As the last visitor exited the Titanic Artifact Exhibition at the Detroit Science Center, I sat on the bottom step of the reconstructed Grand Staircase.
“Please help me…” came a little voice.
It was the golden cherub perched on the balustrade. I moved closer.
“My toe itches,” he said.
“Shall I rub it?”
“Please… it’s a funny thing, hindsight, it always makes my toe itch.”
I rubbed his baby toe in gentle circles.
He sighed happily.
“I bet you want to know how I washed up here?”
“I do indeed…”
“Shall I tell you about the last night aboard?” asked the cherub.
“The piccolo was seasick. The poor soul was new, and nervous. ‘Stare at the horizon, it always helps my nausea…’ said the double bass, who meant well, but like many of his ilk, was a dim-witted soul. The moonless horizon was quite invisible.
As the conductor’s baton stabbed the air, a shrill scale erupted. ‘What a rowdy,’ grumbled the ‘cello, scraping her spike in theatrical displeasure. ‘Overkill,’ rasped the viola, who fancied her voice a sultry one. ‘Such diabolical intonation,’ moaned the violin.
The piccolo shrieked again.
‘So sharp!’ ‘Too shrill…’ ‘Its inherent ability precludes sonorous performance.’ ‘Easy mate,’ said the spectacles, perched on the conductor’s nose.
‘Why are the strings so beastly to the new kid on deck?’ asked a shoe, tripping up the staircase. ‘Why-why-why?’ chattered a handful of marbles in the pocket of a child, asleep on his mother’s lap. ‘Heaven knows,’ I said, ‘but mark my words, those haughty strings will get their comeuppance.’ ‘Come-come… up-pence… pence-up… come-up,” rattled the marbles as the rest of the inanimates fell silent.
They all knew I was party to privileged information. Foresight and divine connections go hand-in-hand. When I spoke, people or at least things listened. ‘Time will tell,’ I said, going for mysterious. Of course, I didn’t want to scare anyone, but some folk were better equipped to toil underwater than others.
When the bowel-slicing wail of metal on iceberg ripped through the vessel, the piccolo who had just puked over the railing slipped soundlessly into the deep. He was joined later by the marbles, the shoes, spectacles and, of course, by me.
The strings, in contrast, bobbed on the waves for weeks before breaking apart to wash up as driftwood on distant shores.”
Suddenly the cherub fell silent. The janitor had entered, pointing meaningfully at his watch. I stood to go, patting the angel’s chubby hand. The cherub winked discreetly.
If you visit the exhibition, press your ear against the dimpled belly, stroke his engraved wings or kiss his baby toe. He may just whisper the rest of the story to you…