she was.
The feeling that I experienced when I saw the lifeboat was disbelief at the complete stoke of luck. I couldn't believe that I, a common man with big ambition had survived when many others had perished. When Titanic went down I distinctly remember the musicians playing a hymn. It was 'nearer my god to thee' and I thought about how I would be with God soon, but instead Grace had gone to heaven and she was with her mother but I was alone. And as I tell my story now, and old man who managed to achieve great things in America, with all the riches he desired I realise that nothing compares to the price of family.