Gender: Male Age: Secret Location: Detroit
|Introduction: Trude finds a shipboard romance with a dashing ship's officer.|
MY ENTRY IN THE CAW6 WRITERS CHALLANGE
Memories In Ashes
As I sit here, in a wicker chair on my brother-in-laws front porch, in the warmth of the May sun, I am trying to remember clearly the events of the past few days, though (on some level) I am really trying hard to forget them. I remember the first time I saw the huge luxury-liner that we were about to board for our trip to America and the first time I saw Franz, in his neatly pressed, blue officer’s uniform, leading us toward the embarkation stairs.
Tears come to my eyes as I again realize that the world and I will never see either of them again.
My husband Leonard and I had been on the voyage as guests of the shipping line. Leonard had ghost-written the company director’s memoirs of his days as a ship’s captain and the many adventures he had lived aboard his ships and back during the Great War, flying over England.
We were both writers, my husband and I, but Leonard was still allowed to write whereas I was on the enemies list of our country’s current government and a persona non grata. I had been a journalist for the Dresdener Anzeiger but my press card had been withdrawn by the authorities after I had written several articles they deemed unflattering to the Reich.
Still that didn’t keep those authorities from letting us leave the country. We were connected with Captain Lehmann and therefore shown safely in the light of his world celebrity.
Our crossing was a dreary one from the very beginning. It seems as though the storm clouds and rain followed us clear across the Atlantic.
It was dark and rainy, for early May, as we approached the ship which was as long as the Titanic and towered over us as high as a four story building. The outer hull reflected the gloom of the night but the lights within it sparkled at us warmly from the windows as we were greeted by the ship’s officers at the bottom of the gangway stairs.
Franz was (to me) so handsome as he touched the shiny brim of his officer’s cap, in a casual salute, and enquired of our names.
“Mr. and Mrs. Adell,” my husband told him.
“Welcome aboard,” he said to us, as he glanced down at his clipboard and the passenger list and made a check mark by our names.
“Thank you,” my husband replied, though Franz’s gaze and smile seemed to stay fixed on me as Leonard spoke.
Franz took my hand and helped me step to the stairs and watched as I ascended from the cool darkness up to the warmth and light of “B” deck with my husband.
A steward came and told us that our cabin was down the hall on this deck and that our luggage was already in our room. He told Leonard that a cocktail or beer could be obtained down the hall at the smoking room and bar and then he bade us to follow him up to “A” deck where my husband pointed out, at the top of the stairs, the bronze bust of the former president for whom this ship was named. It was warmer on this deck and we could see that the dining area’s tables were neatly set with crisp, white linens and fresh flowers and a buffet supper had been laid out for us passengers.
Leonard gathered a plate of beautiful looking finger sandwiches for he and I and, knowing that I was still chilled, asked the steward to bring us some tea and found a small table by the large, closed window so we could watch our departure from there.
It was bright and warm in the dining room but, in stark contrast, the wind outside lashed the rain against the large window and we couldn’t see anything but darkness coming from outboard the ship.
The steward brought an ornate tray containing a silver teapot, milk, sugar and bone china cups in white with blue and gold trim. He used white-gloved hands to set the tray and silver spoons on our table before placing the cups and saucers before us and pouring our piping hot tea.
The tea warmed me and the delicious sandwich filled me as we peered out the closed window for any sign of the docking area. That’s when we were told, by another passenger, that the ship had left land already and was heading out to sea. We were so surprised because we hadn’t felt any motion or vibration or heard any sounds of the great liner’s engines.
Leonard arose to go back to the buffet table for some of the Cold Rhine salmon that he had spotted there and I glanced out at the darkness beyond the window before I heard a sound beside me and looked up to see Franz, that handsome officer, smiling down at me.
“Did you enjoy the departure?” he asked me.
“I’m afraid my husband and I missed it,” I told him, wishing (for some reason) that I hadn’t mentioned my husband to him.
“We hear that a lot,” Franz explained. “This ship sails very smoothly indeed.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I can hardly believe we’re underway.” Then I asked him, “What do you do on the ship?”
“Radio officer,” he said and saluted down at me with a suave grin on his face.
“Oh, yes Ma’am,” he told me. “There are always messages being sent out by the passengers and chief officers. Not only that, our radios assist in navigation when we are out at sea. Traffic, from our radio room, never stops. There are four of us working in six hour shifts. Chief officer Willy Speck, Herbert Dowe, Egon Schweikart and I.”
