Everyone thought Evangelina Schiffer drowned.
But I know differently.
We watched as she sank into the black waters of The Pond. Watched as she looked up, her face filled with a horrifying surprise. Watched as her arms strained in urgent supplication, her splayed fingers little pink anemones waving and grasping at water that could not be grasped. Watched as her tiny mouth formed petit “ohhhhs” and her lungs expelled large bubbles of air that broke the flat, still surface of The Pond.
And we watched as she disappeared into the deep darkness of what the locals called a bottomless pit, and drowned.
But I know differently.
The Pond drew naughty children to it. I say “naughty” because good children followed their parents’ dire warnings of elaborate punishments should they disobey and venture near. Naughty children risked that punishment with giggled conspiracies; considering a visit there worth every slap of the hand or dinner missed and toy confiscated.
The Pond was called a bottomless pit and it always beckoned.
Surrounded by thick woods and filtered sunlight, green, luxurious moss covered its shore. In reality it wasn’t a “shore” but more of a ledge upon which you could sit and dangle your feet just above the cool water on an oppressive summer’s day; when dragonflies stayed in the shadows and cicadas pummeled your eardrums to the point of madness.
It has been – and still is – theorized that long ago someone emptied an overcrowded aquarium of bright goldfish into the pond; for today hundreds – if not thousands – of their descendants flash through the blackness in neon surges.
You can only see four feet into the water. It’s always been a mystery where the fish went when they weren’t crowding the surface of The Pond trying to catch the bits of bread and crackers that the naughty children – and occasionally naughty adults – tossed in.
The Pond is useless for swimming. It’s perfectly round and only fifteen feet across so all you can do is a short dog paddle back and forth. And the fish bite. It’s as if they can’t distinguish between a cube of bread and your little toe.
On the day naughty Evangelina Schiffer “drowned” there were no fish in The Pond. At all. One of the other children wondered if an adult or two had made the long trek through Ole Olson’s back cornfield, across the abandoned gravel road and then through the small wood to The Pond; and then had subsequently scooped up all the fish, leaving an uninteresting gaping black hole filled with black water.
The thought presented a reasonable hypothesis as the fish were the real reason the naughty children came here. Without the fish The Pond was, well, rather boring and long summer days were meant to be spent pursuing interesting activities.
We threw rocks into the water, hoping to find that the fish were merely sleeping in crevices beyond our vision. When rocks didn’t work to rouse them we hung our feet over the edges and kicked up great tidal waves of froth. But that didn’t work either. When the kicking stopped The Pond glared flatly back at us.
Finally Evangelina blurted the latest expletive she’d learned from her father and cannon-balled into the water. At the same time we heard shouts in the distance which meant our parents had tracked us down and would be upon us shortly to back up their threats of punishment.
We turned away from our parents’ voices to tell Evangelina to get out only to see her disappearing under the water, her fingers waving frantically at us.
They say she drowned. They spoke softly at The-Funeral-Without-a-Body of how the poor little girl had sunk into the bottomless pit so far that even the divers couldn’t find her.
But I know the truth.
I saw the darker darkness under the dark water as it moved up and swallowed – in great lunging gulps – first her kicking feet, then her calves, then her legs and up and up her body until it closed over the waving anemones of those pretty little pink fingers.
People tease me because I’m afraid of water. I’m not. I’m not afraid of water. I’m afraid of what’s in it.