by Mary Morrissy
Down below you could hear them revelling, hallooing. Boots hoofing on boards, someone’s birthday. Wouldn’t half-mind being down there with them, instead of here, perched in the crow’s nest, blowing on your perished hands. You and Reggie Lee on lookout, second night out and you’d been paired. For life as it turns out. You was the senior man. Four years on the Oceanic, you. You stared straight ahead, damned near blinded with concentration. And saw nothing at first. Just a haze. A haze is all. Happens when a berg rolls and the wet ice from down below comes up. Gives off less light. You knows that now; everyone a Solomon after the event. The habits of ice, how it sucks in light during the day, then throws it off in the night. Fooling you, fooling everyone. Iceblink, they calls it.
Blink of an eye, that’s all it took. Just after seven bells. Fifty feet of glass reared up. High as the fo’castle head, enormous, opening its blue jaws. You watched and were dumbstruck. Before, there had been nothing. There’s never nothing on the sea, Fred lad, but you’d have sworn to it. You did swear to it, on the Bible at that bloody tribunal, there being nothing one minute and then the next…
You struck the bell three times.
“Hey,” Lee protested. He’d seen nothing neither but always wanted to be in on the action. If you’d’a known what was to come you’d’a said to him – here, you ring the bridge, so. You opened the box where the telephone was stowed.
“Fleet,” you said.
In your ears a strange rumbling grew, like thunder doused in pain.
“Iceberg. Right ahead.”
The words out, you felt the world lurch, the telephone still in your hand.
And then what did you do? That’s what those Admiralty boys wanted to know.
You stayed at your post, it’s what an able seaman does, you told ’em. Everything you said sounded stroppy when you was only stating the case. Didn’t I see it for you, you wanted to shout at the chaps with the epaulettes. You could tell they thought you was shifty, hiding something. You stayed at your post until Hogg and Evans came on at midnight to relieve you. But the truth is, you was never relieved.
They took your picture on the Carpathia. Shoved you up against a wall and chalked a number over your head. As if you was a criminal. As if you’d done something wrong. You can’t look at that picture – your cheeks stoved in, something dead in your eyes. Maybe they was always dead and you only saw it in the sulphur flash. Dead with all the things that might have been.
If there’d been a moon.
If they’d given you binoculars.
If you’d shouted louder.
If there hadn’t been ice in your lungs.
Mary Morrissy is the author of three novels, Mother of Pearl, The Pretender and The Rising of Bella Casey and two collections of stories, A Lazy Eye and most recently, Prosperity Drive. Her short fiction has been anthologised widely but she is new to flash. She lives in Cork, Ireland. You can find Mary online at marymorrissy.com.
Photograph of the RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 by F. G. O. Stuart, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.