Dragged to Shore
by Gaia Klotz
I watch my granddaughter sew her first baby dress, the stitches crooked and the thread
tangled at both ends—how lucky she is. Her forehead wrinkles with concentration: down,
through, up, through, and out. I know that with time, the stitches will straighten out, the needle
will not find home in her thumb, and that she will be able to do all this without looking because
she is a smart girl. But, of course, I was too.
The neighbors called us the Daniels girls: dirty, rough, hell-cats that were not to be
reckoned with. I was the oldest, then Claudia, followed by little Rochelle. I took it upon myself
to beat up anyone who called Claudia, “fatty, fatty four eyes,” or made fun of Rochelle’s lisp
because it was I who sewed all of their outfits by hand and slept in the same attic room every
night. It was what sisters did for each other.
We weren’t always the Daniels sisters; we had a mother, of sorts. A mother who made
empty promises. Dorothy divorced our father and ran off to Wisconsin, promising all the while
she would come back for me, for us. We would all lie awake at night, waiting for her arrival, but
it never came.
So, my days were spent with Grandma Eini and Grandpa Punk in a one bedroom house in
Munising, Michigan. Eini slept with rollers in her hair and was eternally wearing an apron with
rick-rack sewn around the edges. Every year during the three months of summer that we had in
the Upper Peninsula, Eini would march out in her cotton dress and start to garden. She had a
special hill on which she would plant all of her favorite flowers: honeysuckle, daffodils, lilacs,
day lilies, black-eyed susans, peonies - anything with blooms. But Grandpa Punk had a very
different job: he was so poor he couldn’t even afford a real name, or at least that’s what he told.
Punk was a heavier set man with dirty black glasses that were endlessly sliding down
his nose. I now know that those glasses let him see better than anyone else, but maybe not well
enough. That is why one night, while Punk was fast asleep at work as the deputy of the jail, the
prisoners stole the keys and locked him up in one of his own cells. But even the cold-hearted
inmates couldn’t watch old Punk go to waste, so they handed over a cold pasty and a Coke to him
through the bars before they made their escape.
So this is how we grew up: on welfare, with one bathroom, one kitchen, and one old beat-up Ford pick-up truck.
“Go play,” Eini had ordered, looking down on an eleven-, nine-, and four-year-old
through her cat’s-eye glasses. Eini’s fake rhinestones glimmered in the summer sun as we set
out with three fishing poles on another adventure. It was Claudia who spotted the boat first,
which reflected our sunburnt cheeks in the polished silver. So we “borrowed” the boat for the
The bay was cool and calm as we settled down with our fishing poles, and without life-jackets, until Rochelle broke the silence with a lisped, “Wha’ss dat?”
“What?” I snapped back.
“Dat,” she said, pointing off at a huge shape floating in the middle of the bay.
Closer, closer, closer.
“I think it’s a body,” Claudia whispered, pushing her glasses up her nose. We could all
see it now, the body face down in the bay—dead as a duck.
“Poke it,” Rochelle dared. We jabbed at the corpse with our fishing poles until it flipped
over, and we were sure it was dead. The puffy white face stared back at us, eyes flung open in
judgment, lips gnawed off by time. The pale white feet pointed up in the air, naked and gnarled.
“Gee whiz,” we whispered in unison.
Claudia and I decided it was our duty to bring it back to shore. After locating some
sturdy rope we wrapped it around the corpse’s ankle and towed it towards land.
Closer, closer, closer.
By the time we had pulled the boat in, the sun had begun to set and the unidentified body
was still floating in the water, with the sturdy rope tied to its ankles, three feet away. It took all
three of us together to hoist the putrid lump of flesh up out of the water and into the boat. I
decided Rochelle would stay in the boat with the corpse, while Claudia and I rushed up the hill to
tell Grandma Eini. We left Rochelle there, at four years of age, with only the pallid corpse
sitting upright in the rowboat to keep her company, their figures outlined by the setting sun.
First stop, Eini, who fussed over our wet hair, picked the slivers out of our hands, and
scoffed at our story. Second stop, the neighbors, who took one look at us and slammed their
doors. It had been almost an hour as Claudia and I trudged down to see Grandpa Punk, our third
stop, sitting half awake in his favorite chair in the jailhouse. When we told him the news, he
leapt to his feet, his glasses slid further down his nose, and he exclaimed, “Well, let’s go take a look!"
Hand in hand we walked down the hill; soon we spied them. Rochelle waved to us, as if
we had never been gone and continued the conversation she had been having with the slack-jawed corpse.
“And diss iss my Granmdpa, Punk,” Rochelle lisped.
“Well, I’ll be dammed if it isn’t good old Sisu,” Grandpa Punk exhaled slowly. “I reckon
he had a bit too much to drink, wandered into the water, and drowned his self.”
I now live in a house with many rooms, I cook in a kitchen full of food, and I am able to
buy expensive presents for my family and sisters, Claudia and Rochelle, who have the same lives
as I. Our pasts look nothing like our present, but there are times we wish for what once was. We
have beautiful daughters who are doctors and professors and travel the world, but these
daughters offer up empty promises, false smiles, and our grandchildren still do not know how to
sew because they don’t have to.
To the outside world, our daughters have everything they could ever need. But we are
not that blind. We see the shadows that have formed beneath their eyes, the way the corner of
their smiles droop, the new lines carved by worry set that have set deep in their faces. To us they
are the living dead.
But still, here is my granddaughter, struggling to pull the needle and thread through cloth.
The clock ticks the minutes away on the wall behind me as I look down at my hands. Beautiful,
deep lines etched by time lie in my palms. Coarse, indestructible calluses have formed from the
strain of oars against my hands, towing my daughters towards their destinations. These were not
there before and these changes are not only skin deep. They are around my eyes, my heart, my
soul. I trace them with my finger—down, through, up, through, and out—like a needle pulling
Gaia Klotz is a recent graduate of Midland High School. She will be spending next year in Ankara, Turkey through Rotary Youth Exchange. When she returns to America, Gaia plans on attending Wayne State University to peruse a BA in Theater with a minor in social psychology in order to become a drama therapist. In her little free time, Gaia enjoys reading, Glee, volunteering, Zumba, and attempting to cook.
© Gaia Klotz, 2011
Photo by Anderson Mancini.