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  • Mj Pettengill

Found Drowned


Woman in Water, CCO

I am blown away by how little we know about our own history. Much of it has to do with record-keeping or lack thereof. For example, during the nineteenth century, when taking into account the number of female suicides compared to males, the statistics are off. One of the primary reasons is because many of the women who committed suicide by drowning, considered primarily a female act, were registered as found drowned rather than labeled a suicide. It has also been indicated that families often wished to conceal that their daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers would commit such an act. Suicide was perceived to be a male condition. During the crafting of Down from the Tree, young Samuel is the sole witness to such an act. Being a child, it is challenging to express what he views. In his own mind, he struggles with what occurred. Was it real? Rather than believe a child, it became the age-old dilemma and tendency to create a narrative by blaming another, often an innocent person. Through the eyes of a child, we are provided a glimpse into a world of innocence, fear, and doubt. We can only hope that the truth prevails. (MjP)

June 17, 1878

With my face pressed up against the rough gray bark, I focused a single eye on a trail of perfectly round smoke rings that drifted away before ever reachin’ me. Poor Moses could never sneak up on anyone. I wasn’t sure if he was lookin’ or just out wanderin’ around. Bein’ the big boss, he tended to come and go as he pleased.

I waited. It took time for folks to notice that I wasn’t in the barn, or anywhere else for that matter. Other than Moses and one of the sisters down by the pond earlier, it had been a quiet mornin’.

But that woman, the sister, caught my eye, and though she was far away, I kept a close eye on her. It wasn’t common to see someone at the pond durin’ a workday, only sprites or wild critters were apt to be there. I knew because that was my fishin’ spot.

My pole—somewhat fancy— was a smooth oak branch with a long string tied on one end, and the hook was a perfectly bent nail that I found in the barn. In fact, Silas said that it was one of the best poles he’d seen in a long time.

It didn’t matter that I never caught anything. I didn’t give up hope entirely. Dolly May McGinnis showed me how to fish for clouds. She said that when I got older, she would teach me how to fish for stars or even the moon, but I was too young to be at the pond at night. I wasn’t sure, but the woman down there looked like Dolly May. She was the right size, and she wore a yellow dress, but it could have been any one of them. When she walked to the edge of the pond, I rubbed my eyes, tryin’ to get a better look.

What I saw didn’t make sense. I could have sworn that she walked straight into the water, nearly up to her waist. My heart pounded. Maybe she needed help. I thought of climbin’ down from my perch and runnin’ over there, but then they’d find me, and I wasn’t ready for that. Besides, it looked like she was in too deep for me. I promised Mamma to never go deep. When she was up to her neck, I thought about runnin’ and yellin’ for her to stop. I started to cry. All I had to do was get down there as quickly as I could. Then, I heard the ruckus that I’d been waitin’ for. I looked one more time just as her head disappeared beneath the water. Whatever it was, I must not have seen it right. The voices got louder and closer, so I wiggled my way back into the heart of the tree.

Their shouts echoed in the distance as they called out my name. At first, it was Mamma and Bella, but one by one, more folks joined in, until there was a good handful of ‘em. Some rightfully cared about me, while others just wanted to get away from their chores. The only one who knew where I might be was Agnes, and she was sworn to secrecy. A stream of darkish clouds hurried overhead, buryin’ the sun, leavin’ behind an unsettled sky. I shivered, but not because I was cold. No, it was somethin’ else. So, I closed my eyes, wished for the return of the sun, and kept my mind busy. Excerpt: Down from the Tree Book Three Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Mj Pettengill


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