“I’ll have to send a radiogram when you’re on duty.”
“There’s a writing room on the other side of the ship,” Franz informed me. “You just put your message in the box or hand it to a steward and it gets to me in the radio room to be sent out by radio-telegram.”
“That is so interesting,” I said, my smile on his.
“If you’d like,” he told me, “I’ll take you on a tour of the radio room and the whole ship for that matter.”
“That would be lovely,” I replied, smiling up and batting my eyes at him like a foolish schoolgirl.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening,” he said as he saluted me again and walked away toward the stairs to B deck and I watched the gallant sway of his stature as he went.
Sitting alone now, with my thoughts and my tea, I felt a tingling warmth throughout me that, I knew, was caused by the dashing, young officer. Feelings that I hadn’t felt in years.
Trude, I scolded myself, what’s the matter with you? You’re a grown, married woman and Leonard is a good, intelligent, husband and a great provider. Why are you letting this handsome young man turn your level head like this?
I had no idea but I loved the attention he gave to me. Attention that my unexciting husband hardly favored me with anymore. He was far too busy either working or kowtowing to the authorities in order to keep his career.
When Leonard returned, he hungrily ate his cold salmon and his sandwiches while he looked at the copy of the passenger list which he had picked up from the buffet table.
“I see we have some Air Force officers traveling with us,” he said. “Colonel Erdmann, Lieutenant Hienkelbien and Major Hans Hugo Witt are aboard. I hear the voyage is a reward for their meritorious service to the nation.”
“Doing what?” I enquired of him. “Dropping bombs on defenseless Spanish civilians in Guernica?”
My husband quickly looked around to make sure that I wasn’t overheard by anyone. “Don’t say things like that,” Leonard scolded me in low, controlled anger. “You KNOW better.”
I scoffed at the look of annoyance on his face. “What else can they do to me, Leonard darling? They’ve already forbid me from making a living.”
Leonard now leaned forward in his chair and spoke so that only I could hear him. “Surely you realize that I hate the current regime every bit as much as you do. I just apprehend, as do so many people in our country now-a-days, that you have to go along to get along.”
“That’s right, Leonard my dear,” I replied patronizingly. “That’s what the lambs are thinking when they are being led to the slaughter.”
“Shhh,” he hissed in irritation. “Keep your voice down, Gertrude.”
I shrugged and settled in my chair, holding my saucer as I took another sip of the warm tea. “Who else, of the who’s who, is on the passenger list?”
Leonard sat back and spoke as his eyes scanned the sheet of paper before him. “Birger Brink, the news correspondent from Sweden is with us. William Leuchtenberg the American industrialist... Nelson Morris, of Chicago, who owns the Armor Meat Packing Company and is filthy rich... Ah, this should interest you, my darling,” he pointed down to a name on the list as he told me, “Philip Mangone the New York fashion designer is aboard with us.”
“No movie stars?” I asked, aware that Douglas Fairbanks had traveled on this ship last season, as had Max Schmeling the German world heavyweight boxing champion.
“Sorry to disappoint, my dear,” he said, “but Joseph Spah, the American stage acrobat, is aboard.” He nodded his head toward the mural-decorated far wall, “he’s over there.”
I shrugged, “Never heard of him.”
“He goes by the stage name Ben Dova. We saw him at the Wintergarten in Berlin, remember? You reviewed that show for the Anzeiger.”
“Yes,” I said, the recognition coming to me now. “He played the drunken man, trying to light a cigarette by swinging on a lamppost.” I now laughed at the memory. “Very funny.”
“Yes, dear. He was, indeed.”
Light supper finished, Leonard and I went directly to our cabin where I was immediately disappointed with its small size. It looked very cozy though. The walls were a textured pearl-gray in color and the two bunk-style beds were covered in expensive linen and topped by thick comforters in an orange-brown hue. An aluminum ladder accessed the upper bed which, I could see, would stow away during the day. Opposite the beds was a clothes wardrobe with a curtain and, next to that, a wash basin with both hot and cold water spigots. There was a shelf and a small mirror above the basin and towels, monogrammed with the shipping company’s initials “DZR”, hanging neatly below. At the far end of the room was a fold down writing desk and a folding chair to go with it. There was also a button, on a cord, which one could use to summon a steward at any time of the day or night.
Sitting on the lower bed I found it to be very soft and comfortable and couldn’t wait to get into it.
“Showers are on B deck,” Leonard told me as he hung his jacket on a hanger in the wardrobe. “You can take a shower before bed if you like.”
