One morning I ran through the tunnel at the north end of Lake Calhoun. A crowd had gathered around the Isles lagoon. I could see the flashing lights of a police boat by the trees on the opposite shore. I asked a man beside me what was going on. He told me a girl had drowned. A Parks Department worker piloting a special boat with a conveyor on the side had discovered her as he was clearing milfoil, the invasive species of plant clogging so many of our 10,000 lakes.
“See that white thing at the end of the boat?” he asked in a deadpan way without looking at me. “That’s a body. They are about to pull her out.”
The deceased had been shrouded in a sheet to preserve her dignity or perhaps evidence. He spoke with solemnity as he recorded the event on his smart-phone. Others along the railing were doing likewise. I turned my gaze from the white shape back to him. His eyes were transfixed. Everyone had this look of concern and I thought, if you really cared wouldn’t you look away?
I continued my run, feeling that euphoria of health in the golden sunlight as I admired the lavish architecture of the homes along the lake. When I came back around the faces in the crowd had changed, but the man I had spoken to was still there staring.
I told my girlfriend about it when I got home and it was exciting, like one of those police-procedural television shows. We watched the local news that night and found out the girl had only been fifteen, living with her parents in the suburb of Richfield. She had been riding her bike to a summer job at an office downtown. There weren’t any signs of foul play. I followed the story and a couple of days later the toxicology report showed she had been drinking. The police asked for witnesses to come forward but none ever did. Her death was dismissed as a drowning accident.
For a long time after that I would think of her whenever I ran by the spot or when I saw the milfoil boat sitting forlornly by itself in the water. I wondered if the boat’s operator was haunted by her discovery, that white bobbing shape that turned out not to be a trash bag. It made me angry to think about her–this pretty young girl, troubled perhaps, who had been taken so prematurely from the world. A girl that age should not be drinking with derelicts under a bridge at five in the morning.
The lake is cold and holds on to its secrets. So much water. It laps at the shore and lulls us into forgetfulness, the past disappearing in the sparkles on the rippled surface. These things happen, all the time really, for the simple reason that people are careless in their play and don’t have gills.