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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An old friend tells the remarkable story of the life and times of Marlene.
Achievement, grace, glamour, triumph---and disaster.
A cautionary tale concerning the immediate reversal of circumstances--for the worst.
A story to ponder and to try and incorporate into one's life and use as a bulwark against the merciless tides of misfortune.

Submitted: September 05, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 05, 2016





A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran



His golf shot reminded me of Marlene, Marlene Draper.

I have no idea why.

We were on the last hole of the Wolfe Island Riverfront Golf Course bordering the St. Lawrence River on the Canadian side.

I had played the round with my oldest and dearest friend, Larry Berman, and I had to tell him about the odd trigger for my 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, and 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 astounding paragon of beauty, brains and industry, I immediately agreed to accommodate him.

Everyone who had ever 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 had fallen in love with all things aquatic.

With her mother’s very early assistance and encouragement, Marlene quickly learned to swim and dive.

When she was only two or three, she spent hours in the bathtub, or an outdoor pool, or in a lake, or the St. Lawrence River that flows past the feet 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 had 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, even earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

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.

Marlene 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.

Suzanne was involved with the Alexandria Bay Tourist Association that touted the unique setting of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, and 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 some aquatic soirée, or a Tourist Information do, Suzanne managed to corral both Lenny I and his son, Lenny II and redirect the conversation to the subject of her immensely talented daughter; The Water Baby of ABay and surrounding purlieus; the super-swimmer, diver, aqua lung diva; the toast of Water World; her amazing little one: Marlene.

From the manner in which Suzanne talked about her daughter and her skills, all the Lennies pictured the ‘wonder girl’ as a teenager, or probably a bit older.

She was nine.

Lenny II, the day-to-day overseer of the St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works, immediately became obsessed with a stinging fear of violating the Child Labor laws and both he and Lenny I initially declined Suzanne’s entreaties to let the little one come around the Works.

However, Mom prevailed upon Lenny number III, a decent chap who had been sweet on Suzanne in high school.

Lenny III was roundly encouraged by his son, Lenny IV, the chasseur of little Marlene.

Leonard ‘Lenny’ Dawson IV had been at Marlene to marry him since grade school. He would announce 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 St. 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, and she was certainly in full possession of this very rare talent when she appeared at the Works a day after her ninth birthday.

This ‘way about her’ was her manner. Something about the kid was such that you trusted her and 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 ShirleyTemple.

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.

Lenny was forced to ask before noon:

“Where did you learn all this stuff, Marlene?”

“From Mom, Mr. Dawson—your granddad, books, old engines, my dad, Judge Lewis and Mr. Comstock.

Lennies I through IV were aghast; not because she knew all these people, but that they also had been so 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 of the long rolling terraces of the Lewis’ or the Comstock’s that 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 had been 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 just 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 and was offered a full scholarship to Stanford 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 had been 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.

Marlene 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 certainly 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, Lenny and the guys were lined up on either side of the walkway from the parking lot to the piers and the St.Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works.

They had all removed their caps and hats.

She passed all the cheers and hussahs, continued to smile, and strode toward the pier and Lenny’s, with her diploma in her hand.

Lenny was at the end of the line facing the incoming graduate, where he stood on the first stone step down to the Works,

She walked perfectly erect, proud, in her high heels. 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 had been styled as if she was going to be married.

Her entire presentation caused a number of the lads to drop a jaw. 

She was glamorous. 

Everyone, including the women of the office staff, was smiling and crying at the sight of their baby girl walking solidly and 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 and dropped a tear or two on her shoulder.


Since the spectacular dawn of that day in June, the sun had been 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 had returned to live and work on the water that had 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, and all the young men and older guys who had worked with her and watched her grow over those twelve years, into a master mechanic, an Olympic swimmer, a Stanford grad in engineering, and, as if it was all too perfect, she had somehow—over the last year or so—become glamorous, a woman of extraordinary beauty. 


Marlene again acknowledged all the smiles and cheers; whistles and waves; and then followed Lenny down the steps to the Works at the water’s edge.

She knew where to go.

They had done 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 had 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.

Then she gulped when no one was looking and seemed to feel like she was stepping back from herself and watching this celebration as a spectator.

However, she had come to work.

She gently closed the door as the last notes of Freddie drifted into the ether to join him.

She turned the lock, undressed, dressed in her work clothes and emerged to rousing cheers form all quarters.

There she was: Marlene; tall, elegant, glamorous; wearing her overalls, work boots and holding her gloves while all cheered and saw the name MARLENE stitched above the left breast pocket in gold thread.

This was the highest honor that any employee could achieve.

Marlene waved to all the crew and headed for Lenny to receive her instructions.

They talked over the continuing cheers and she nodded and understood her day’s assignment.

She climbed into the driver’s seat and reacquainted herself with Mr. Langston’s boat; an old one from the last century that Lenny II had kept 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; they had no chance to stop, or even turn.

However, witnesses testified that the two men were racing, and were leaning over talking to each other and never even 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.


Her ashes were scattered along the waters of the Embarcadero in front of the St. Lawrence Marine Engine and Boat Works.

The mayor attended both her funeral and her memorial service.

All the nation’s papers and television channels recorded the full church funeral and her memorial service two weeks later, where there were memories, praise, and tears. 

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 distracted and concerned everyone in their own pocket of living their own life.

There were so many connections of Marlene with others that her death threatened to tear the fabric of religious belief, of the power of good over the power of evil. All the silly notions of luck and chance were heard in many groups.

During Marlene’s Memorial Service, no one spoke more eloquently than Lenny I.

He was now eighty-eight years old. He had seen and participated in wars and in peace. He had 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 had been snatched from them.


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

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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