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Le Coeur de la Mer (The Heart of the Ocean) | ShowOff | IP1

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Le Coeur de la Mer (The Heart of the Ocean)

This is the short story version of a longer novella that I have written which will be released in time for the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of HMS Titanic.

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Le Coeur de la Mer (The Heart of the Ocean)

Le Cœur de la Mer
(The Heart of the Ocean)
Wednesday 10th April
It was a Wednesday when we took the train to Southampton. We stopped at the bank next to the station and I watched Pa withdraw all of the money he and my brother had saved.
We had to walk from here to the port and I could see the people from where we stood, tiny and moving in lines like the ants that nested in the cracks of our pathway at home. The ship was so big that I had to shield my eyes against the sun to see the top of it. I could feel the heat on my face, and halos of light blazed around the top of each of its four funnels. I didn’t think there was any boat in the world as big as this.
We waited for a whole half an hour to board. I could feel my knees shaking under my skirts. I’d never seen so many people or so many hats, and I could tell that Ma was nervous too because she was holding onto my hand so hard that when I looked down I could see the white of my bones through the skin on my knuckles.
Eventually we got to the front of the line, and a tall man in a white uniform with gold buttons said our names and took our boarding passes. Then we were shown through two big metal doors, through the lowest gangway and into a small room with white metal and teak stripped walls.
Our cabin had a wash basin and a mirror on the wall, there were two sets of cots and each had real feather pillows and White Star Line sheets. Best of all though was the electric lighting and the heating. I flicked the light switch up and down and watched the bulb on the ceiling until Ma told me not to. I thought it was beautiful.
At midday the ship started moving for the first time. It sounded its horn so long and so loud that goose pimples stood up all over my body and I felt so excited that I had to go to the lavatory.
Thursday 11th April
That night before supper I took my dolly up to the second class deck. Ma said I mustn’t, but they had windows up there and I wanted to show my dolly the sea.
I sat at the end of the deck and played. I ignored the feet that went past me and in turn they ignored me. I looked up once and saw a little girl going in to the room nearest me with her father. I’d never seen people dressed like that before. She watched me as she went in and I watched her too.
I carried on playing and a little later I heard the door of the cabin next to me open again. The little girl was standing just outside of the doorway holding her own dolly.
“Wan’to play dollies?” I asked.
She nodded, and when she sat down her dress made a noise like a puff of air being squeezed from a paper bag.
“I’m Connie.” I said.
“Lottie.” she answered.
Her dolly was clean and properly dressed with a frilly pink frock, stockings, petticoats and a little matching bonnet.
“Wha’s yours called?” I asked.
She took a moment or two to answer.
“Grace” she said.
“This is Isabel”
I introduced my dolly with false pride. Ma had made her dress out of an old curtain and instead of a bonnet that came off, Isabel had a mop cap sewn into her black woolly hair.
Lottie was quiet but we played until the sky beyond the porthole turned black and she said she should go to supper.
Friday 13th April
Lottie told me her Pa owned a grocery store in Bishopstoke, I didn’t know where that was but I pretended I did. She said that when they had left, their neighbours had rung the church bells for their send off. I thought that sounded very grand.
Lottie was going to Idaho; her Pa had bought a fruit farm out there. I supposed my Pa was going to work for someone like him in Florida.
Eventually we grew tired of our old meeting spot, and we took the second class stairway up to the top deck and found a quiet spot behind the radio room.
Saturday 14th of April
Today we spent most of Lottie’s free time pretending to be stowaways or playing with our dollies. Lottie even let me take her dolly home to play with and I lent her my diary.
“What is it?” She asked
“It’s my diary. We can write about our adventures on the boat, that way I’ll always remember you.” I said.
That evening we spent longer up in our hiding place than usual and it began to get
dark. Lottie said that she was scared of the dark, but we couldn’t leave because there were officers about. I held her hand and we cuddled together and listened to the radio room behind us.
“Burgs and field ice, 41 degrees, 51 minutes North, 49 degrees, 52 minutes West” we could hear the voice repeating.
I could see Lottie’s breath in the dark and I could feel her shivering. I clenched my teeth together; I was only wearing a cotton frock and stockings.
The stewards were talking quietly amongst themselves, their footsteps becoming fainter as they moved away.
“I’ve got to get back to Mother.”
Lottie’s voice was so quiet that I almost didn’t hear it. I squeezed her hand and we both stood slowly. We swung under the metal barriers and the icy metal made my hands sting.
We stood for a minute watching the deck. There was nobody about so we ran, holding hands all the way back to our cabins.

