7. A Moment
From the diary of Vivian Bowers:
Monday, 24 October, 1911
I can almost forgive Father. He took Mia from me to preserve our family's honor. But Sophie? All her talk of love and family is hypocrisy and lies. She and my father are bound together in marriage for two reasons only: their mutual ability to blackmail the other into oblivion; and Mia. This is why Sophie won't let me be Mia's mother again. It threatens her own security.
The world thinks that Sophie married Father because she was in the family way. Even Edward and Julian, who were away at Yale and summered with friends in 1894, believe this. For years, I wondered why Sophie did marry my father, suffer the scandal of a hasty wedding, and take in a stranger's daughter as her own.
Last year I learned the truth. I met a certain Henry Augustin, of the New Orleans Augustins, in a certain kind of smoking parlor downtown. Sophie's first cousin, he told me she was disowned at seventeen. This is how she came to be living in New York and working for my father's company in the first place.
I did not tell Henry that Mia is my daughter, instead letting him believe the lie. He was happily surprised to learn that Sophie had "given birth" at all, after the ordeal surrounding her disownment. The details of the affair were so shocking, when I awoke this morning I wondered if I had dreamed the whole encounter.
Then on my nightstand I found the gift that Henry had given me, thinking I would pass it along to Sophie. It was an old pair of baby shoes.
Frosted glass domes above the Grand Staircases bathed Titanic's first class entrance in a heavenly light. The marble floors gleamed. The ornate paneling and banisters were seemingly infused with the life of the woods from which they came. Porters bustled by, their shoes freshly polished, rows of brass buttons shining on their brand new uniforms. They pushed gilded luggage carriers that glinted light onto the enamel ceilings.
Passengers of all ages and both sexes laughed in delight as they encountered old friends and new luxuries. Lift grates opened and shut with a gentle metallic rush. Somewhere a grand piano and string quartet struck a playful "Gold and Silver Waltz." Complimentary champagne glasses clinked as passengers pulled them from stewards' trays.
An uncorseted young woman, clad in all black, shot through the glittering scene like a dark comet. She clutched a single suitcase, and kept tucking a loose blonde bun beneath a fedora. "Are we on B-Deck again?" she snapped.
"Yes! Amelia, wait!"
But Amelia ignored Robert as she swept her way down the Grand Staircase. He called after her:
"B51 through 56, you're in the odds with your mother and me!"
"Excellent job, Father, letting everyone know we have the priciest two suites aboard," Julian intoned. Sophie almost snorted champagne through her nose.
"I don't know what's gotten into her," Robert sighed.
"She's a lovely girl," Rose offered. "She just has a lot of spirit."
"Yes… That's what everyone said about Vivian."
"I'll see to her, Robert, don't you worry." Sophie handed off her champagne to another steward. She set her shoulders back, her chin up, and stepped out from the rest of their party.
Stewards were posted outside the Bowers' vacant suites like guards. Amelia shoved her ticket into the gloved hand of one, and he bowed her into Cabin B55.
Amelia's room had carpeted floors, two canopied beds, (one for the maid,) a sink, heater, armoire, and small boudoir. Nicer than the Dolphin Hotel or boarding school; not as nice as the Ritz or the family's home in the Hamptons. Things were about on par with Amelia's journey on the Olympic last summer, except the promenade outside her window was screened off for the family's private use this time.
Since she awoke this morning, Amelia had been pondering guardian-proof, servant-proof, quick hiding spots in her cabin for the medical reports. Now, armed with a White Star Line embossed letter opener and an idea from her favorite pulps, she sprang into action.
She threw her suitcase open and used the letter opener to free the reports from the lining. She pulled aside a mountain of virgin bedclothes, paused to listen for footsteps, heard none, and spared a second to look heavenward:
"Whoever makes White Star's first class, goose down mattresses, I am truly sorry."
And with that she slit the mattress's side and shoved the envelope in. She pulled a needle and thread from her jacket pocket and knelt before the bed. She'd just sewn the slit shut when there was a knock on her bedroom door.
Sophie waltzed in, brandishing a handful of White Star promotional pamphlets like a Japanese fan.
"Sweetheart, you should see the passenger lists! You will not believe the people who bought tickets with their real names: the Countess of Rothes, Madame Aubart. And that Margaret Brown woman! Now don't sigh like that, Amelia, you know I'm not against new money on principle. I married your father, didn't I? But that woman has no class. Leaving her husband just when he could have used a smart woman at his side, what with losing his reputation, his health, his son's respect…"
"I know, but-"
"But Mother, this gossip is so foolish and embarrassing," Sophie teased. She took Amelia's chin in hand and kissed her forehead. "I know, I know."