“No dear,” I told him sleepily, “I’ll just take one in the morning before breakfast.”
Leaving me alone, Leonard went to the ship’s smoking-lounge, for a nightcap, while I busied myself opening our cases, hanging our clothes in the wardrobe and setting our toilet articles on the shelf above the sink. Changing into my nightgown, I luxuriated in the fresh, open-sea air coming to me through the little ventilators on the wall. I was soon in bed and soon fast asleep.
The next morning I went, in my robe and slippers, down to the door marked BADEZIMMER to have my shower. It was hot water but the spray was meager and I wasn’t quite free of soap when the stream abruptly stopped and I had to yell for the ship’s only stewardess who arrived to explain that fresh water was a miserly kept commodity aboard ship and that I should be faster in showering next time.
“I’m so sorry,” I told the girl in the starched, white, nurse-like uniform, as I held the shower curtain to me in a way that covered my soapy nakedness, “but I wasn’t aware of the water situation and I’m all soaped up Miss...”
“Imhoff,” she said. “Emilie Imhoff, Ma’am.”
“Please, Miss Imhoff,” I entreated her, “just a little more water? Please?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” she finally curtsied in subservient compliance and added, “Please tell no one that I break the strict rules for you.”
“My lips are sealed,” I told her and she allotted me just enough more shower water to get the soap off of me before it abruptly stopped again.
Quickly dressing in my white, flower print dress and after applying make-up and primping the curls of my blonde hair, I joined Leonard in the dining room for breakfast. The delicious aroma of sausages filled my nose as I sat, with my husband, at one of the tables adorned with fresh-cut flowers. We were joined by Edward Douglas, a New York advertising executive, and Margaret Mather, a matronly heiress, from Princeton, who now lived in Rome and insisted on being addressed as “Miss” having never been married. Sitting with these two Americans was a good opportunity for Leonard and I to practice our English.
As the stewards came with the sausages and hot, crusty German rolls, Leonard asked Miss Mather why she was traveling to the United States.
“To visit my dear brother Frank,” she told us as she spread marmalade on her buttered roll. “I haven’t seen him in eight years since he retired from the faculty at Princeton.”
“The university?” I asked.
“Yes, dear lady. He’s the director of the Princeton Museum of Historic Art now.”
“How interesting,” Leonard commented as the steward filled his cup with hot coffee from a silver pot. “My wife and I are both avid art enthusiasts.”
“Then you must come to Princeton and tour the museum,” Miss Mather told him and then added, “Where will you be staying while in America?”
“With my brother in Mays Landing.”
“I know that well,” Miss Mather happily spoke. “That’s in New Jersey as well. We’ll practically be neighbors. You can surely come and visit me by car.”
“We may do that,” I told her, cutting a piece of sausage with my silver knife and fork and noticing the beautiful, cream-colored china plate encircled with a dark blue band trimmed in real gold-leaf. The plate was adorned with the crest of the shipping company, showing one of the company’s ships over a globe of the Earth.
“Well,” Leonard said, setting his coffee cup in its saucer, “Mays Landing is in southern tip of New Jersey while Princeton is in the north. We will certainly consider it though.”
Most of the rest of our breakfast was taken listening to Miss Mather talk of her world-traveling adventures. Mr. Douglas never uttered one word at all.
After breakfast, Leonard and I walked the promenade and looked out at the wind-whipped sea. The water looked so cold and gray and rolling with whitecaps and yet our ship was making its way without any disturbing movements at all. No noticeable pitching or yawing whatsoever.
I had heard that this ship was the one to take if you were prone to sea-sickness and now I really believed it.
With not much to see outboard, Leonard set out to find Captain Lehmann to discuss the June launching of their American version of his memoirs so I retired to the reading room to write a few postcards to send to our friends back home.
I also filled out a radio-gram for Leonard’s brother Karl, telling him that we were on our way and would arrive on the sixth.
I wondered if Franz would be the one sending my message and I could feel the warm tingles and urges enter my body again as I thought of him.
“Ah,” I then heard his voice close behind my chair as Franz said, “I see that you’ve taken me up on my invitation.”
I turned to him in confused query. “Your invitation?”
“To send a radio-gram.”
“Yes,” I smiled now. “It’s to my brother-in-law in New Jersey. Will you be sending it?”
“Alas, no. I’m off duty until tomorrow morning. Willy Speck is working the radio room right now, Ma’am.”
“Oh, please don’t call me Ma’am,” I told him. “You can certainly use my first name.”
