From time to time, I would like to share a story I wrote.
Late in the evening of April 14, 104 years ago, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Less than two hours later, in the early morning darkness of April 15, it sank. This is a story about modern-day people, who, for no real reason whatsoever, decide to recreate the last supper of the first-class passengers.
The Dinner Party
Ellen swears the oysters are sardines from a can Mila had unearthed out of the depths of a high cupboard. In her mind, they squish into each other like amoebas forming a new creature; in reality, their growls tickle her intestinal wall.
The dinner party is now into its fourth course: filet mignon and lyonnaise sauce and vegetable marrow or something or other. Mila explains every detail of the course in an annoying English accent. That had been part of the invitation: learn the appropriate accent to your assigned station. Ellen’s invitation had said, “Third-class passenger, Cockney accent.” The invitation had also suggested costume ideas, but Ellen had told Margaret, the woman making her go to this dinner party, that there was no way she would wear a period costume.
“Where the hell am I supposed to find such a costume anyways?” Ellen had said on the phone to Margaret, one day before the dinner party.
“Don’t you have any old grandma clothes?” Margaret had said.
“I’ve got an old hat you can wear. And some long gloves. For the top and bottom just wear something neutral and non-descript.”
“No. I’m wearing what I want. And what’s with the Cockney accent? Doesn’t this Mila know that the third-class passengers were mostly immigrants, not east-end Londoners? I mean, has the woman even done her research?”
They argued for a while and Ellen threatened to not come. Margaret relented. She wanted Ellen to come. There would be men at this dinner party that Margaret and Ellen would not get to meet otherwise. Mila had promised. And Ellen was always complaining that they never did anything interesting. Here was their chance.
And now here they are at a fancy dinner party full of interesting people. The man seated to Ellen’s left is a “first-class passenger, politician.” His name is Carl. He wears a tie and sits up straight. He does not say much at first. But as the fifth course dangles tantalizingly from Mila’s mouth, he turns to Ellen and says, “Is this weird?”
Ellen looks at him. “Is what weird? Creamed carrots?” She stabs at the mush on her plate.
He smiles. “No. This.” He gestures with his fork around the table, his eyes stopping at Mila who stands to explain what “Parmentier potatoes” means: “This is a dish featuring a minced potato blended with meat…”
“Isn’t it just a mashed potato?” says John, “second-class passenger, schoolteacher,” who sits next to Margaret, deemed “first-class, socialite.” She pulls at her lace blouse, which has a high, starched collar.
Mila looks flustered and starts spluttering about who Parmentier was. Then she says, “Where’s your English accent?”
Ellen nods to Carl, then says, in her best attempt at Cockney, “Super weird.”
He starts laughing. The other first-class passengers, Taylor and Mitch, Perry and Noelle, stare the two down.
“Really, Carl? You’re not supposed to cavort with the third-class baggage,” Mitch says, smiling at Ellen as if to say, “No offence. Just in character.”
Ellen looks around the table. The only other third-class passenger — Bruno — eats in silence, ignoring everybody.
Mila laughs. “No trouble, please. We are all in the same boat!” She clamps a hand over her mouth and giggles like a schoolkid after drinking her first cup of coffee. The other first-class passengers, minus Carl but including Margaret, also laugh, repeating the joke, “We’re all in the same boat! Hahahahha.” Together, they sound like a chorus of dying hyenas.
“Well, that’s not exactly true, is it?” Ellen says, wincing at the echo. “The third-class passengers didn’t eat this crazy meal for their last supper, I bet.”
“So consider yourself lucky,” Taylor says before delicately placing a ripped piece of squab into her mouth.
“Whoa there Miss Fancypants,” Ellen says, pushing her plate forward. “No need to be rude, now, is there?”
“Excuse me, but my name is Lady Taylor. Kindly use the appropriate title,” Taylor says between chewy chews.
“I will if you learn how to be one first. God, why don’t you shut your mouth when you eat?” Ellen says, folding her arms across her chest.
Mila’s face turns dark while Margaret’s turns purple. She tugs at the tight lace around her throat.
“How dare you speak to me like that you muppet … munter… I mean, miscreant!” Taylor, uncertain of her word choice, throws down her napkin, and keeps chewing on that piece of rubbery squab, her jaws like a trash compactor on automatic.
“This isn’t the goddamn Titanic!” Ellen yells, standing up.
Margaret slams her hands onto her plate.
“But it is! That’s the whole point, Ellen, and you’re ruining it!” Mila yells back.
John looks at Margaret. “Are you OK?”
She shakes her head, points to her lace collar.
“I’ve a mind to throw you off this boat!” Mila looks over to Mitch and Perry and nods her head.
“Seriously?” Ellen says, as the two men stand up. Both are wearing stupid naval jackets they must’ve found at Value Village.
John is now undoing the lace collar, button by button. “God these things are so small,” he says, fumbling his fingers, as Margaret gasps for air.
Mitch and Perry are circling the dining room table. “Officers. Take her away. She’s bothering me,” Mila now says with the calmness of an English aristocrat.
Carl stands up. “Don’t touch her.”
Ellen looks up at Carl and rolls her eyes. She throws down her napkin, and pushes her chair back. “Yah. Don’t touch me. I’m outta here. Thanks for the lousy mutton. Hope you all choke on that foie gras shit.” She turns to walk out.
“It was marrow! Marrow! Don’t you listen?”
John finally undoes the last button. Margaret heaves in a gulp of air. Her face, red and tear-streaked, turns to look at him. “You saved my life!”
“Officers, see her out!” Mila shouts though all the two men do is to stand in the doorway with blank faces while Ellen searches for her coat in the closet. She yells back, “Oh my God, shut up!”
“See what happens when you try to invite the less fortunate?” Taylor says.
“So ungrateful,” Noelle says.
“So rude,” says Mila.
The front door slams.
The two officers return. “Well, that’s done,” they say. “No more trouble from the third-class, I expect.” They sit back down at the table. Everyone now looks to Bruno, the lone third-class passenger. He is still eating.
Carl is at a standstill.
John is feeling the rush of pride at having saved Margaret. “This must be what it felt like to save women and children from the Titanic itself,” he says to her, beaming. She takes his hand and says, “How can I ever thank you?”
“Waldorf Pudding, anyone?” Mila says, before rushing out to retrieve the carefully arranged ceramic bowls on a lacquer tray.
Carl sits back down. It is too late. Ellen is long gone, adrift in that cold sea of humanity. He sits, staring at the tidal wave of Waldorf pudding, satisfied he would never find her in all that debris. Then, he dips a spoon into the whirling mass.