Fish Girl*

OQUAWKA—An eight-year-old girl whom authorities feared drowned with her grandfather in a boating accident startled searchers when she emerged from the woods on Tuesday, naked and carrying blackberries.

Anna Grabowski’s lips and teeth were stained dark purple. Her tongue, she would say later, felt as big as a horse’s in her mouth.

Crews had pulled her grandfather’s body from the Mississippi River just hours earlier.

“I saw her walking toward me,” Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Fontenot said. “But I didn’t think it could be her. I went up to her and asked, ‘What’s your name?’”

I was like something out of a fairy tale. Coming out of the woods not wearing any clothes, my feet and arms and legs scratched, bearing fruit in my tanned, cupped hands.

I had watched the Frog Men search for grandpa and eventually pull him from the water. It took hours. The sun was split in half by the horizon and then it was all of it in the sky and making its way up until it was directly overhead. The divers wore sleek black suits and goggles. The divers gleamed. So bright they were hard to look at for more than a second or two. My eyes wouldn’t adjust.

Grandpa was a different story. He’d spent almost a full day at the bottom of the river, was fat and bloated, almost colorless. A big pale hairy fish. Dead as anything, he jiggled. It wasn’t so hard for me to look at him like that.

In fact, once the Frog Men found him and pulled him out of the water, I watched the EMT’s arrive, and then the coroner. They all put a hand or two on his pale and jiggling body, and each time they touched him, even though I knew he’d spent all night at the bottom of the river—among bullheads and suckers and broken bottles and whatever else is down there at the bottom of the Mississippi—I worried he might come back to life. I watched him hard, squinting my eyes, shielding them from the glare of the sun with a hand cupped at my eyebrows. More than once, I realized I’d stopped breathing, afraid he would move first a finger or two, and second a stupid, wide, flat foot. Finally, he would stand up and shake the water off of himself like a big dog. First thing he’d want to do, I knew, was come looking for me. So I waited there in the woods and watched him not moving—afraid every second that he would—through squinted eyes.

*This is an excerpt from the story I'm working on and hope to finish by the end of the week. The italicized portion borrows from yet takes liberties with an actual AP story, as do the other italicized bits of the story.


Alison said...

That was such a captivating story when it hit the news. So weird, too, in so many ways. Cool idea to re-imagine it in Oquawka.

Chad Simpson said...

It definitely was strange. The story that's coming out of it is pretty strange, too--and dark.

I also cut down the amount of time she was actually missing because I thought two days, oddly enough, would make it less credible.

Anonymous said...

The mystery/astonishment of seeing someone who has survived or not survived something traumatic is greater than being the person who survived. While the girl may have looked like a fairy-tale creature to those who unexpectedly see her emerge from the woods, like an apparition, to her there is a continuum of events (of being scared, hungry, choices along the way that lead her to that point), that detract from the magical realism of a thought-dead girl suddenly appearing. All this is to say, respectfully, that I think the story would work better as not-first-person from her point of view, but from an onlooker present, or even perhaps from the dead grandfather's pov.

Chad Simpson said...

Hi, Anonymous,

I totally agree with a lot of what you have to say, especially regarding the continuum of events. In fact, that's what the bulk of the story is about: her version of those events. And in that version, she actually smears her face with mud and scratches her arms with thorny branches because she wants to look like an apparition. In my little made-up account, it is all staged by her.

At any rate, it still may end up being told from a different point of view, because it's not cooperating as is of late.

Thanks for the note. I appreciate it.