“Trud-e,” I corrected him. “Only my husband calls me Gertrude... when he’s cross with me.”
I was immediately cross with myself for mentioning my husband, to him, again.
“Very well, Trude. You must call me Franz as well.” And with that he put his hand out to take mine in his and I offered it to him and he bent and kissed it.
I swear I swooned down to my toes and I know that my freckle-specked face was blushing deep red because I could feel that heat in my cheeks.
“What about my other offer?” he asked, still bent to me and looking directly into my eyes as he continued to hold my hand in his.
“Your other offer?”
“To take you on a tour of the ship.”
“Oh,” I smiled again. “Yes. When?”
Franz let go of my hand and stood erect now. “What about right now?”
Well, I had nothing else planned and Leonard was busy.
“Yes, of course,” I said happily. “I’m placing myself in your hands.”
Standing from my chair, I let Franz take my arm in his and he led me down the promenade, past the lounge and down the stairs to B deck, where he took me into the bar area and then through a connecting room and a door that opened on a lighted, inner corridor.
“The officers’ dining room is through that door,” he informed me, pointing to the other side of the hallway, “and the crews’ mess and the galley are through that door over there.”
“They cook the meals down here?” I asked. “But the dining salon is on the deck above us.”
“Just so,” Franz concurred, “but they send everything up, to the stewards in the dining room, by dumbwaiter.”
“I see,” I replied, acting interested but mostly just enjoying listening to the deep timbre of his voice.
Then he showed me a long passageway which, he said, led aft to the crews’ quarters, the power generators and entryways to cargo storage and to the ship’s engines.
“The Daimler-Benz diesels produce the power of twelve-hundred horses each,” he explained with smiling pride. “There are four engines so that’s four-thousand-eight-hundred horse power which can move the ship along at a cruising speed of 65 knots. Though I doubt, with the storms and these headwinds, that we are even doing 40 knots right now.”
It was thrilling, to me, to see the look on this masculine officer’s face as he talked to me about manly things like diesel engines and horsepower. I loved it.
Franz then took me along a passage forward and held my hand and put his free arm around my waist to steady my way. I utterly felt like melting butter in his strong grasp and would have swooned to the deck had he not been holding me.
Stopping, he said, “This way is the mailroom and officer’s quarters and there is the door to the radio room. Chief Speck is working in there now and we better not disturb him. Beyond that is the hatch to the navigation room and the bridge and, beyond that, the bow and forward landing stations.”
“Where is your room?” I asked him but felt the pang of embarrassment just after the tawdry question had left my lips.
“Just forward this way,” he said, his arm still about my waist as he turned me to him. “Would you like to see where I sleep?”
My breasts pressed to his large chest and, held in his arms with my face but an inch from his, my mind told me to escape while I had the chance but my lips said, “Yes.”
Franz gripped me tighter and then his lips pressed to mine and we were suddenly kissing with the swirling tongues of hungry, wet, panting passion. Passion that I hadn’t felt with Leonard in a long while.
There was no doubt about where things would proceed as I let Franz guide me quickly to his cabin.
Once inside and with the door closed I let him unbutton and remove my cotton dress and my silken scanties and he dropped to his knees, before me, grasped the cheeks of my buttocks in his large hands and kissed me in a place that no man had ever kissed me before. A deep, probing kiss into my very womanhood that had me standing on my toes and grasping the top of his head until I shuddered all over and released in a huge orgasm.
After the last wave of ecstasy passed through me, Franz stood and lay me on his cot and removed his jacket, shirt and trousers and soon he was laying on my expectant, yearning body and I could feel him inserting his manhood right into the very depths of me.
Wrapping my legs and arms around his muscled form, we held each other tightly and kissed with hungry urgency as Franz thrust himself into me for many long, blissful minutes, bringing me to climax twice more before he grunted out loudly and I could feel his hardness pulsating far within me and filling me, to overflowing, with his scalding seed.
It was over. I had done it. I had been unfaithful to Leonard and was now totally in love and committed to Franz in every way.
What was I to do now? I wondered as I lay still below his firm, panting body and let my legs fall to the cot on either side of his.
“Franz,” I whispered breathlessly. “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” he replied and my heart leapt in my chest. “I have loved you since the first moment I saw you at the gangway.”
“I felt the same, my dear Franz. It was as if we were meant to find each other at that pre-destined moment. I want to spend the rest of my life at your side, dear Franz.”
“But what of your husband?”