Mother. The word pitted Amelia's stomach. "Look. I'm a bit seasick right now."
"We've only just set sail."
"Fine. It's my monthly curse. Happy?"
Sophie pulled back, her brows furrowed. "No! Why on earth would I be happy that you're unwell?" Another kiss on the forehead. "You rest. I'll plan our squash games and visits to the Turkish baths."
"Splendid," Amelia sighed.
"Would a light luncheon help? You do know there's an a la carte restaurant on A Deck."
"No thank you."
"Should I have the maid draw you a bath?"
"No. Thank you."
"Alright, I'll leave you alone. Heaven forbid I dote on my little girl."
Sophie departed through the door to the rest of the suite. At last, Amelia had gotten rid of her.
Ever since she learned the truth, being in Robert or Sophie's presence made Amelia burn in her skin. She understood, of course, how handing the bastard child of an unstable girl off to the family patriarch and his bride was the best decision they could make at the time. But what about the following seventeen years? Why was Amelia never told? Why was Vivian never given a chance to escape D.H., marry a nice young man, regain custody of Amelia and start anew?
It was only Robert and Sophie's selfishness. They craved power over the family; they feared shame in the public eye. This was reason enough to deny Vivian the life that could have saved her. This was the unspoken justification for raising Amelia in a house of lies.
Amelia lay above her bedcovers and stared up at the velvet canopy, stewing over these thoughts. Soon she actually did feel sick. She had to get out of here.
While Sophie argued with Rayburn in the sitting room, Amelia snuck quietly from her cabin, and cut across the Grand Staircase lobby to suite B52, 54 and 56.
"No, it had a lot of faces on it…This is the one!"
Rose the Fiancée was straight and tidy in her pinstripe day dress, a vision of purity in white. The antithesis of Amelia's dark chaos: surely she'd still love her mother if she learned that Ruth hadn't given birth to her. She drifted through the busy parlor, barely heeding her maid. She didn't even notice Amelia at first. She was transfixed upon her canvases.
"Do you want them all out, miss?" asked the maid.
"Yes," she stated with relish. "We need a little color in this room."
"And a little something else," Amelia quipped. The canvas Rose just propped against the loveseat contained five female nudes.
"Amelia!" Rose smiled. "Are… are you at all familiar with Picasso?"
"The avant gardeSpaniard." It wasn't a question.
"I told Julian that Picasso is, in fact, known outside of Paris. He wouldn't believe me." Rose gestured to the abstract works around her. "He calls them finger paintings."
"Where did you get them? In Paris, obviously, but from whom?"
"Gertrude Stein." The Fiancée lifted her chin, self-satisfied, and watched with heavy lids as Amelia dissolved in envy.
"You met Gertrude Stein? And her art collection? And you didn't write and tell me?"
"You weren't writing me at all by then," said Rose, playing at coolness. "I didn't want to give you the satisfaction."
"Don't tell me you attended her salon or I'll harangue you for every last detail."
"No," she admitted. "Only an art exhibition and sale. I met her, and she did invite me, but Mother would have been scandalized. Besides, I didn't want to be the novelty innocent of the evening!"
"I'd tend the ashtrays if it meant I could watch Gertrude Stein cut Hemingway down to size," Amelia muttered.
"Spoken like a girl who's never smoked," Rose teased.
Rose blushed and murmured something about helping her mother get settled in. She took a few impressionist canvases- tame in comparison to the Picassos- into the master suite with her. Amelia circled the parlor with a hand beneath her chin, searching each canvas.
Rose returned and quietly joined her.
"They're fascinating, aren't they?" Rose whispered. "It's like being inside a dream or something. There's truth but no logic."
"They look so normal at first; it's only up close that you see everything's broken, jumbled," Amelia noted.
Rose froze at her side; she had caught the deeper meaning. She barely touched Amelia's elbow, stilted in her sympathy. Amelia's lip trembled.
Just then, thank goodness, Rose cleared her throat.
"Are you looking for something?" she asked, nodding towards a painting of a disjointed figure, blue in every sense of the word.
"Yes, I think so. A moment," Amelia replied. "Something new and alive, something… not just surreal, but truly unbelievable."
They drifted to another canvas together, as if carried by the same current. Then Rose mused: "Well, if we're artists ourselves, why are we looking for a moment in others' work?"
"Because 'moments' aren't included in the ship's amenities brochure?"
"True. But I can think of a likelier place for them than this stuffy suite."
Rose put a hand on Amelia's arm again, this time easy and sure. "I'll get the paper and charcoal," she said.