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The Merida Disaster

by Doug Wren


My previous articles have appeared in scholarly journals, but I write mainly to distract and amuse myself during these dark times in our nation's history.

“On May 12, 1911… the steamer Merida, a passenger liner of the Ward Line leaving a revolution-torn Mexico, collided with the S.S. Admiral Farragut… the scene aboard the Merida was one of chaos… Two hours after the collision, all passengers and crew of the Merida were saved, including the ship mascots, five cats that only understood Spanish. Two of the special cats were named Tom and Jerry.”

A thick fog enveloped the Merida as she steamed north along the Virginia coast. Most of the passengers had already retired to their cabins for the night. In the ship’s galley, five cats that only understood Spanish dozed. Suddenly, an abrupt lurch accompanied by a deafening crash triggered a quintet of synchronized vertical leaps. Upon touchdown, the cats scrambled and slid on clattering claws into the passageway.

“¡Dios mío! ¿Qué es eso?” Tomás thought as he gathered himself.

“¡Miau!” cried Geraldo.

The other three cats—Luciano, Plácido, and José—just cowered. The Merida rolled to starboard.

“¡Qué mierda!” thought Tomás.

A frantic mass of crew and passengers stampeded toward the deck, forcing the cats to duck and dodge a flurry of feet.

“¡Siseo!” hissed Geraldo.

Only Herbert Benson, the ship’s wireless operator, noticed the cats. Benson scooped up Tomás as he ran by. “Come on, Tom, I'll save your furry butt!” exclaimed Benson, but the words meant nothing to the cat.

“No hablo inglés, hombre,” thought Tomás.  

During the confusion, Luciano, Plácido, José, and Geraldo became separated. Meanwhile, Tomás sat impatiently on Herbert Benson’s desk as the man tapped out a distress signal. Benson kept repeating, “S.O.S.!  S.O.S.!”

The cat contemplated the American’s words. “Eso es, eso es, eso es no bueno.”

Soon the shrieking and shouting subsided and Captain Archibald Robertson’s firm, calm voice could be heard. The Spanish-speaking passengers and cats listened as a Cuban sailor translated the captain’s reassurances.

“¡Mantener la calma! ¡Todo estará bien!” 

By now, Luciano, Plácido, José, and Geraldo had sought refuge from the bedlam by each slipping into tarp-covered lifeboats. They remained hidden while the covers were removed, passengers scrambled aboard, and the boats were lowered to the ocean’s surface.

Discovering the domesticated stowaways was somewhat heartening to the passengers, who comforted themselves and the cats by speaking softly to the latter. “Eres un gato bonito. Está bien, gatito.

Back on the Merida, wireless operator Herbert Benson—with Tomás in tow—joined Captain Archibald Robertson and the ship’s mates topside. Although Tomás could not understand their words, he knew the men were urging their captain to board the last remaining lifeboat. The ship was sinking rápidamente

A reluctant Captain Robertson finally climbed into the lifeboat with the others. Sensing a nearby scruffy presence, Tomás peered under the bow seat. It was Geraldo, gazing back as if to say, “¿Qué pasa amigo?”

Ten minutes later, the captain and crew watched the Merida begin its final descent toward Davy Jones’s locker. Having heard enough incoherent babble for one night, the two feline friends appreciated the somber mood on the lifeboat.

Tomás nodded off to the gentle rocking of the waves and wondered to himself, “¿Por qué los gringos tienen nombres extraños como Archibald y Herbert?”*  

“¡Miau!” cried Geraldo. He was famished.

*Translation: Why do gringos have weird names like Archibald and Herbert?


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