“Leonard doesn’t care anymore. He has his work and his writing. This new book, being published in America, is going to make him a very rich man. We haven’t made love in so long that I can’t even remember. He’s twice my age, you know.”
Franz rose up on his elbows above me and then smiled at me and kissed me before saying, “We better get dressed and get you back to the passenger decks before you’re missed.”
A short time later I was in the cozy ship’s bar and sipping one of their Kirschwasser cocktails while pondering what to do and how to tell Leonard about my new love.
It may hurt him, I reasoned, but I had to start anew with Franz and could not miss this chance for happiness with a dashing, adventurous, virile man closer to my own age.
This was fate, I told myself as I remembered last week’s visit to Brussels and our session with Judith Grosemans, a mutual friend of our friend and author Stefan Zweig who had been forced to flee the country. Judith performed divinatory card readings under the name of “Cassandra”. She performed a card reading, for us, that evening, predicting that Leonard and I would be in a shipwreck and that Leonard would die a fiery, agonizing death. I saw her flip the card showing a ship battered on the rocks and then a card depicting fire next to Leonard’s card. It did scare me then and almost made us cancel our crossing.
Judith was wrong, of course, and I wrote her a postcard, before our trip, to tell her so. I didn’t mail it though but left it in my purse to send to her after our safe crossing to America.
However, I reasoned, maybe she misread what the cards foretold and that it was our marriage that would die on this ship and that prediction was now coming true.
At late afternoon Leonard found and joined me and we shared a drink together, in near silence, before going to our cabin to dress for dinner.
It was a custom on trans-Atlantic liners to wear evening gowns and dinner jackets for what they called The Captain’s Dinner. I wore a long, white, silken gown that hugged my curves and, I was certain, would attract Leonard’s attention onto me. Maybe it was a last effort, on my part, to try and save our marriage.
We immediately noticed that the dining room was set in even more formal splendor than before as we entered and were taken to our place at table. We were seated with Captain Lehmann and again Miss Mather. However it was not the head table as Captain Lehmann was only an observer this crossing and Captain Pruss was in command of the ship. He was seated with Mr. and Mrs. Doehner and their pretty teenaged daughter Irene.
With hardly a glance at me, Leonard and Captain Lehmann pulled their chairs together and conversed about their book while Miss Mather and I politely smiled at each other and ate our Cream Soup Hamilton followed by Grilled Sole with Parsley Butter, Berny Potatoes and Mushrooms with Cream Sauce. Captain Lehmann had ordered Chief Steward Kubis to bring us all Piesporter Goldtropfchen and Miss Mather and I polished off two bottles between us before excusing ourselves to leave the two men still talking obliviously in the now near empty dining salon.
“These men,” Miss Mather scoffed as we stood together at the rail of the promenade. “When they talk business, we women might as well not even be there.”
“I’m used to Leonard ignoring me, Miss Mather,” I told her, a tear dripping down my cheek as I looked out at the total darkness of the late-night sea.
“Oh, my dear,” she said as she patted my bare hand with her gloved one. “You mustn’t feel badly. Many husbands take their wives for granted. Even very pretty wives like you.”
“I’m feeling a little tipsy, Miss Mather,” I admitted, accentuating what I’d said with an unexpected hiccup. “I better find my cabin and go to sleep.”
“My cabin is near yours,” Miss Mather observed, “come with me and I’ll escort you.”
And, arm in arm, we went.
The next morning I pretended to be asleep while Leonard brushed his teeth, shaved and dressed and finally left me alone in the cabin.
I didn’t know what to do. How was I to tell him that our marriage was over? What would the divorce settlement be? Especially with me being out of favor with the party that was in control of the courts and everything?
It didn’t matter. I didn’t want money. I just wanted Franz.
Somehow though, on some level, I didn’t want to spoil the remainder of Leonard’s sea voyage for him. I made a decision then to tell him after we arrived in America tomorrow.
That decision made, I slipped on my robe, gathered my toiletries and headed to the shower where I now had more experience and, this time, didn’t run out of water.
Wearing my light-gray dress, with the pink, cotton belt and the pink, lace trim at the bodice, I joined Leonard at the breakfast table.
This morning we were seated with John Pannes and his wife Emma. He was the American representative of the Hamburg-America Line and commented, to us, how few passengers there were on this crossing.
