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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by hullabaloo22

A cautionary tale about horrible reversals of fortune.
A remarkable water-baby becomes an inspiration for all women. Then life shoves aside compassion and fate drops the hammer.


A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


His golf shot reminded me of Marlene, Marlene Draper. I have no idea why. Maybe I happened to be thinking of the great Marlene Stewart Streit, being on a golf course and all. We were at the last hole of the Wolfe Island Riverfront Golf Course bordering the St. Lawrence River on the Canadian side.

I played the round with my oldest and dearest friend, Larry Berman. I had to tell him about the odd trigger for remembering Marlene. It was something in his stance while he addressed his ball for his drive off the eighteenth tee. After a few ales in the Nineteenth Hole Bar and Restaurant, aided by a hearty laugh of false menace, he ordered me to tell him the story of Marlene. Because I never tire of telling the tale of that most astonishing paragon of beauty, brains, and industry, I immediately agreed to accommodate him.

Everyone who met Marlene had a different description of her. Her beauty was constantly changing but never diminishing. Her glamour was eternal, elegant, and irresistibly attractive.  “Well, Larry, she was a most remarkable specimen of homo sapiens right from the beginning.

"Just out of her crib, Marlene fell in love with all things aquatic. When she was only two or three, she spent hours in the bathtub, or in an outdoor pool, or in a lake, or the St. Lawrence River that flows past the village of Alexandria Bay, New York. Many of those early water baby excursions were before the snow disappeared and, occasionally, before all the ice in the river  melted. Later, with her mother and her younger brother, Matthew, she went off to a beach, a camp, or a pool every day in the summer and went for dips in the river, ever sooner in the spring and later in the fall. With her mother’s extremely  early assistance—and encouragement, Marlene quickly learned to swim and dive. She joined swimming clubs when she was three, took scuba lessons when she was six, and increased her time in the water as well as her speed up to age eight.

“Marlene’s mother, Suzanne, was a striking woman; tall, with dark hair and active eyes of a hazy blue. Marlene’s father, Taylor Draper, was in the service and usually off in some desert chasing Saddam’s Republican Guard or, later, some other Muslim country’s strongman.

Suzanne was involved with the Alexandria Bay Tourist Association that touted the unique setting of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, particularly Alexandria Bay’s paramount position from which to venture out by day or night to breathe in the exotic changing flavors of the mighty St. Lawrence. Because of all the water around, many visitors wanted to take tours on boats, rent them, or hire private drivers.


Lenny’s had been building and repairing marine engines for over a hundred years. The official name on the business license was The St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works. Somewhere along the course of an aquatic soirée, or a Tourist Information do, Suzanne managed to corral Lenny along with his sons, Lenny I and Lenny II.

Being a woman with a forceful persona, she directed the conversation to the subject of her immensely talented daughter, The Water Baby of ABay and surrounding purlieus. Marlene was a super-swimmer, diver, aqua-lung diva, and the amazing toast of the Water World. From the manner in which Suzanne talked about her daughter and her skills, all the Lennys pictured the ‘wonder girl’ as a teenager, or probably a bit older. Marlene was nine.

The stinging fear of violating the Child Labor Laws severely bothered.Lenny II, the day-to-day overseer of the St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works  He and Lenny I initially declined Suzanne’s entreaties to let the little one come around the Works. Not to be denied, Mom prevailed upon Lenny number III, who was, all in all, a decent chap and was sweet on Suzanne in high school. His son, Lenny IV, the chasseur of little Marlene, roundly encouraged his father. Leonard ‘Lenny’ Dawson IV was at Marlene to marry him since grade school. He  announced at the beginning of every school year that he was going to marry Marlene at the appropriate age and the appropriate time.


On a brilliant spring day in April, Marlene showed up at the Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works with her mother and her younger brother, Matthew. Marlene had this way about her as early as three or four. Now, a day following her ninth birthday, she was in full possession of this very rare talent when she appeared at the Works.  This ‘way about her’ was her manner. Something about the kid was such that you not only trusted her but also believed in her. Her entire persona left you with an unshakeable belief that she could and would do whatever she said, or whatever you asked her to do around water, in boats, and specifically, with engines.

