She is seven, in some class – she can’t remember if it’s Social Studies, History or English – some class they are asked to relate a personal encounter with a hero. Her classmates share their stories about how strangers or family members saved them from accidents and other bad situations. She racks her brain for her own story, but nothing comes to mind. Apparently she is a boring, safe person to whom nothing interesting happens. Now it is her turn and she stands, hoping the panic doesn’t show in her face or voice.
Then she is speaking. She tells them the story of her mother and the girl in the water. Her family is at the beach; they are in the middle of a picnic lunch when it happens. Her mother, chicken salad sandwich in her right hand, looks out at the lake. Suddenly, her mother drops the sandwich, running like a maniac into the water, pushing people out of her way. She finds the log of the girl bobbing in the water struggling for breath, swims frantically towards her and fishes her out, dragging the child back to shore.
At supper that evening, she asks her mother why she never goes into the water when they spend the weekends at the beach. “Well,” her mother replies with a nervous laugh, “I’ve never learned to swim, and to be truthful, I’m a little afraid of the water.
Water – Fragment #46