“I was talking to Captain Lehmann about that,” Leonard told him as he started on his soft-boiled egg and fresh, Frankfurt sausages. “This trip was under filled because it was the first of the season but the trip back has been totally booked by people trying to get to England in time to see the coronation of King George VI on the twelfth. There is no other ship that will make it to Europe in time for Coronation Day at this late a date.”
“That is certainly true,” Mr. Pannes agreed. “This crossing has been a slow go however.”
Mrs. Pannes looked toward the bright row of windows and said, “It looks like the sun may be out this morning.”
“Indeed,” I observed. “Maybe we’ll see something of the ocean today.”
After breakfast, Leonard, Mr. and Mrs. Pannes, Miss Margaret Mather and I all stood along the promenade and saw spectacular icebergs passing within a few hundred feet, the sun’s rays making the ice crystals, in their coats of snow, sparkle reflectively, at us, like brilliant diamonds. Later we saw another westbound ship which we soon overtook and passed at sea.
There was a minor disruption when the two, little, Doehner boys, in their short pants and suspenders, came running down the promenade, laughing and tapping each other on the back and then running in the other direction. I think they were playing some kind of a game of tag. They were so boisterous and so full of energy. I had heard that Walter was eight and little Werner was six but it could have been the other way around. Their pretty, teenaged sister soon came to quiet them down.
“Irene, you spoil our fun!” Walter protested as the girl corralled them and led them both away.
Captain Pruss walked by and informed us that we might spot the coast of Newfoundland by late in the day.
This was welcome news to me. It proved that the shores of America were indeed getting close and we could be standing on United States soil by early tomorrow afternoon.
Leonard and I went to the reading and writing room where Leonard picked up a copy of the German version of his book and took some notes.
I wrote a quick letter to my Aunt in Berlin and told Leonard that I was going to seek out the steward to post it for me.
I ended up on B deck by the door to the smoking lounge, looking for Franz. I wasn’t disappointed. He was waiting there for me and we embraced as he said, “Oh my darling Trude, my night was endless without you.”
“I felt the same way, Franz.”
“Come with me,” he said, taking my hands and leading me toward the door to the ship’s interior and his room. Once there we were quickly undressed and were soon making passionate love in ways that I had never even dreamed of. Franz, a world traveler, showed me how to make love standing and bent over and on my hands and knees and with him behind, driving himself deeply into me. He showed me how to perform oral sex on him and then had enough stamina left to reenter me vaginally, on his cot, and bring us both to a massive, mutual orgasm with him again filling me with his masculine deposit. Sex, with Franz, was like I had never had real sex before. It was so thrilling and so passionate and yet so sublimely dirty but still so loving. I wanted to experience it again and again.
“When are you telling your husband about us?” he asked as we dressed.
“I have decided to tell him tomorrow after the ship lands in America.”
“That would be best,” he said. “But I want you to tell him as soon as we are in port.”
“Because I have pulled some strings and secured passage for you on the return trip leaving tomorrow night.”
“Yes, my darling. It’s the only way we can stay together and be together back at home. Leave your husband behind in America. It will ease the blow of losing you for him.”
Yes, I thought. It would do that. Maybe this was for the best.
“Alright,” I said and then kissed him and walked back to the passenger decks where Leonard was still taking notes on his book and not even aware that I had left his side, let alone that I had just had intercourse with another man.
Dinner, that evening, was another spectacular affair consisting of Strong Broth Theodor followed by Fattened Duckling Bavarian Style with Champagne Cabbage, Savory Potatoes and Madiera Gravy and Pears Convent Style with Mocha.
We enjoyed this last evening meal with the pharmaceutical importer Hermann Doehner and his wife Matilda.
“Everything on this ship is so elegant,” Mrs. Doehner said as she savored her lush dessert.
“I see you live in Mexico,” Leonard mentioned to Mr. Doehner. “That must be an interesting place.”
“That’s where my work has taken me,” he replied, sipping some of the Deinhard Cabinet Trocken we’d been served, “but we are Germans and more fond of wurst than tamales. Thank the stars for our German cook. We are returning now after visiting our relatives in the fatherland.”
“I saw you at the Captain’s table with your lovely daughter yesterday,” I said to Mrs. Doehner.
“Oh,” she laughed, “Irene insisted on being there. I had to pin up one of my gowns on her. She is at that age. She is nearly fifteen and one moment she wants to be a sophisticated, grown woman and the next moment she wants to wrestle on the floor with her little brothers. She is a handful but the very light in my life. I love my darling girl so much... my dear boys too, of course.”
“Where are your children tonight?” I asked.
