Pond Life




Phill Campbell


Email: philcub@onetel.com



I used to play down by the creek whenever Mommy cried.  It was cool there under the trees, and it made the sore place in my chest feel better.  I always got the sore place when Daddy shouted at Mom.  It felt like I’d swallowed a balloon.

            “Don’t you go near the water!” Daddy yelled at me.  “Jeannie Greenteeth’ll get you if you do!”

            Jeannie Greenteeth lived in the pond by the creek.  Her long green hair floated on the water and scared the kids away.  They were afraid she would grab their ankles and drag them in.  But I wasn’t scared of her.  Jeannie Greenteeth was lonely, just like me.

            I stayed there a long time that day – I didn’t want to go home.  I waited till the sun went down and I couldn’t see the weeping willows trailing their leaves in the water.  Then I heard the bubbles rise and smelled the mud and the weeds, and I knew I had to go in.  It wasn’t time for me to see Jeannie Greenteeth yet.

            When I got home, Mommy was praying to the little statue of Jesus. Her eyes were red and sore.  She turned round when I came in.

            “Oh Abby,” she said.  “Look at the mud on your dress.  Have you been playing by the pond again?  Haven’t I told you about that?”  But she said it like she didn’t really care.

            After supper I went to bed and sat with the blanket wrapped around me, waiting for the shouting to start.  It was worse than ever that night.  I didn’t know what it was about, but the noise hurt my ears and made the pain in my chest feel bad.

            “You’ve got to stop seeing that woman, Ed.  It’s a sin in the eyes of the Lord!”

            “I’m sick to death of your whining and moaning and rolling your eyes up to heaven.  She’s more of a wife to me than you’ve ever been!”

            “The folk of this town’ll turn against you!”

            “If you breathe a word about this to anyone, Laura, I swear I’ll kill you!”

            It went on and on, louder and louder, till I stuck my fingers in my ears and screamed inside my head, “Jeannie Greenteeth – make them stop!”

            When I took my fingers away, everything was quiet, except for the willow leaves tapping on the window … and I knew that Jeannie Greenteeth had heard me.


Next morning, Daddy called me into the garage.  I didn’t like it in there.  It was dark and cold and smelled of gasoline.  Daddy’s motor-bike was in pieces on the ground, and his hands were grey with oil.

            “Do you want to see what Jeannie Greenteeth looks like?” he said.  “Come over here –you’re not afraid of your daddy, are you?”

            He switched the light on and showed me an old black microscope, like the one Mr Dyson used at school.  I looked down it.  At the bottom of the tube was a bright circle full of things that moved.  They were green, and they crawled all over each other like they couldn’t see or feel anything.  The light shone right through their inside parts.

            I heard Daddy laugh behind me.

            “That’s a drop of water from the pond,” he said.  “It’s full of little green bugs, crawling and wriggling around.  How’d you like to go for a swim in the pond, Abby?  Would you like me to take you there?”

            The pain in my chest was so tight that I could hardly breathe.

            “That’s what’ll happen to you if you tell anyone about what you heard last night,” he said.  “You keep your mouth shut, or you’ll end up in the pond with Jeannie Greenteeth!”


 Mommy was wearing her white dress, so I knew she was going to the Bible Meeting.  She’d brushed her hair till it was soft and fluffy, and tucked a lace handkerchief into her belt.

            “Be a good girl while I’m gone, Abby,” she said.  “Don’t go playing down by the creek.”

            She walked down the street towards the town, and I saw Daddy watching her from the garage door.  He was wiping his hands on an oily rag, and he grinned when he caught my eye.  I went into the house and shut the door. The window was open and I heard him talking to Mrs Clark next door.

            “No, we’re keeping Abby home for a while – her asthma’s real bad.  Yes, I will, Mrs Clark – she’ll be glad you asked.  Bye now.”


 That night when I went up to my bedroom, I could smell the oil and I knew that Daddy had been in my room.  I sat on the bed waiting for the shouting to start.  My head was hot, and my chest felt like it was being squeezed.  The words crept up the stairs and through the crack in the door.

            “I have to tell them, Ed.  I have to make a full confession, or my soul’ll burn in hell, just like yours.”

            “You stupid bitch!  If you tell them about me and Gloria, I’ll break your lousy neck!”

