The Good Mother
* * *
Our lake is haunted.
Long ago there was a Mother who fell asleep by the water. While she slept her child crawled into the water and was lost.
The Mother, unwilling to accept her child’s death, dove beneath the waves and disappeared.
Supposedly, she searches for him still. Children roaming near the lake on the night her child disappeared will disappear too. She waits to wrap them in her watery embrace.
When I was small, there was a boy who lived on our lake. His name was Danny. He was older... but he was more like a child than any of us. My parents said not to talk about it. It wasn’t his fault, he was harmless, our parents said. His mother had been cruel and had broken him and we should never talk about it. My older cousins said his mother had gone mad. She had tried to drown Danny in the lake when he was just a baby, but Danny’s father had found her and saved him. Saved him as much as he could.
Now Danny walked and he smiled. He walked and he smiled and he scared us with his silence.
Then one day, he spoke to me.
”Hey there, hey there,” he said, “Little boy, little boy, come see, I have a secret.”
Of course I didn’t go. I said my Mother was calling and ran away, and Danny walked on, smiling his secret smile.
The next day we heard that a young boy had disappeared from a house on the other side of the lake. He snuck out while his parents weren’t looking and fell into the water.
A year passed, people forgot the tragedy. Danny walked his quiet circuit along the lake road.
I was sitting outside when I heard a quiet shuffle. There was Danny, staring at me with his silent grin.
“Hey there, hey there,” he said, “Little boy, little boy, come see, I have a secret.”
“I can’t, Danny,” I said, “it’s going to rain, I have to go inside.”
Danny shrugged, and I watched from the window as he shuffled off.
The next day we heard that an infant disappeared from his cradle. This time, no one said it was an accident.
The police came and questioned everyone, even Danny, but he smiled his silent smile and they said he was harmless.
Another year came and went, but this time, no one forgot last summer.
I was eating a popcicle, trying to keep cool. Suddenly Danny was there. He looked haggard, like he’d been walking too long.
“Hey there, hey there,” he said, his silent smile hanging like a skeleton’s grin, “Little boy, little boy, come see, I have a secret.”
“What secret?” I demanded.
He said, “Mommy wants a hug...”
“Your Mom is in a mental hospital. Everyone knows,” I said.
“No,” his smile widened, his teeth bigger than any teeth should be, “that was old Mommy. This is new Mommy. She says I’m not hers. She loves me, but I need to find her real son, if I don’t she'll be mad. I don’t want her mad. Old Mommy got mad and she had to leave.”
I knew the story.
I was on my porch, huddling inside before Danny could blink.
Then I heard the retreating steps of his slow shuffle.
“Danny’s been drowning children!!!” I told everyone.
“Stop it, Danny’s harmless,” my Dad said.
The next day we found out Danny had disappeared. They think he slipped into the lake and drowned.