“Walter and Werner and their sister are being entertained by the ship’s stewardess.”
“Yes. She’s been such a dear to us. Keeping the boys occupied is a harrowing task for anyone and it gives Hermann and I a chance to enjoy some of the voyage.”
“Well,” I said to her, “it’s a shame that they’re missing out on this wonderful food.”
“Oh, they were served a children’s supper in the lounge earlier. They don’t care for fancy food. Werner was thrilled, this morning, when Frau Imhoff brought him and Walter each a bowl of... what did she call them, Hermann?”
“Wheaties, as I recall, dear.”
I was instantly intrigued. “Wheaties?”
“It’s a dry breakfast cereal that American children love,” Mrs. Doehner explained. “You serve them in a bowl with milk and sugar. They keep boxes of them in the ship’s larder for American passengers who ask for them.”
“Imagine that,” I said, “a luxury liner that serves fattened Bavarian duckling and... Wheaties.”
The lights of St. Johns, Newfoundland were spotted, to the north, soon after dinner and this seemed to brighten the spirits of a lot of the passengers, including mine.
Captain Lehmann told us that we should be seeing the coast of the United States when we awake in the morning and be in New York, on schedule, by afternoon.
I trembled at the thought. Tomorrow would start my new life with Franz but I had to tell Leonard and do it as soon as we arrived.
That night I slept fitfully and awoke several times with my heart pounding in my chest. At one point I wondered if I would need Dr. Rüdiger, the ship’s physician, to make me a sleeping draught but I managed to fall back into an uneasy slumber.
I awoke with a mixed feeling of both dread and excitement about the day ahead.
Rising from my bed, I could see that I was alone and that Leonard must have gone to breakfast without me.
I brushed my teeth and washed myself with water from the basin. I then put on my blue, business-cut dress, arranged the curls on my head and applied make-up for the day.
Putting all of our clothes, from the wardrobe, along with our toilet articles, in our suitcases, I left the cabin, for the last time, to find Leonard.
True to what Captain Lehmann had told us, the morning view from the promenade was of the east coast of America and we were following that coastline south past Bar Harbor, Portsmouth, Boston, Nantucket and then down toward New York.
Breakfast was served and later a light lunch and then the stewards started to pull the linens from our cabins and pile it in the corridors while other stewards gathered our luggage and set it by the gangway stairs in readiness for our debarkation.
I saw my case next to Leonard’s and wondered what preparations Franz had made to keep my luggage aboard for the return trip.
By late afternoon I had my purse in hand and went to the rest room mirror, applying fresh make-up to ready myself for my dreaded talk with Leonard.
At five-thirty we were informed that the weather was again too stormy for us to land and we would cruise New York harbor until things cleared.
This was indeed a disappointment because I had girded myself to face Leonard and could hardly tolerate any further delay in my fate.
We were all heartened though by the spectacular promenade views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and the many sites that we had heard about, and seen pictures of, back in Germany.
All the whistles on every ship in the harbor sounded loudly, in salute to us, as we passed, causing us all to realize that we were truly aboard a liner of some world notoriety.
At six-forty-five we were told that the weather had improved enough so that the ship could land and all passengers should now make ready to depart.
At just a little after seven I stood with Leonard by the large windows in the lounge as the landing field and the gigantic hangar came into view. Our ship slowed and descended as it circled the sandy field and then made a hard turn toward its mooring site before coming to a very long and silent stop.
I glanced at my diamond cocktail watch and saw that it was seven-twenty-five now and I knew that we would be heading down the stairs, to disembark, in just a matter of short minutes. I had to tell him now.
“Leonard,” I said, and he turned his face to me as I gathered my courage and announced, “I have to tell you something...”
“Yes, my dearest? What is it?”
I opened my mouth to speak when we both felt a sudden shudder in the ship and heard a dull, muffled report, from the stern of the vessel, as if a huge gas burner had just been ignited on a gigantic stove.
A couple of the passengers, looking down at the ground handlers from the promenade windows, quickly looked up in horror and announced, “We’re on fire!”
“My God!” I heard Leonard yell next to me just before the floor tilted steeply upward and there were screams and crashing sounds and everything and everyone fell and tumbled toward the back of the lounge where I was now on my back and pinned between the wall and a fallen table.
The next thing I knew the ceiling and then the entire lounge was bathed in fire like a scene from Hell. I used my arms and exposed legs to push the table away from me and now I could see panicked passengers jumping out of the open windows, including Mr. Doehner after his wife tossed their two little boys out ahead of him and then I saw her look around frantically before she ran right into the inferno screaming, “Irene! Irene!” Joseph Spah, the acrobat, also leapt out of the window as I got to my feet and saw the ground approach us and expected a horrific crash that never came.
