This story is by Emily Gannon and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Hot steam blows in my face. I can no longer tell what’s sweat and what’s humidity, moisture just drips off me. I tighten the valve and the stream is cut off. A green light blips on. Water pressure restored. Yesterday night’s storm screwed everything out of place and burst several pipes.
“Thank you so very much.” says Sir Radley staring at an oil puddle on the floor. I wipe my face with a rag from my belt. It doesn’t help.
“I ain’t your plumber, sir.”
“Yes, Elizabeth will be very pleased.”
I grunt. Rich folk were all named the same. At least my name was unique.
“Yes; well I should be going, Mr. Dylan.”
I wince at the mispronunciation, pack up my toolbox and start to leave. Before I pass Sir Radley I say, “Look, if ya have any more problems, go bug someone else. I ‘ave to do some important engine checks and then my shift is ov-” I’m interrupted as a giant hand appears from behind me and
clams itself over my mouth.
“Your shift is over when I say that it’s over, cabin boy. I think what Mr. Dielan meant to say was he’d be pleased to assist you whenever and however he can.” grumbles first mate Carman. His pristine uniform glows second only to Captain, and makes me blush at my own torn, stained yellow-white shirt.
The giant hand moves up and down, my head bobbles with it. When Sir Radley disappears up the elevator where his type belong, Carman says, “What in the hell were you thinking?”
He storms past me and locks the water room door.
“He took time out of-”
“I don’t care Dielan! Don’t you ever wonder why you work below deck and nights?” I furrow my brow. The mystery weighed on me, they’d be sorry if this tub started sinking and their best engineer was too tired to get the job done, the sun had barely risen and I was just about ready to sleep.
“You really want to know?”
I glare at Carman and nod.
“It’s because all the passengers think you’re a nightmare.”
I blink up at Carman. A pang shoots through my chest. I wasn’t that unbearable… was I?
“Well they ain’t all saints themselves now are they?” I shout.
Carman pushes me into the engine room.
“Nobody gives a damn how the passengers act, they pay, you’ll do good to remember that’s where your paycheck comes from.”
“I don’t care about the money.” I say before I think.
“Well you aren’t here because of a seafaring passion, can you even swim?”
“I don’t get to-” I realize what I’m saying.
“You don’t what?”
I turn around and drop my toolbox.
“Keep it… the money. I send it to mom in the states.”
Carman puts a hand on my back. “Get to work on your engine checks.” he says softly. The whisper bounces along the endless pipes and machinery. Soon as I take a look at the control panel, button five lights up red. I groan as I heft my toolbox along with me.
By the time I climb all the way to deck floor I’m breathless. An ever-present Carman targets me the second I step into public view. “Geez boy, you reek, the passengers won’t want to see you.”
“Gee thanks.” I grumble and push past him.
“Don’t take it personal boy, they just don’t like to see the hard work that goes on around them, disturbs their utopian fantasies.”
“Listen, go talk to someone else if you wanna discuss the psychology of your paying passengers. I’m busy with the job you told me to do.”
“Yes, which is specifically downstairs and out of sight.” Carman flashes a smile to a short man in a bowler staring at a grease mark on my cheek. Another pang of emotion stabs my heart.
“Obstruction in right engine 5. Doesn’t look technical.”
We reach the railing and I peer over. “Yep, just basic mechanics.” a fishing net is caught in the rotator. The giant propeller churns it slowly, tangling the rope further.
“Stay where you are, I’ll go turn them off.”
Carman adjusts his sailing hat, the first mate emblem flashes me in the eyes and he disappears. I gaze at the ladies in bright sun hats and men lounging with drinks in their hands. Crewmen hang from the rafters, patching the sails from yesterday’s storm. I could work like them in the daytime.
People like heroes.
I fumble with a knot as I secure a rope around my waist and lower myself down. I dangle slightly above the propellers, tugging and sawing at the rope. I’m almost finished with the
fishing net when I see it.
The shipwreck floats closer now. It’s hard to discern if none of the passengers were observant enough to notice it, or passive enough to care. The mere splinters of leftover boat drift low in the water. If this debris got close enough it could jam all the engines and we’d all be stuck here in the middle of the ocean.
