“I will arrive by week’s end, my love. Wait for me at the White Star Dock and together we will have the someday I have promised you for so long.”
Those had been the words Harry had written Clara in the last letter before he took to sea. Now, she held that letter before her as she stitched shirt sleeves with the other young women chatting around her.
“News from home, Clarrie?”
She smiled up at the older woman. Erin was a kindly grandmother of a woman with curly hair that had once been as red as Clara’s was blonde.
“From my fiancé. Harry’s coming over on a ship this very week.”
There was a chorus of excitement all about the factory, one which was quickly silenced as they heard the door from the offices opening. It wouldn’t do to be seen lazing. Even if they were doing no such thing. Clara’s sewing needle darted in and out of the cloth she was stitching as she imagined seeing Harry again for the first time in nearly a year. They could finally marry, finally start a family and finally have the life they’d been dreaming about for so long.
As Clara tidied up her station, Erin waited patiently. It was a custom of theirs for Clara to walk the older woman to her lodgings before headed home herself.
“So, tell me, Miss Clara. Is he coming on that fine ship of dreams everyone’s been talking about in the papers?”
Clara absolutely beamed, her smile threatening to split her cheeks.
“He is! I’m just so excited, Erin.”
Placing her hat on her head, Clara turned that smile on Erin.
“Any day now.”
Erin offered her young friend a smile of her own, then concern flickered onto her face.
“Will you be leaving us?”
As they walked to the door, Clara waved that concern off.
“Not right away. Someday, certainly, when we’ve a mind to start a family. But we’ll need the money I make until Harry’s all settled in.”
The sound that woke Harry O’Dell was like nothing he’d ever heard before. It was metal shearing metal, like the very walls of the ship were being rent by some giant with a knife. He leapt out of his narrow cot and was in the hallway in naught but trousers in a moment. There were others there as well, women holding crying children, even some of the ship’s crew looking just as lost as the rest of them.
“What’s going on?” He grabbed one of the crewmen as he passed. “What happened?”
The man looked at Harry, taking in his red hair and freckled face before shaking him off.
“Nothing. It was nothing. Go back to bed.”
The man continued on down the corridor, moving briskly and leaving Harry in his dust. Resigned, Harry turned back to his room to help the young mother bunked in with him calm her two young children.
When the water began to enter the compartment, Harry knew they had been lied to. Whatever had happened was far from nothing.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Titanic sinks! Massive loss of life!”
Clara stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turning to look at the young newsie standing on the side of the road.
“Wh-what did you just say?”
“The ship, Ma’am, it sunk. Hit a big old iceberg, it did.”
She was shaking as she held her hand out.
“How much for the paper?”
“A penny, Ma’am.”
He held out his hand and she gave him one of her precious pennies, taking the paper. Slumped against a nearby building, she began to read. In the dark hours long before dawn. A great loss of life. Mainly women and children among the survivors. Harry, oh Harry.
Hot, silent tears streamed from her eyes and Clara’s grip on the too fragile newsprint tightening until it tore. She stared for a long moment at the shredded yellow paper in her hands. It didn’t matter now. It didn’t matter how much they had both saved and scrimped and scanted. There was no future for Clara and Harry, no future in which she was Mrs. O’Dell. All the happy dreams of a home together and a little crop of children under foot were as sunk as the vessel that had called itself the Ship of Dreams.
The paper fell from Clara’s fingers as she walked towards Pier 54 where the ship would have come in. There was already a crowd when she arrived, but she paid them no attention. She stood nearby, as close as she could get, and stared out at the water. It wasn’t the ocean, not here, not really. But she wondered, as she stared into the water, if God would bring her to Harry if she jumped in anyway. The thought nearly slapped her in the face when she realized why she had come here, what she was contemplating. Then she thought of the life ahead of her, so far from the land of her birth and her family and now without her Harry O’Dell. There were tears in her eyes as she stepped off into the air.