Instead the ship settled gently to the ground and the walls seemed to dissolve away in blue and yellow fire as Leonard, in a commanding voice, yelled, “Gertrude! Run! Jump! Get out!” and I ran to the open window and did just as he said, scampering through and leaping, landing flat on my face in the wet sand of the mooring field, the flaming frame of the burning ship collapsing loudly all around me.
Laying on the ground with the wind knocked from me and choking on acrid smoke, I knew that I was going to die right there and I prayed for it to be over quickly. That’s when a strong hand grabbed me by my collar and hauled me up to my feet and then pushed me, forcefully and quickly, right through the molten debris and the glowing ashes of the wreckage.
American Navy men grabbed us and pulled us away from the heat and into the coolness of the twilight air and I turned back to see the twisted, burning, smoking ruin of the once beautiful liner that had taken us so elegantly across the Atlantic.
I then looked to my left to see the face of my rescuer and found it to be my husband Leonard, standing beside me with his scalp burned and his face streaked with ash.
“I have to help rescue others,” my husband told me and he started to walk deliberately back toward the flaming wreck.
Quickly I ran and stopped him and told him, “No, Leonard. You’ve done enough. I can’t lose you now. We need to get to safety.” And I led him away to where a man in a Panama hat directed us to an official car that drove us quickly to the infirmary of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station.
Now, sitting on my brother-in-law’s porch, a couple of days after the disaster, my mind is full of thoughts of what we had survived and the ones who hadn’t.
Mrs. Doehner’s beautiful daughter Irene perished in the fire, as did her husband Hermann when the wreckage fell atop him. Mrs. Doehner and her two little boys were burned but survived. Mr. Douglas, the quiet man with whom we had shared breakfast the first morning, was dead as were dear Mr. and Mrs. Pannes with whom we had breakfasted the following day. Miss Margaret Mather had come through completely unscathed and had simply walked out of the burning ship, down the gangway, and out into the twilit night, as if it were any normal landing. Joseph Spah, the professional acrobat, shattered his ankle when he jumped from the ship. Captain Lehmann had died in the infirmary of severe burns and Captain Pruss was in hospital suffering disfiguring injuries. My husband Leonard is in the hospital even now, recovering from the effects of smoke inhalation.
My dear Franz perished in the wreckage deep in the interior of the ship. I was told that he was doing his duty, when he died, manning his landing station, as was his job.
In all, thirteen passengers, twenty-two crewmen (including stewardess Emilie Imhoff) and one member of the ground crew lost their lives there that night.
I suffered only a bad burn to my right hand and that is why I am struggling to write this with my unbandaged left.
My only other wounds were to my heart and to my conscience and those time will heal along with my heroic Leonard’s nurturing love.
In my surviving effects I found the postcard that I was intending to mail to psychic Judith Grosemans when I got to America:
Frankfurt, 1 May 1937
Meine Liebe Cassandra,
We were very impressed indeed by your oracle card reading the other night.
We intend to leave Germany before that madman Hitler unleashes the apocalypse. Too many of our Jewish and activist friends have already departed or have disappeared.
We will be crossing the ocean aboard an airship. Leonard is working on the biography of Captain Lehmann so we will be leaving Frankfurt in two days on the Hindenburg and are scheduled to arrive in Lakehurst, New Jersey on 6 May. So, as you can see, your shipwreck prediction will not, alas, come to pass!
Gertrude and her husband returned to Germany after Leonard’s recovery. Leonard was a pacifist but also a loyal German. Their home was in Dresden, “The Jewel Box of the Elbe”, a non-strategic city where they would be safe from any harm. On February 13, 1945 Allied bombers dropped a hundred-thousand tons of incendiary bombs on Dresden and totally destroyed that beautiful city, turning it into a Hell on Earth. Leonard and Gertrude both escaped from their house as the flames began to consume it. Then Leonard remembered an unfinished manuscript, that he wanted to save, and ran back in after it. He was horribly burned in the process and was taken to a medical facility in Dippoldiswalde. Leonard Adell died of his injuries a week later, fulfilling the last of Judith “Cassandra” Grosemans’ dire prophecy.
Despite being based on historical persons and events, this is entirely a work of fiction.
(c)- 2011 by Emerson Laken-Palmer
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