No one thinks to stop and stare—unlike me. Looks of censure quickly have me moving again.
Under subdued lighting, ormolu and gilt-wood furniture glimmers; starched linens glow, their surface marked with subtle, satin pattern; crystal chandeliers and leaded glass sparkle, and a fortune in precious gems scintillate, against settings of gold and platinum.
This an event for society's elite, well used to such luxury. The women are dressed in fashionable gowns of vibrant silk and lace, underpinned by bone and steel, with dainty slippers and beaded bags. The men, though more restrained in palette, are smartly attired, in carefully pressed tuxedos, high-shine shoes, and have not a hair out of place. Money, breeding, and position are displayed with pride, at this, the perfect venue. All are here to be seen—by the right people.
For all I fit the criteria, I still feel out of place. If not for my inheritance, I doubt I would ever have found myself amidst such illustrious company. Following the pattern of other dinners, I take my seat amidst the opulence of the dining room, waiting with the aristocrats and nouveau riche for the start of the ten course feast.
Service commences, the unacknowledged hands of silent staff catering to our every wish. Later, there will be more music and dancing, but for now the menu takes centre stage; oysters and consommé, salmon mousse, fillet mignon, and roast duckling… the richest and finest of culinary pleasures.
All is well; all is exactly as it should be. This is how I remember it happening.
The resonant tone of the dinner gong sounds again, calling out another invitation, and intruding into this familiar loop of time. All around me, genteel conversations pause. Whispers and raised eyebrows make me wonder at this unexpected interruption. The sound transforms into an eerie toll; a heavy bell’s deeper, duller notes. And as the last of midnight’s chimes are marked, dread sweeps my confusion away—as everything changes, and history unfolds before my horrified gaze.
Once this was a magnificent vessel; designed by dreams, built through ambition, and furnished with ego and overweening assurance. It was a ship so monumental in size and reputation; it caught the world’s imagination, and those of the generations to come. But with its fame came infamy.
All too soon, decadence was overtaken by darkness, and fate dealt a cruel blow. In a single night, tragedy stole too many from their loved ones, and swept away the futures of rich and poor alike.
Though the dinner continues around me, the warmth of the lighting and décor, the beauty of the diners, and the refined flavours of the food have vanished. In their place are cold, shifting shadows in dark blues and green, fleshless, animated bones, clothed in rotted scraps of fabric, and food that is decayed, and soaked in brine. The music is now the groan of tortured, rusted metal, the rush of waves, somewhere far above, and the wail of fifteen hundred souls, taken before their time.
With the last trembling of a bell that should lie silent, I watch and mimic the actions of the dead. Am I one of them? We turn, and wait. All movement ceases—diners, crew and servants are once more suspended in time. Even the lamenting of those trapped below, unseen beneath these magnificent decks, pauses on a hush of expectation.
And suddenly I know; no one who witnessed the events of that night can ever really leave. Tonight, as on others, we have gathered once more, to witness the return of one of our own—back to the place where my own, and so many other lives were changed forever. Where our dreams became nightmares.
At the top of the staircase, a light begins to flicker. The figure of a man appears. Straight and tall, the weight of knowledge is clear in his gaze, belying the youthfulness of his stance. Beneath his evening clothes, his frame is too thin, and with each stride, down the wooden steps, it’s as if the burden of his memories bow his limbs ever lower. His hand trails along a banister now encased in a layer of vegetation, and his steps are slow, as he battles against the unseen force of a frigid current.
We raise our glasses, and I shudder at the clicking of bones stripped bare, and the sight of hollow eyes turning to fix their gaze on a man of many flaws. At least I know that he could never be the demon that others named him.
There was more than one failure that night, and more injustice than could ever be atoned for by a single human being.
Watching him now, as he realises where he is, I can see the tears of regret and remorse in his eyes. Perhaps, when history has finished with us, and all of us are reunited on the wreck marking so many graves, we will finally be able to leave. But for now, we must reside where we died, and another toast is required.
The solemn tones of Captain Smith ring out, swirling through an ocean’s depths. “To the man without whom this legendary ship would never have existed—we welcome Joseph Ismay--back to the Titanic.”