            The slap was so loud that I jumped, and I heard Mommy fall on the floor.   I put my hands to my head and screamed for Jeannie Greenteeth to help me.  The pain in my chest went away, and my forehead felt cool again.  I heard the sound of bubbles breaking on dark water, and the whisper of willow leaves in the air, and I couldn’t smell the oil any more.  Instead of the shouting downstairs, a soft cool voice spoke inside my head, telling me that everything would be all right; that she would take care of me … that all I had to do was make sure she wasn’t lonely any more.


The next day, Mommy lit a candle in front of the little statue of Jesus.  She put on some make-up to hide the red mark on the side of her face.  Her eyes looked scared, but she went to the Bible Meeting in her white dress with the lace handkerchief tucked into her belt.  There was no sign of Daddy, and the house was real quiet after she’d gone.

            It was a hot day, with flies buzzing everywhere.  I stayed in the house where it was cool, and played with the pebbles I’d collected from the creek.

            Then something made me stop and listen.  I thought maybe it was Mommy coming home … but Jeannie Greenteeth whispered inside my head.  She said that it wasn’t safe for me to stay in the house any more; that I had to run away.

            I left the pebbles on the floor and ran out the back way.  As I headed down the path towards the creek, I looked back and saw Daddy walking towards the house.  He was wearing his dirty overalls and the big gloves he used to fix his motor-bike.  Mommy would be so mad if she found out.  She never let him inside the house with his work clothes on.

            I hid in the bushes near the creek.  There were lots of places where no one could find me.  I sat with my back against a tree, and the heat made me feel sleepy.  I could hear the willow leaves whispering; and the whispers turned into Jeannie Greenteeth’s voice, telling me that she was lonely and wanted somebody to play with.  Through the bushes, I saw someone in a white dress go by.  I wanted to get up and follow them, but Jeannie Greenteeth’s voice sent me to sleep, where I had the strangest dream …


It was almost dark when I woke up.  I must have been asleep for a long time.  My head was all fuzzy and I couldn’t remember where I was.

            There were moving lights nearby, and the sound of people in the bushes.  Before I had time to get scared, Lt Stevens pushed through the branches and shone a flashlight on me.  He was wearing his blue uniform, and his face looked worried.  When he saw me, he turned round and yelled, “I’ve found her – she’s over here!”  Then he knelt beside me and said gently, “It’s OK, honey – you’re safe now.”

            He took my hand and led me away from the creek, where there were lots of lights and voices.  When we got near the house, I saw a police car parked in our driveway.  The red lights on its roof were flashing, and its siren was going fit to bust.  All the neighbours were out in the street, and the door of our house was wide open.

            As we got closer, two men in uniform came out, pulling Daddy along between them.  He was handcuffed, and he fought and kicked and cussed every inch of the way, until they pushed him in the car and slammed the door.

            Lt Stevens took me over to Mrs Clark’s house.  When she saw me she burst out crying, and dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex.  She sat me on the couch, patted my head, and gave me a glass of milk and some cookies.  Then she went into the kitchen with Lt Stevens.  They kept their voices low, but I could hear what they were saying.

            “Is it really true?  Is she …?”

            “I’m afraid so, ma’am.  We found her floating in the creek.  Turns out her husband was having an affair.  Looks like he wanted her out of the way.”

            “She was such a pleasant, God-fearing woman.  And now her poor child’s motherless!”

            “If you ask me, ma’am, that child’s had a narrow escape.  We found a pile of oil-soaked rags under her bed.  The Good Lord knows what the guy had in mind for her.  Seems like some guardian angel must have been watching over her!”


I stayed with Mrs Clark for a while.  She was real kind, and I slept in her spare room, where it was cool and quiet, and nobody ever shouted.

            Lt Stevens asked me a lot of questions about Mommy and Daddy.  I told him the truth … but I didn’t tell him about the dream I’d had when I fell asleep under the willow tree.

            In the dream I got up and followed the white dress down to the pond, and I found Mommy looking down at the water.  I felt sorry for her because she’d been crying again.  Then Jeannie Greenteeth whispered inside my head, telling me what to do to make her happy – to make them both happy.  So I did it.

            The white dress and the lace handkerchief floated like flowers on the water; and the long green fingers wrapped themselves around her neck and wrists and ankles…


            I still go down to the pond sometimes, but Jeannie Greenteeth doesn’t talk to me now.  I guess she isn’t lonely any more.


©2007 Phill Campbell

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