That first day was a scream for everyone at the boat works. All the guys—they were all guys then—came around to watch Marlene do her stuff.  Many of the really old guys said she reminded them of Shirley Temple. There was some truth to that impression, although the two looked much different. Like Shirley, Marlene had this way of drawing everyone’s attention and then putting on a show. In Marlene’s case, her show was about wrenches, waterlines, bilge pumps, engines, speeds, and the displacement of water; Mr. Archimedes, aka, Mr. “Eureka”.

Lenny III knew better than to talk baby talk to her on that first day—and every day after that as well. He asked her in a strong but fatherly fashion what she thought was wrong about various motors he turned on. She was right on all of them. Well before noon, Lenny had to ask. "Where did you learn all this stuff, Marlene? “From Mom, Mr. Dawson—your granddad, books, old engines, my dad, Judge Lewis, and Mr. Comstock.”Lennys I through IV were aghast; not because she knew all these people, but that they also were smitten by her ability and determination. They had taken their very valuable time and taught her everything they knew.

By the time Marlene was seven, she could dismantle an engine, clean all the parts, put it back together, and have it running before afternoon tea.

They often had a tea party on the back patios facing  the long rolling terraces of the Lewis’ or the Comstock’s, terraces, which tumbled in varying shades of green all the way to the cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence. Marlene would come up from their boathouses covered in oil and grease from all the engines she was working on. She would apologize for her appearance, and then run as fast as she could down to the cliffs, onto the wooden switch-backed stairs to one of the two boathouses, and dive into the river with all her clothes on. Then she would clean herself, come out and dry off, put on her tea clothes and run back up to join the party, having been gone only fifteen minutes.

All this life around the water, plus her mother’s excellent teaching, made Marlene a  swimming phenomenon before she was six. Her every moment—when she was not in school or at Lenny’s—the Works—she was somewhere in water. For hours. Her stamina became that of a triathlete.

Marlene was as assiduous about her education as she was with things watery. Again, with Suzanne’s continuous help and encouragement, Marlene shot through high school with As. Stanford offered her a full scholarship, not only for her superior grades but also because of her swimming speed. She anchored the swimming team all four years, set records, and represented America at the Olympics.

Her major was engineering and her first job after graduating was at Lenny’s; as was her very first job twelve years before.

Marlene was about five eight or nine, thin but not really skinny. She wore her hair to her shoulders. It was a natural auburn, apparently from her grandmother’s family, passed on to her for some unknown and unrealized purpose. She had fine skin with very little hair; none that you could see if you were a respectable distance from her, even when in conversation. Her eyes seemed to be of a greenish color that distinctly complimented her hair. However, that swirling green color would morph to black at the first hint of insult or hitting on her displayed by anyone of any persuasion, including those of fluid gender.

Whenever Lenny piped up about marrying her, Marlene would display her finest feature—her mesmerizing smile. Yes, Marlene’s smile would cheer up a gravedigger; even a Cubs fan. Wherever she had her teeth serviced, that office deserved the Medal of Freedom; and lunch with the President.


This day, the guys were lined up on either side of the walkway from the parking lot to the piers to the St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works. They all removed their caps and hats.

She passed all the cheers and hussahs, continuing to smile, while she strode toward the pier and the Lennys, with her diploma in her hand. She walked perfectly in her high heels, proud and erect.She had a small cross-body purse and a larger blue bag. She wore a navy blue suit with a gold broach on her lapel, with a white crew neck blouse under her jacket. Her hair was styled as if she were going to be married. Her entire presentation caused a number of the lads to drop a jaw. She was glamorous. 

Lenny I was at the end of the line facing the incoming graduate, where he stood on the first stone step down to the Works. Everyone, including the women of the office staff, was smiling and crying at the sight of their baby girl walking solidly, with great élan toward her first professional undertaking. She stopped in front of Lenny and he, with tears in his eyes, hugged her closer than he had over the past twelve years. Tears dropped on her shoulder.

Since the spectacular dawn of that day in June, the sun was high and hot. Nevertheless, the heat was nothing compared with the warmth of the men and women who welcomed Marlene that day. The hometown girl returned to live and work on the water that lifted her battleship of achievement and happiness to such remarkable heights.

