Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Story: O Susannah won’t you cry for me?

By: Charles “Chuck” Orloski


One day in the life of Michael and Alexander Smith

A beautiful South Carolina night, insect screams, and an occasional lonely “plop”noise as hungry fish briefly touched surface of John D. Long Lake. Demonically obsessed, Susan Smith watched her 1990 Mazda Protege and two children roll down boat ramp and enter the water. Strapped in safety seats, Michael (age 3) and Alexander (age 14) could not look backward and wave bye-bye to mommy. Instead, they sat in wonder, as if about to enjoy an amusement park’s sailboat ride. Susan ran to forest edge, hid behind Weeping Willow, and thought about the only words she remembered her father (Harry) speak before he committed suicide. Agonized, Harry told 6 year old Susan, “You only live once, my darling,”and come October 25, 1994, she pressed forehead against tree bark, uttered, “Ah dear god, please let them sink to peace.” The Mazda slowly took on water, and soon, only roof visible, and with clean conscience, Susan ambled up dirt path toward home – she knew she’d done the best she could for another love.

The car slowly dropped 18 feet into John D. Long Lake bottom, and created anguish among aquatic life who were taught by ancient elders about the inevitable coming of a terrible Hawk Fish. Upon the Mazda having reached lake bottom, most fish had reasonably fled in fear. Except for a large rock, the tires hit soft, murky bottom, and no more Cash songs were heard on FM radio, “Down, down down…!” Eventually, lake water cleared, Michael and Alexander visible; their heads and limbs wanted to stay motionless, but a gentle interior current kept the children cradled. Two Striped Bass approached the vehicle, one the old and skeptical Steelkit, and the other, young and spirited Gilligan.

“Follow me, Gillie! And don’t ‘ya get afraid of the armored Hawk Fish.”

Staying back and treading water, Gilligan listened, made tentative approach to the Mazda windshield, and asked, “Do you reckon it will not attack us?”

“Yes siree, my friend. Many times I jumped ‘outta lake water, and entered a foreign blue basin. And not too far distant, I saw things like this which we look at right now!”

“So this is not the hand-of judgment and foretold coming of the Hawk Fish…, and our entire watery community had done needlessly fled?”

“No,no, it’s not the reaper Hawk Fish. We Striped Bass learn wisdom at different current levels, and most fish are inclined to believe tales spoken from shallow lake parts.”

“Why my teacher never explained such stuff to me in Below Grade School, Steelkit.”

“Our teachers are blessed with good intentions, they know how sorrow’s liable to strike, but most grown-ups and even elderly Striped Bass just can’t comprehend.”

“So you’re certain and we ain’t in danger?”

“Trust me, Gillie. Except for the bobbing heads with odd looking fins, I see nothing inside the belly of the aquarium to either get riled about or fear.”

“You say, aquarium?” Gillie pondered this word, spoken years ago by a little Gold Fish who once lived inside an aquarium, and was abandoned into John D. Long Lake. Vexed, Gilligan never understood such charming foreigners, and he came closer to Mazda windshield, touched door glass with lips. Inside car, strapped to safety seats, Michael and Alexander Smith sort of “lived” in the cold water. They stared passively at a world which seemed vaguely familiar, reminded them of mother’s womb. Gillie made quick descent, recalled the house-tamed Gold Fish who could not sustain life in the lake.

“So you reckon all our lake neighbors skedaddled away from the Hawk Fish in foolish fear?”

“No, no, Gillie, I’d never call a fish fool! Ancient School of Fish ecclesiastics concocted tales which were meant to keep us together, preached “Safety in Numbers.” They wisely told fish to get holt of themselves, stay within “color” family units! They done made all Striped Bass fear sin-a-marching COMPETITION… and they stoked fear for future coming of The Hawk Fish, and end of lake life.”

Sun rays managed to descend upon the sunken Mazda and highlighted a bitten chocolate chip cookie and baby bottle on front seat. Alexander Smith lifted fumbling head as if to capture energetic sunshine, however light and dull. Sunlight vanished, Steelkit noticed Michael’s bushy hair rise and fall, it looked like notorious lake weeds.

