The air was freezing, the water colder still as I rubbed my goose bump covered arms. Screams and shouts cut through the air from passengers and crew swarming the decks. Women held their children in tight arms and I could hear a minister on the other side of the deck leading them in prayer. I couldn’t stand to watch, I bent over the rail of the ship. I could see the water level creeping closer and closer to the top deck, the windows of the cabins filled with water, green from the lights inside. I couldn’t escape the screams of terror; I gripped Tommy’s hand even tighter. He squeezed back, putting his other on my shoulder and turning me towards him. He took off his coat and wrapped it around my body; it lay awkwardly over my life vest.
“I’m fine.” I objected.
“You’re freezin’” he said, noting his breath in the air. “Hold on to it…just in case…” he muttered.
He held my face in his hands as I came to the realization that I was crying. He wiped a tear away from my face with his thumb and kissed my fore head with trembling blue lips.
I was about to ask what he meant by just in case, he couldn’t have meant for the cold, the way he said it. Before I could ask he had my arm in his grip and I was pulled through a thick crowd of people.
“We need to hurry,” he urged me.
I picked up the hem of my gown from the wet deck and followed the shouts of the officers yelling “Women and children only!” We both knew there were little life boats left, one of which collapsed. Being third class we weren’t priority, we had been locked below deck before we were allowed to even try for a boat, so that the officers could load the first class passengers into the lifeboats first. I could have gotten in one sooner, when they first let us out but much to Tommy’s frustration, I refused to get in a boat that didn’t allow men. I couldn’t get in a lifeboat without him. But he was a third class man. Last priority. Our chances weren’t the best.
The ship was on a violent tilt now, many people slipping on the wet decks including myself. I pulled his wool coat closed around me, burying my face in its warmth. I looked to Tommy for guidance, his hair bouncing in the cold wind as he weaved through the people, I was following closely behind. He must’ve been freezing, I thought. He was soaking from the waist down. The water had been flooding the third class cabins while we were locked there, the water at our waists. He had held me in his arms, keeping me above the water while he waded in the frigid, icy waters, waiting for the crew to open the gates and let us out, refusing to let me down. He needed his coat more than I.
I looked down at the deck, chunks of ice scattered across the deck from the iceberg.
I could just make out a line of trampled deck chairs through the tightly packed passengers, where we would play cards in the sun.
I could recall the day we played Old Maid all through the afternoon. It was so cold that day that all of the other passengers had gone inside, so we were able to share a deck chair together, wrapped in a White Star Lines blanket from our cabin, without being judged by the more private passengers who believed public displays of affection were beyond inappropriate. Looking out over the ocean, I would tell him stories of life in Canada. The wide open plains, the buzz of city life and how wonderful our life would be there together. When I grew tired and the sun fell below the horizon, I would rest my head on his chest listening to his soft singing, his voice as smooth as butter. Our arms dangled over the side of the deck chair, coiled around each others, swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the music.
“Come Josephine in my flying machine, and it’s UP she goes, UP she goes, balance yourself like a bird on a beam, in the AIR she goes, THERE she goes…”
“A fitting song,” he would always tell me, “Written for you.” He then pulled our tangled arms up over the arm of the chair to kiss my hand.
He told me my eyes sparkled like sapphires in which I told him his were like clovers. “Oh, Jo! What a pitiful attempt to complement an Irishman!” He’d laugh. He was a true Irish man through and through. He had a head of blonde, curly hair and a thick layer of stubble. His eyes truly were like clovers may I add and just as attention grabbing as his accent. He was such a charmer. He had to be I suppose, being that we met when he was still covered in soot from the mine. We had met two summers ago in Dublin. I was a second generation Canadian in Ireland with my father on work when we met each other. I couldn’t leave his side for an instant. I didn’t return back to Canada that summer. He was too perfect. As flawless as perfect could be.
We pushed to the front of the crowd, I stayed cowered behind him. The yelling grew louder and more violent. A uniformed man stood beside one of the last lifeboats, emblazed with the letters RMS TITANIC, yelling, “Women and children only! Women and children ONLY!” Tommy kept his arm behind his back concealing our interlocked hands. I peered over his shoulder and down the length of the ship, or what was left of it. The end was completely submerged.
“There aren’t any women left! Let us on!” one of the men shouted. The yelling grew more aggressive and bitter.
“You can’t keep us from getting on! We’re the only ones left!” barked another.
All of the men were shouting now, I could sense Tommy’s anger. The swarm of people began pushing forward towards the boat, getting more and more angry.
“Let us on! Give us a chance!” his previously comforting voice became bitter with rage. He shouted again, “THERE AREN’T ANY WOMEN LEFT! GIVE US A CHANCE!” His hand slipped free of mine as he took a step forwards towards the boat. The uniform pulled out a revolver and waved it above his head.
“ANY MAN WHO STEPS ANOTHER FOOT FORWARD WILL GET SHOT LIKE A DOG!” I suddenly understood the importance of this life boat, the last life boat. Anyone one left wouldn’t have a chance. I bowed my head in silent prayer as Tommy kept screaming and cussing at the uniform. There was little chance of us getting on this boat together.
I looked up just in time to see a young man, no older than I, jump to the boat. Without hesitation, the uniform fired and the boy hit the ground like a stone. I shrieked with horror, among others from the crowd. I felt a body up against mine pushing me forward. I stumbled into Tommy shoving him out of the crowd. He stumbled toward the uniform. Another shot pierced the air, I screamed again. Tommy crumpled up like a piece of paper, falling back into the crowd, dragging me down to the deck with him. I fell to my knees, scrapping them on the bits of ice that littered the deck, shocked and confused. I looked to Tommy, my mouth fell open, I could feel the blood rush from my face, and I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.
