Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Extract From Michael Burns Kennedy's The Cuckoo Song

At 2.20am on April 15, 1912, RMS Titanic sank with the loss of 1514 from a contingent of 2224 passengers and crew. In his short story, The Cuckoo Song, Michael Burns Kennedy's storytelling character, Constance Bennett, gives her father an account of a little girl, Thora, and her lap dog Queenie who were among those saved. This is an extract. The full story can be read on:

“Darlings. my beatiful daughter, Thora, Mummy .
" It looks as if the ship is about to …
"Well, the captain is being careful.
" After all this is the Unsinkable Ship. And I am the Unsinkable Daddy aren’t I?
“Come on let’s get a few things together. We’ll send you for a little joy ride in a lifeboat and you’ll be back in no time. No time at all.”
Constance, (the storyteller)  who was seriously considering becoming a parent counselor when she grew-up, continued with the parenting theme of the story, which had become a consuming passion.
“It seems as if there’s nothing like a disaster of the most monumental proportions for focusing the mind and helping daddies, especially daddies like Mr. Eastcreek, get a sense of what’s important and, of course, what’s not,” she judged.
The women got a few belongings together, but as Mummy Eastcreek opened Daddy Eastcreek’s sock draw he staid her hand.
“Don’t bother packing anything for me because I’ve got to stay and have a drink or two with the captain and keep him company. I might be here a little while,” Daddy Eastcreek said gently.
“Oh all right George, but not too much to drink,” Mummy Eastcreek responded turning a blind eye to what Thora was beginning to comprehend.
“No more than two whiskeys. I am not going to be floating around on the sea out there while you’re living it up on board. Sometimes it seems as if life is one long social occasion as far as you are concerned.”
“Oh Daddy,” said Thora with so much feeling even Daddy and Mummy Eastcreek couldn’t ignore it
“Now Thora you’ve got to be brave,” Daddy said.
“I want you to put that dress on that you wore coming aboard and I think in the circumstances that Queen Beth (the dog), I mean Queenie Butterfly, Queenie, might just fit in the pocket.
“Just make sure that she doesn’t snore. I’m not sure if the other passengers would understand as places on the lifeboats are in short supply and it’s women and children to the fore.”
Even Constance (the storyteller) became reflective, and somewhat becalmed, as she warmed to the emotional gravity and humanity of her own narrative.
She was almost breaking as she explained now Daddy Eastcreek, who seemed strangely disconnected, tried to take his daughter in his arms in a display of affection, but after a life-time of stiffness found tenderness too tough.
She said he seemed awkward and wooden.
Than, as an alternative gesture of closeness and intimacy, he picked up Queenie and held her close.
“Queenie long may you reign and look after my daughter as if she were your own princess royal,” he whispered.
“I will look out for you both wherever I am, I promise. I used to think today was the most important day in the world, but now I know tomorrow is paramount. I am putting you in charge of all my daughter’s tomorrows Queenie.”
Then he did something out of character. He held Queenie tight and kissed her on the crown on her perfectly domed head.
“Guard my daughter well.”
“Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy,” Thora said as if it were some kind of mantra that would save the situation or more likely a piece of string that would make sure there were bound together for all time.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy,”
For the first time in her young life Thora knew that whatever he had said and done her father really did love her, and that deep down he was caring and good.
Then Daddy Eastcreek quietly took Thora and Mummy to the lifeboats, hugged them warmly, and within a fraction of a tear-filled moment disappeared into the swirling crowd .
The clarity of this thought was only matched by the bitter dry chill in the air. Daddy Eastcreek disappeared into the throng of dignified humanity, which quietly ebbed and flowed around the decks as it waited for oblivion to come with one last big wave.
Constance paused so she and her Dad could wallow in the warm waters of this effect.
Later on in the lifeboat, Thora, and the others watched in frozen horror as the large ship – the one they called Unsinkable (lights flashing on and off) – was taken into the bosom of the cruel, cold sea, like a mother reclaiming its wounded dying cub.
Meanwhile, Thora was sitting in the lifeboat shaking her left leg until a women, who found the exercise annoying, said.
“What is that child doing? What are you doing child? Don’t you know we’re in the middle of a tragedy and all at sea?” in a tut-tutting style, so common in elderly spinster aunts from that era.
“She’ll have us all in the water If she’s not careful,” added the crewman who enjoyed feeling equal to the first class passenger, even in a moment of tragedy.
The small party, however, had other concerns as a terrible mist made it difficult to see out and when a horn was heard in the distance no amount of shouting had any affect in drawing attention to the lifeboat.
Soon all the passengers were fearful that they may never be found and might perish, despite leaving the Unsinkable Ship. They were exhausted. Thora was among the first to fall asleep. Then the passengers were amazed to hear the strangest fog horn they’d ever heard. It sounded, said one of them, loud but musical.
“It’s like a, like, like the trumpet section of an orchestra at the promenade concerts under the baton of Sir Henry Wood,” said the first class woman who generally fell asleep at concerts, even during the trumpet section.
“Um,” added the crewman who had only ever been to the music hall.
But the noise wasn’t coming from outside the boat. It was coming from inside the boat. Or was it?
Everyone looked around and then up and suddenly it seems there was a picture postcard old seaman high above them in some heavenly maritime chariot.
Constance said that line loudly, with a sense of triumph in her voice
"Bimey. I don’t know what you got down there folks,” chuckled the Cockney boson.

But I would never have found you without that, well I don't know what. Alls I can calls it is a bleedin' Oh I don't know. Something I once heard in the Blarney country. 

Oh yes, a leprechaun's trumpet I would say if I was to say anything at all. Cos I'm a modest kind of bloke. Ha, ha, ha. Come on now you've had a difficult one all right but we'll have ya safe and sound and warm with a cuppa inside ya in half a mo."

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