A Noble Death
by Ariel J
When I first stepped onto the Titanic, I felt safe. She was huge and incredibly strong, possessing a sort of noble grandeur that just made me trust her.
But now that she's been stabbed with a knife of ice – now that her chandeliers smash against the gilded walls, shattering glass into a million pieces – now that she tips at an unnatural angle, hopelessly surrendering to the freezing ocean in this battle of power...
Her grandeur mocks her – and mocks her trusting passengers who scramble over this ship like so many mice, clinging to life with what little strength we have.
God, help me. Help us!
The words keep repeating in my head. There's nothing else to do when a dark, silent night of peace transforms into an brutal nightmare – when all a boy can hear is screams of death and fear rushing out of the throats of hundreds who realize that their mortal lives are about to end...
As is mine.
I hate the tendril of fear that snakes through my body at the thought. I am not afraid to die. I'm not. I never have been, but... I always thought I'd die in some noble manner. Not helpless, desperate, unprepared.
As chilling wind whips my at me, I glare at the black sky and force my dry throat to swallow. The deck wall behind me is icy, but I press my back into it anyway, staying out of the stampede of terrified souls until Mama comes. If she comes. The knot in my stomach twists.
In my mind's eye I can see the water flooding our little room, Mama's curly hair sticking to her damp face, her blue, sad eyes lit by the ghastly flicker of the electric lights. I hear her urgent voice. “Bara gå, Viktor! Jag följer snart!”
“I'll follow soon.” There can only be one reason why she isn't here yet, but I can't accept it. Mama can't die.
I can feel the startling warmth of a tear as it rolls down my frosty cheek. I squeeze my eyes shut, clench my teeth. Crying at thirteen years old – how childish of me! But Mama can't die, not now. It's not fair. She worked so hard, for years, so we could be on this ship right now, to America. Because we will find a better life there, Mama and I. A new start.
My eyes snap open. I try to see to the black water through the endless rush of people disjointedly flowing across the deck. Is it all going to end tonight? Our hopes, our dreams?
In the blur of panic, two particular humans capture my attention, strangely still among the choas. An older man, kneeling, in a white coat and white hat – the captain? – holds out a life-vest to a little girl whose hair is tucked into a knot atop her head. A first-class little girl.
Jealousy clutches me. What has she done to deserve that thick, warm coat? And that porcelain doll she holds … it's value could feed Mama and me for a year.
But it's hard to feel angry at such a distraught-looking child. I find myself hoping she will live past this night of horror. The captain says something to her, helping her into the life-vest. Then he picks up her and walks off quickly.
As another room of lights flicker to their deaths, a loud cracking noise splits the air. I feel the mammoth ship tilt ever more and instinctively grab a railing near me.
She's going down. God help me – the ship's going down!
The reality of the fact strikes me like a harsh slap, and I bolt from my hiding place against the wall. I can't wait for Mama anymore. I have to get into a lifeboat.
Fear propels me through the endless mass of people. There was a lifeboat to the left, I think, but it looked almost full. I must hurry! The sickness in my stomach heightens; each second that goes by brings me further from life.
My head pounds. I know am giving in to the fear of death. And I hate it.
But I must live.
I struggle to thrust my conscience aside and let my survival instincts reign as I weave through the group of people gathered around the lifeboat.
“Women and children, please! Women and children!” The shout is coming from a sailor holding the ropes for the lifeboat. He forcefully pushes back a man who tries to steps forward. But I'm a child … Without a second thought I push through to the front of the crowd, trying to catch the sailor's eye. But he is looking at something else –
Someone has just set her in front of the crowd, and there she stands, eyes wild, clutching her doll with what must be frozen little fingers. And I know what I should do. But I can't do it.
Fear and duty fight a battle in my soul. Is this what it will come down to – me or her? Am I about to lose my life because of this small, first-class child? I was here first – the sailor knows that. Desperate, I finally catch his gaze.
For what seems like an entire minute he looks me in the eye. His eyes are deep and sad, and they pierce through my terror and into my heart. I feel the fear slowly melt. Love, valor, and the duty of protection ignite inside me under his gaze. God, forgive me.
I, Viktor, am a man. A young man, perhaps, but a man of God. The glorious and noble task of sacrifice for the weaker is mine.
Yes, a man's duty is to die, unafraid in the face of hell. Because a man of God knows that he will never see hell. I realize in that moment that the sailor and I will very soon be together in a place void of fear or death. And I will be able to thank him. Strength surges through me.
My heart strangely quieted, I walk over the to the little girl and gently pick her up. The wind blows a wispy blonde curl in my face. “Gud skydda dig,” I whisper to her, then lower her into the arms of a woman on the lifeboat. As I back away, I smile at her.
Yes, God protect you, I repeat to myself. Please, God, let her live a full, beautiful life. In place of my mamma and me.
The sailor nods to me, then with the help of another lowers the boat. Perhaps we are the blessed ones, after all. That girl will never know the deep joy, the sheer beauty of a man's sacrifice that now fills me.
I turn around and calmly walk back through the crowd, fortified against the terror pulsing through the ship.
I will die.
But not helpless, desperate, unprepared. I will die content in the knowledge that one little blonde-haired girl's life was spared. Through me. By the glorious grace of God. Yes, I am the blessed!