Marlene stood back following her warm embrace with Lenny and turned and waved her diploma and her happiness at all the staff, but particularly at Suzanne. All the young men and older guys who at one time or other worked with her, remembered vividly watching her grow over those twelve years, into a master mechanic, an Olympic swimmer, a Stanford grad in engineering. In addition, as if it were all too perfect, over the last year or so she became glamorous, a woman of extraordinary beauty. 

Marlene again acknowledged the smiles and cheers, whistles, and waves before following Lenny down the steps to the Works at the water’s edge. She knew where to go. They did up her dressing room with bunting and balloons, photos of her swimming, of her accepting medals, of her being interviewed by the paper as well as shots taken in the TV studios up off Walton Street.

The guys arranged to trigger Freddie when she opened the door to her dressing room and turned on the overhead light.  “We Are The Champions” came roaring out from hidden speakers and filled her entire being with a new excitement. She gulped. She felt as if she were stepping back from herself, watching this celebration as a spectator. All that aside, she was there to work. She gently closed the door as the last notes of Freddie drifted into the ether to join him. She undressed, dressed in her work clothes, and emerged to rousing cheers from all quarters.

There she was: Marlene; tall, elegant, glamorous while wearing her overalls, work boots, and holding her gloves. The ovation increased when everyone saw the name MARLENE stitched above the left breast pocket in gold thread. This was the highest honor any employee could achieve. Marlene waved to all the crew and headed for Lenny I to receive her instructions. They talked over the continuing jubilation. She nodded and understood her day’s assignment.

She climbed into the driver’s seat to reacquainte herself with Mr. Langston’s boat. It was old; one from the last century. Lenny II kept it running in perfect condition for over fifty years. Marlene waved the wave of royalty, a warm acknowledgement of all things human and good.


The two drunks racing their jet skis swore they never saw the SAPEDO; that the boat shot right out in front of them; that they had no chance to stop; or even turn. On the other hand, witnesses testified the two men were racing, leaning over talking to each other. They never slowed or changed their path. One man’s jet ski went right up and over the driver’s seat where Marlene was turning to wave back at her friends, her crew, her family—her life.


They scattered her ashes along the waters of the Embarcadero in front of the St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works. The mayor attended her funeral and memorial service. All the nation’s papers and television channels recorded the full church funeral as well as her memorial service two weeks later. There were memories, praise, and tears. It was all there: every line in the spectrum of tragedy; the full panoply of wise remarks; the wonder of life and fate; the sadness of the young dying before their parents.

The death of Marlene Draper touched everyone in their own pocket of living their own life. There were so many connections of Marlene to others. Her death threatened to tear the fabric of religious belief, of the power of good over the power of evil. All the notions of luck and chance occupied the conversation in many groups.

During Marlene’s Memorial Service, no one spoke more eloquently than Lenny I. He was now eighty-eight years old. He saw and participated in wars and in peace. He lived many lives and wept at many deaths, but nothing, he said, could compare to the total void left in the lives of those who knew Marlene. When Lenny finished, a solid silence encased everyone within sight or hearing of the Memorial Service. One woman remarked that it was God pausing, when He realized that He had called the wrong person—or the right person, but too soon.

The President, in a real-time giant screen homage to Marlene, was close to tears. Many others spoke of the palpable pause in the lives of thousands, if not millions around the world, who twisted their handkerchiefs with grief or cried openly while they watched. Somehow, this superstar of the water; this aquatic treasure; this all around wondrous woman of so many accomplishments was snatched from them. 

Lenny I saved her pocket with her name in gold thread. He mounted it over the entrance to the Marlene Draper Memorial Marine Engine and Boat Works.


Submitted: September 06, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



What a tragic story. And so well told. Excellent.

Tue, September 6th, 2016 4:50pm


Hi H22.
Thanks for the complimentary words. I am so pleased that you read it and took time to comment on it as well.
I really felt this one; a combination of memory, illusion, and delusions of romance.

Tue, September 6th, 2016 10:29pm

Lionel Walfish

Beautifully written, Nicholas. And what a heartbreaking ending.
Your originality knows no bounds.

Tue, September 6th, 2016 5:26pm


Hi Lionel; once again, I deeply appreciate your enthusiasm about my writing.
Thank you.

Tue, September 6th, 2016 10:32pm

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