My Mother scolded me when I returned, and my Father hit me with his slipper. I didn’t cry
though, and I went to bed without my supper like they said and tried to sleep.
At 11:40 we felt the ship bump. I remember the time because I could see the cabin clock on the wall between the slats of my cot. We felt the ship begin to back like a train and I heard my Father say something. Then he left and my Mother came and sat on the edge of my bed and said that Father had gone to see what was happening.
From where we were we could hear feet up on the decks and the boat seemed to have stopped. Mother told me to get up so that she could dress me but she didn’t take my night dress off, instead she put my day dress on top and wrapped me in my coat, Lottie’s diary was still in the pocket. Then she took me in her arms and carried me out of the cabin and upstairs to the top deck. She was still in her night-dress.
Father saw us and came to Mother’s side. He said not to worry but we’d hit an iceberg. My Mother squeezed me tight, and I could smell her perfume behind her ears.
I dug my fingernails into her back and looked through her hair. There were men drinking beer and playing cards at a table. The cards kept slipping off with each shudder of the ship, but they picked them up and carried right on.
That’s when we heard the bang. It was so loud that my Mother screamed and I burst into tears. Around us people ducked and shouted, holding their hands on their heads and looking up into the air. Three of the four ships funnels whistled out hot white smoke that billowed into the air like white streamers.
The deck was filling up with people fast, and my Mother was asking me if I was cold, but she didn’t hear my answer. She was looking out to sea; it was flat, and I remembered Father saying earlier that he’d never seen a flat calm like it.
People were crying now, and an officer told us that we should put on life preservers. Mother put me down and put me in mine, and then she strapped herself in. I saw Connie and her Ma and Pa come out of the stairwell in front of us. Guards in white uniforms with black stripes on their shoulders were waving their arms at them and shouting. They were forcing the doors to the stairwell shut behind them; I saw her Pa get shut in and Connie begin to scream. I started crying even more and my Mother told me not to be frightened.
Someone was saying something about getting into a boat, and a man lifted me up and put me in one of the lifeboats. I reached out for my Mother and she followed. My father lifted me up and kissed me, and then he kissed my Mother. He said he would get on the next boat because this one was too full. I told him I could see a spot but he just smiled.
The stars were twinkling in the sky and the lights from the ship made it light as day. A sailor put a rug around my Mother to keep her warm and she opened it to me and gathered me up inside.
“Where’s Father going?” I asked.
I watched him walk back into the crowd. My mother kissed me on the top of the head but said nothing. I could feel her body shaking against me.
I watched as an officer reached around Connie and her Mother and gathered a group of people from behind them who had just come from the Grand Staircase entrance. He ushered them onto the life boat next to us, but didn’t go back for them.
I felt our boat being lifted over the side and I strained to see what boat Connie was getting onto but she was being pushed further and further back. She saw me looking and she waved but I couldn’t wave back from under the blanket, with each sway of the boat against the ship I felt Connie’s diary bump against my leg.
We hit the water and I tasted salt on my lips. One of the oars was so close to us that
when the sailor started rowing it caught my Mothers hair and tore out clumps.
I watched the ship as we went down. I saw something fall over the top of the railings, then another and another. We all watched from our boat until somebody shouted that they were men from on board and my Mother covered my eyes. I watched through the gap between her finger and wedding ring. Bodies were falling quicker and quicker into the water from the ship’s deck, they looked like raindrops but hit the sea with the smack of hail.
Someone screamed and our boat began to rock, my mother dropped her hand and wrapped both arms tightly around me. A man was trying to pull himself up into our boat. The officer with us held out a gun. I’d never seen a gun before.
The man pulled himself up and the officer shot him in the head. I vomited all down the front of my dress, I felt it laying hot in my lap and I was shaking so much and my Mother was kissing me and whispering into my hair.
The band on the ship started to play, and from where we were drifting further out we could see the people on the decks on their knees in prayer while the band played “Nearer My God to Thee”.
I could hear a low long lilting noise that I thought might be the wind, and while we were rowing away from the ship I asked my Mother what the noise was, she said that the people on the decks were singing.
I saw the Titanic go up in the air before she sank and she looked ever so big. We rowed for seven hours, that’s what the officer said, and for most of the time I cried a whole lot. Eventually someone saw a light. I thought it was a star but Mother said she could see it growing and then we saw a big ship coming towards us, searchlights spotting the water.
We had to sleep on the floor of the new ship while our names were written down, and it wasn’t as nice as the Titanic but everybody on it was very kind to us.
Once we had been sorted, we were placed in a first class cabin. Mother cooed at the ornaments and decoration, but I knew that she kept her back to me so that I would not see her cry. I lay in my new bed and felt the soft cotton sheets, plain white. Mother walked the room for hours, but I didn’t say anything, and even though I wanted to, I didn’t ask about Father or Connie, somehow I knew that when we got to New York there wouldn’t be anybody to wave us in, and as I fell asleep I thought of my dolly under the sea, wrapped in the red White Star Line sheets.


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