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For a while, nobody looked at each other. Perhaps they didn’t want to see their own fears reflected in the faces of their companions; perhaps seeing another’s grief would makes theirs more real. Perhaps they were simply mesmerised by the sight of the terror which they had escaped.

In silence, they watched the lights over the water flicker and go out. As screams and cries for help began to ring out over the sea, some voices strong and others already faint, they began to look to each other, warily, wondering what to do.

“We can’t go back,” someone said. They looked up. It was a crewman, sitting at the rudder.

“Can’t?” A large woman leaned forward and looked at him. “What do you mean? We have to go back, people are dying over there!”

“They’ll swamp us,” the man said. “They’ll capsize us.”

He looked down and away, uncomfortable under her gaze.

“My God,” she said. “How can a man be such a coward? Your boss sat at my dinner table last night, did you know that? He had the gall to brag about that ship, said it was unsinkable. Now he’s wrong, and our husbands, our sons are in the water and you try to tell us we can’t go back?”

The screams over the water were already getting quieter.

“Do you hear them,” the woman asked, shaking the man’s shoulder to try to make him meet her gaze. “Do you hear those people crying for help? They’re fighting for their lives in the icy water. You’re sat here, nice and comfortable in a life vest, you’re not even wet. And you say we can’t go back to help them? I say we must!”

There were murmurs of agreement from the others in the boat. The woman stood up and started organising them. “Come along, ladies, we can row with the best of them, am I right? At the least it’ll beat your shivering. Come on, it’s your husbands and sons out there. Look to it!”

The man uttered one more feeble protest and she turned to him with her fist raised.

“By God man, you try to stop us and I will punch you out and give your space on this boat to somebody more polite. Now turn this boat around.”

Cowed, he did as she said.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: This week for Three Word Wednesday the prompts are Brag, Icy and Polite. Thi8s is my take on the tale of the Unsinkable Molly Brown.)

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