It’s then when the knot I secured to the top deck slips.
I fall screaming into frigid waters below. The current of the propeller tosses me deep underwater. Water invades my nose. My throat burns. My lungs shake. I bob underneath the boat, bumping against its algae covered underside. I breath in nothing, choking on water rushing in. I kick myself out and away from the metal blade and the trap of the fishing net. My vision gets narrower. I can’t stop from taking another breath of water. Disorientated, my back breaches air first and I flail for a moment trying to remember where all my pieces go before I can righten myself and take a breath of air. My kicks aren’t powerful enough and I dip back underwater taking in another lungful of liquid.
I bump against something large, and try to scramble up it. The object dunks underwater before I can. It drags me upwards instead, and pinches my wrists together. She hoists me on top of a piece of driftwood, torn from the side of some smashed crate.
I cling to the wood with shaking hands and cough until my head hurts. When my vision clears I see a woman nearing her middle ages with plastered brown hair, a soggy watch, and expensive dress. I don’t need another rich woman to dote on.
“What happened?” I try to command but can’t put enough energy into it.
“You took a dive straight from the side of the boat! I don’t know what you were thinking.” she shakes her head, “you well?”
“Angelica.” she supplies for me.
“Dielan, and no I’m not,” I splutter,
my voice comes out raw and weak, “what ‘appened to the boat, and where did the rest of the passengers go?” I try to gesture to the shipwreck debris around us with one hand. She snatches out and catches me before I slip and puts an arm around my waist, securing us both to our drift-board-lifeboat.
“Everyone else got away in the lifeboats, my ungraceful self didn’t make it in. We hit a sandbank in yesterday’s storm, the one your ship is headed straight toward I might add, so quit sitting there like a lost guppy and help me think of a way to warn your captain. I’ve been screaming down here for hours and no one’s heard.”
“They can’t hear over-”
I was going to make a comment on how rich people liked to shove coins in their ears as earplugs so they could concentrate on rewinding their golden watches but Angelica has one too, and something about her angled eyebrow stops me.
“..the workers.” I finish.
“Patooey, you workers are quiet enough.”
A part of my heart sinks. I’d hoped- well I guess it didn’t matter if the ocean washed the dirt off me, I’d always be underclass, and I’d always look the part. A sudden self consciousness pulls at me like the rope still tied around my waist. I slick my mop of hair back from my forehead.
“In all seriousness young man, we need a solution now.”
I look at the shipwreck floating closer. My security rope tugs again in
“Angelica, you ever been to uh rodeo?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Can’t say that
I grin. I might not be able to tie those seafaring knots, but if there was one thing my scrappy roots from the states taught me, it was how to tie a lasso. I slip off my failed rope
security line and make the lasso.
“We’ve got to get closer.”
Angelica and I lower ourselves back fully in the water and steer our crate side closer to the giant luxury boat. By now the propellers have been shut off so I don’t worry about them.
Angelica holds the wood steady as I try to balance on it. It takes three throws for it to catch on a porthole ledge. I climb up first and pound on the window until some unfortunate woman powdering her nose lets me in and I topple onto her carpet. I re-lower the rope and Angelica ties it
around herself and I hoist her up.
When she squeezes through the porthole she says, “You go figure out how to get this tub moving, I’ll find the captain and get him to change our direction, I don’t want your ship to
end up like ours did.”
“You gonna be able to find ‘im?”
“Oh all these boats are all the same, I’ll find his quarters soon enough.”
Angelica is gone bustling off down the hallway before I can say anything else. I smile at how much she acts like a younger, more robust version of my mother, before the illness.
Racing back down stairs I get the engines back up and under Angelica’s direction the captain is able to steer us to safety. Few passengers ever get to hear about Angelica’s and I’s deeds, but Carman certainly does.
When he finishes giving me an earful that Angelica smirks at, Carman pats me on the back. He says the crew is thinking about giving us medals.
“Does that mean I can work normal hours now? And in front of people?”
“Only if you wash, geez kid you reek like fish guts.”