He lay limp on the slick deck, clutching his stomach, blood seeping through his fingers. His eyes were wide in shock, his head to the side spitting out blood onto the deck.
“Tommy…” I squeaked. Over his stomach was a hole in his life vest, blood spreading out over the cloth of the vest and gushing between his fingers. I reached down with trembling fingers to him, cradling his face in my hand. There was dead silence among the remaining passengers, aghast by the uniform.
I looked down at his face, marred with blood. He took in big breaths, gasping for air.
“J-J-Jo” he choked. I took his hand pulling it to my lips.
“It’s okay Tommy it’ll be fine,” I let my tears roll onto his hand. I couldn’t bring myself to address the monster, standing motionless beside the lifeboat, appalled by his own actions. I looked to the other uniform. “You have to let him on now! He’s wounded!” He didn’t say a word, paralyzed where he stood. “Help! Is there a doctor?!” I called out frantically but the crowd ignored us completely.
“You’ve killed him!” They shouted at the armed man, swarming the boat.
“No, no Tommy no” I wailed. “You’re all right, your okay…” I sobbed, lacing my fingers in his. He looked up at me, his expression relaxing to find himself in my arms. Through all of the bustle I could still hear his breathing, low and raspy. I could hear the gurgling of blood in his throat as he tried to expel it from his body, sputtering and coughing. It ran down the deck with the tilt of the ship. “Tommy, don’t listen to them, your just fine you’ll be fine I’ll get you help!” I screamed out again, “Help! I need a doctor!”
“J-Jo…I-” He strained between breaths. Blood ran down his cheek and onto the deck. I looked down the length of the ship, the water had reached the deck now, spilling over the rail and flooding the deck.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” I tried to reassure him, beginning to panic. I frantically pulled a hanky out from the pocket of his coat and shoved it under his life vest to try and stop the limitless bleeding. His eyes began to close. “Tommy, Tommy, look at me!” I turned his head so his eyes matched mine, putting his limp hand over the wound. “Stay with me okay, right here!”I wept. The water swirled around us, cold as ice and rising at a dramatic rate. He looked at me for a moment, a strange calm across his face.
His eyes began to droop closed, he stopped struggling to cough up the blood. His breathing became fast and shallow as he struggled for air.
“Tommy!? Tommy, no don’t do this Tommy!” I wailed.
His hand tightened around mine, his body tensing a final time. “No. No, no, no, no look at me Tommy! Tommy look at me, stay with me Tommy, stay with me Tommy please!” I screamed. His eyes went dull, his grip went loose and his shivering body went limp in my arms, his eyes locked forward. “Tommy, Tommy!” I screamed, shaking him. “Tommy!” I threw myself over him, burying my face in his soft hair. His hand was still clasped around mine, his fingers permanently inter locked with mine. “Don’t take him! Don’t take him it’s not his time! It’s not his time!” I howled. The water around us grew higher, red with blood, almost to my waist from where I was kneeling, rising faster and faster. The rest of the passengers ran from the approaching water, some still cutting the ropes of the life boat, scrambling to get inside. I sat cross legged on the deck, cradling him in my arms. “Come back! Come back!” I pleaded. “Tommy, Tommy please!” But he just stared into space with dull eyes, the fog where his breath should be, absent. “No, please, please Tommy, don’t do this…” The water was at my chest now, racing onto the boat even faster. I planted myself to the deck as the water could sweep me away any minute. “TommyTommyTommyTommy…” I repeated over and over, his skin growing cold against mine. “I’ll never leave I’ll never leave you…”
A rough hand grabbed my shoulder and jerked me back. He slipped through my arms, his cold hand breaking free from mine as he slid into the icy waters; the invisible force pulled me away. “NO!” I screamed, reaching out for him. “NO! LEAVE US!” I screamed and kicked but the drag from the water gave me little traction. A pair of forceful arms wrapped around me, dragging me back over the side of the life boat. “TOMMY!” I shrieked, I could barely make him out through my blurry, tear filled eyes, being swept away by the waters. His once warm, sparkling eyes now dull, foggy and wide open, staring into nothingness. “TOMMY!” I kicked and screamed. I was pushed to the bottom of the boat.
I lay on the deck of the Carpathia, the cargo ship that had picked up the life boats. I huddled in his warm, wool coat. His jacket still smelt like tobacco and Irish whiskey. Like Tommy. My once white dress was red with his blood; it ran onto my skin as the rain washed it out until I was bathing in his deluded, watered down blood. The rain fell in buckets on the deck, many of the survivors had gone below but I couldn’t be moved. My eyes burned, it was the first time I had stopped crying since the accident. His cabin mate and Tommy’s home town friend Jack tried to comfort me. He had seen it all. He tried to assure me he went quickly, that it was painless but when he said it with tears in his eyes there was no way from doubting his words . It was Jack that had pulled me aboard the lifeboat; saved my life, I was only sorry I couldn’t be grateful.
I wanted to stay in the worst of ways, so we could be together always, but fate had a different idea in mind. There was no way of getting the image of Tommy’s face out of my head, the strange calm in his expression. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, lying on the ocean floor, swallowed by the Atlantic, sinking deeper into the sand with each wave. I shook the image from my head, squeezing my eyes shut, burying my face in my hands. I started to cry again when I saw his blood smeared across my palms. I curled up in his coat, breathing in his scent in an effort to comfort myself when I saw a small lump in the pocket of the jacket, revealed from the weight of the rain on the fabric. I reached into the coat and pulled out a small, blue velvet box. My red eyes went wide, a lump formed in my throat. I opened it with quivering fingers. A diamond ring. A diamond engagement ring. Hold on to it…just in case…