Susie Richards was too young to be swimming that far out. Her parents were too busy bickering over whose fault the mortgage was. She churned her little feet through the lake water, unable to find the muddy bottom. Only Bernie saw her sinking. He dove in the water with his sweats still on. He was the only reason that little white girl came out breathing.
He was actually at the shore looking for recyclables. Bernie had no last name. Maybe he was too ashamed to tell anyone. They never saw him with a family. The closest thing he had to a home were the big drainage pipes on the outskirts of the city. There were winter nights when half his clothes were frozen solid with ice, crackling as Charlotte stripped him down and got blankets over him. At least four winter nights he slept in her shed. Those were four nights when he would have died, contrasted to a couple hundred nights when he thanked her for dinner at the soup kitchen. She was a smart lady. The church had never seen someone who knew so many ways to find a dollar or bend it.
Charlotte Osnos never would have graduated from high school if not for the encouragement of her Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Parker. With the exuberant attitude he brought to the classroom, she was inspired to actually listen and try. Even though she switched to a Business major in college, she always remembered him. She wrote him every Christmas.
Mr. Robert Parker was haunted by the hundreds of kids he failed and couldn't bring up to speed. They were dragged along by a system he couldn’t make work, failing to grasp core concepts in the first months of school, and then doomed to fail comprehension the rest of the year as the curriculum chugged on. Some late nights grading papers he questioned if he made a difference at all.
He went into English early in life. He brought a book everywhere, even when his brothers went to the arcade. He still didn’t grasp how much literature could offer you until he got through Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. He kept his dog-eared, underlined copy for all the decades of his life. Sometimes all he needed to do was smell its yellowed pages.
Virginia Woolf drowned herself.
Thank goodness for her.