Miss Unsinkable

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: End your story with someone saying: “What a day.”... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

(Based on a true story.)

When you regularly survive the unimaginable, it lends itself to the idea that the unimaginable may become commonplace.

Violet Jessop was a stewardess and a regular survivor of the unimaginable. On her first voyage ever, aboard the RMS Olympic, it collided with a warship. Nobody died and her ship made it back to port. She even went on to serve several more voyages aboard it. Then she watched the unsinkable Titanic do just that, all while cradling a baby in her arms, wondering if she was now their caretaker, or if a miracle had saved the mother. Later on still, a war broke out. So, Violet traded her stewardess apron for a nurse's uniform, and stepped aboard the HMHS Britannic.

Much like being a stewardess, being a nurse was hard. A good stewardess rose before the sun or the call of the breakfast bugle. She attended to her passengers needs before they could even think of them. She changed the linens at least twice on a voyage, three if it was a long one. She was well groomed, but not too appealing to the eye. She was there for the comfort of others, even if it meant not getting to bed until the earliest hours of the morning.

A good nurse was much the same. She rose before the doctors or patients. She changed linens as needed, not by schedule. She boiled instruments and bleached bandages. She did not bat a lash at the deaths or the screaming. She was there not as herself, but as an extension of the doctors.

Violet served her time as a nurse with the same care and attention she had served her duties as a stewardess, unwavering even in the face of disaster.

Before she went to bed, whether it was one in the afternoon or one in the morning, Violet went above-deck and took in the fresh air. The Aegean weather was mild during autumn, but like most places, the nights could get rather chilly. Violet actually preferred the cold. Even if she was going to bed in the daylight hours though, the fresh air was always a relief.

Sometimes, she walked with soldiers who couldn't sleep, or officers on their rounds. Once she even walked with the ship's captain, Charles Bartlett, or, as he told her to call him, "Iceberg Charlie". She politely refused the familiarity, but always found a warm smile for him when they crossed paths. Several times, she was even proposed to.

She always declined.

The morning of November 21st, 1916, Violet was worried. Her roommate, Ida, was curled up in the lower bunk, knees to her chest in some sort of agony.

"Ida?" Violet bent down and pressed her cheek to the other woman's forehead. She was warm, but not feverish.

Ida groaned. "Stomach."

With some gentle shoving, Violet got her onto her back and pulled her shirt up, carefully pressing down. Her stomach felt firm, but not bloated. Her appendix area was not tender, but as Violet pressed further upwards, the area of Ida's spleen became warmer than the rest, and a tad swollen. Violet grimaced. There was likely an underlying cause, but it wasn't one she could ascertain without a proper examination.

She pulled Ida's shirt down and the blankets back up.

"Stay in bed, alright?" She said. "I'll bring you some tea and some breakfast."

Ida murmured what might have been a "thank you", but also might have been a curse upon the world. Violet decided it would be more kind to assume it was an admission of gratitude.

On the upper decks, the ship's saloon had been transformed into a dining hall, complete with tables of food. Per usual, there was very little in the way of anything fresh, but the tea was hot, and the porridge was flavored with a dash of cinnamon and sugar.

Violet was a steady woman. She rarely fell, even during the most stomach wrenching of storms. But before she could quite comprehend what was happening, she found herself on the floor of the saloon, a roar in her ears, tea and porridge all over the front of her dress. Dishes clattered to the floor and a vat of tea spilled. She watched, slightly dazed, as everyone in the room immediately stopped what they were doing and ran for the doors. One man even vaulted over the table he had just been eating at.

Within seconds, Violet was alone, blinking in shock.

"HEAD FOR THE LIFEBOATS!" A voice, that of the second mate if her ears weren't deceiving her, bellowed from the hallway.

Violet got up, removed her apron, and calmly went back to her room at a fast pace. Ida was already gone, hopefully heading for safety.

Violet grabbed a clock, a prayer book, and her toothbrush. Surprisingly luxurious things, toothbrushes. After the Titanic sank, Violet had very much longed for one while she was aboard the Carpathia. Afterwards, even if it was just a drill, she made sure to grab one during emergencies.

Above deck, she took the first life vest she was handed and put it on with one hand. The lifeboat nearest her was already full. She headed further down and stopped cold as she looked overboard to the water.

The propellers were going too fast, and the vortex created by the speed was pulling the lifeboats in. She watched as several jumped from their doomed boat to try and swim it. They were pulled under, and they did not come back up the same as they went down. The water frothed with blood and human flotsam. Even as she sat in a quickly crowding lifeboat and was lowered down to the water, she could not look away. Much like with her time in the Atlantic, Violet was struck by realizations in the face of death.

Most important among them: she could not swim.

That fact was one she rarely thought of. Working on an ocean liner did not usually demand that she know how. But now, as her lifeboat dropped, she realized that it was about to possibly be her fatal flaw. Despite the rowers best efforts, the force of the propellers was too great. Very quickly, Violet found herself as the sole occupant.

Time slowed down for a moment. Then it sped up just a little too fast.

Violet stood as her lifeboat met the first propeller, took a deep breath, crossed herself, and jumped into the water.

It was impossible to see. Sea water and blood stung her eyes and through the water filling her ears, Violet could hear the whir of the propellers. The force of the waves created by them battered her so much that she could hardly tell what was going on. Something solid struck her head, right where her hair was bundled into a braided knot. Even with that barest of cushioning, the blow left her struggling more, her brain moving like a liquid in the bottle of her skull.

By some miracle, Violet found herself breaching the surface. She kicked and kicked to stay afloat. Opening her eyes, she found herself in a red sea. An arm floated by. Something that felt vaguely like hair grazed her legs. She saw shreds of uniforms and human bodies all around. There was not a speck of blue as far as she could see. Unable to bear it, she closed her eyes again.

"Ho there!" A voice shouted. "Are you still alive?!" It was a lifeboat!

"Yes!" Violet screamed, frantically kicking her way towards the sound. "Yes!"

"C'mon!" Hands grasped her wrists and hauled her into the boat. "Here you go, miss." A dry coat was wrapped around her shoulders. Violet used a patch of the sleeve to wipe her eyes. A cup of hot coco was shoved into her hands as she opened her eyes.

"What a day, eh miss?" Her bench companion said, sounding strangely cheerful even though his left arm—quite fortunately not the one she sat next to—was barely hanging on by a shred of skin.

Violet could only laugh in an exhausted disarray of emotions.

"What a day," she agreed.

March 22, 2022 19:32

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