Seven days ago, I was forced out of the Erie Canal. Now no one will talk to me. The police brought me home without cuffs, without ceremony. They walked me to the door without a blanket or a word—just watched me, wet and dripping, while I unlocked the door and went inside to Orson, who held a red-stained wooden spoon in his hand.
“Spaghetti?” I hoped.
He nodded and let me lick off the sauce.
My story was in the paper the next day. Why was I in there, they wanted to know. Didn’t I know it was dangerous? Didn’t I know people claimed to have seen snakes and alligators swimming from bank to bank? Even gophers wouldn’t go in.
I did know. I’d heard the stories, and I’d smelled the canal from the gravel path that ran alongside it. Orson would walk with me and wait while I climbed one of the wild cherry trees, stuffing my mouth and pockets full. Orson wouldn’t eat them unless they were from the store, but they were just as deep and dark from the tree. Usually I picked enough to last until I got home.
Orson asked, his lips red and saucy that night, and my hair just drying from a shower, if maybe I’d been thinking about killing myself. I almost said, “Maybe,” just to see what he’d say. But, I couldn’t. It would upset him too much. I told him no, nothing like that.
I thought about the warm, murky water. It was shallow where we lived, the portion running through town unused and stagnant. That was why, they said, the alligators loved it. (I should point out that those who believe there are alligators in the Erie Canal are the same who believe there are alligators in the New York City sewers.) It had felt like thin mud, or thick water, sliding over my skin, and I remember wanting to liquefy and become a part of it. Wanting. Yes. It made me want, in the most frustrating way possible, the way drinking pulpy orange juice makes me want to chew, as if the pulp is a plump orange slice.
I looked at Orson and I told him exactly why.
“Because,” I said. “Because of that lady we saw with the dog.”
Orson slammed his fork on his plate and a bit of ground hamburger bounced up, then fell into a bed of noodles.
He said, quite loudly, “There is no dead body in the canal!”
The police agree. After my story printed—the morning after I was pulled from the water—neighbors visited and asked questions about the body. The sex, hair color, age, and—worst—how long I thought it had been in there. I had to tell them, quite frankly, that I never actually saw the body. Orson and I had been on one of our walks when we passed a woman with a golden retriever standing at the fence overlooking the canal. A police car had pulled up on the path, under the bridge, where cars aren’t supposed to go.
“Bet it’s a dead body,” I told Orson.
“Oh, come on. A woman is looking into the canal, and a police officer drove all the way out here to look, too. What else could it be?”
“It’s not a body,” Orson said. “He’s probably her husband. Maybe they meet out here all the time.”
But I knew a police officer would never abuse his authority and drive his car where cars weren’t supposed to drive.
No, it had to be a dead body.
Unfortunately, after the story ran about why I was swimming around in the canal, the police authorized a search and called for volunteers. Many of my neighbors sloshed at the shallow edges wearing high boots, and others floated through in old rowboats. Nearly all went home nauseated at the end of the day, affected by the stench of dead fish and old chemicals.
None of them had found a body.
Now they think I’m crazy.
They watch me through the windows, convinced I was, in fact, trying to kill myself.
My court date was yesterday, and I was fined three hundred dollars for trespassing in commercial waters.
Orson now says it wasn’t even a woman by the fence, but a man, and that the dog was a mangy gray poodle. Not a golden retriever.
I just sit quiet and chew my orange juice when he says that.