“So it appears that ‘doubt’ is important conduct for us Bass to practice, eh Steelkit?” Gilligan wrestled with his spirit, and concluded “doubt” is in vital competition with belief and a hope for better lake waters. He descended, watched minnows pass through a mule’s skeleton.

“How can I trust the Hawk Fish only sleeps, poses no harm?”

“Come here and touch the aquarium’s antennae with your fin! Tell me, does it done hurt like a Sword Fish tail would?”

Gilligan tentatively came forth, did what he’s told, and rubbed against the Mazda antennae tip. Neither prick nor lash, Gillie relaxed, shouted, “I believe you now!”

Steelkit satisfied, he nodded fins, and began descent toward a favorite discarded Goodyear tire which lay nearby Mazda Protege. Like a nautical monk, he enjoyed treading water within the tire’s reclusive oval space. Still eager to talk about lake life and meaning thereafter, Gilligan followed close behind.

“You spoke of ‘competition,’ please talk some more about that?”

“Competition appeals to me, my friend, both good and bad mouthfuls! It’s what makes Striped Bass strong, insures ability to hold-off predators, survive pollution. Why only moments ago, you saw the two strange creatures trapped inside the aquarium, eh?”

“Yes, yes, I surely did!”

“Well, I reckon that they once competed to live in mysterious blue air beyond our home. Young and free from womb-water, they likely once crawled, like crayfish, upon a floor which resembles our lake bottom. ‘Cause of ever-knocking competition, they done got dropped into our lake, a place where there’s scarce food nowadays and a delightful desolation to grow-up in! One thing more, Gillie? I reckon the creatures inside so-called Hawk Fish will never get a chance to cast baited hooks and ‘hunt’ for us.”

“Uh, what’s a ‘baited hook’?

Silence in John D. Long Lake. Steelkit looked at Gilligan’s simple and uncertain expression, calculated a response, and said, “A long time ago, I lived in a different kind of place where very odd food was dropped in our water. The food had little appeal, no attractive color, sour taste, and were I not tempted by hunger, I would have passed on the bait and chocked it up to ‘fasting’ as Ecclesiastics constantly harped about.”

“But you forgot to tell me what is a ‘hook’! Please tell me exactly what is a ‘hook,’ and can you show me one?”

Steelkit chuckled, and replied, “I never once saw a ‘hook’ myself, and never met a fish survivor who did! But I aim to find out someday, Gillie – but for now, our respected pearly Ecclesiastics and Lakeland Security officers are in agreement that baited ‘hooks’ are an ornery part of the Divine Aquatic Plan… they’re real and life threatening!”

“Well, ha-ha, reckon I’ll avoid Fast Food from here on in, and watch what I eat!”

“Please never forget how our appetites make us devour, and confoundedly opposite, how our appetites can devour us into pieces of bone. O how I love you, Gillie, and this is all that I know. So long and until we meet again!”

Arthritic fins, and inwardly troubled by the temptations of baited hooks, Steelkit descended into the Goodyear tire sanctuary. He spoke more than usual to young Gilligan, and sensed that he missed a fine opportunity to tell him the truth. Ashamed about his birth in distant Slave-Water, and being a Genetically Modified fish, Steelkit never felt strong enough to tell Gilligan that HE was his father.

“Reckon all is just a tragic-comic fish story?” thought Steelkit. He was the sort of Senior Citizen Striped Bass who intentionally avoided the best of upward opportunities, and never made it to “The Water-To-Air Border Top.”

Insoluble time passed, and Gilligan felt sufficiently brave to make return to the Hawk Fish locale. He felt important and endowed with a special wisdom which rendered him fearless of the virtually motionless shapes sealed within the Mazda Protege. With a curious swag, Gillie dove to lake bottom and looked at Jack Daniels whiskey bottle and a broken fiddle. Based upon Lake Catechism lore, he considered the objects as shrines which were specially staged there by the fish creator, Oceanus. Obedient to what he learned, Gilligan descended, he kissed whiskey bottle label, touched a remaining fiddle string with tail. “I too love Steelkit,” he thought.

Soon, Gilligan swam rapidly upward, and he took gander at a familiar Hybrid Bass, named Dewey Dell, and who flirtatiously treaded water atop Susan Smith’s car rooftop. He always enjoyed looking at how Dewey Dell’s colorful scales fade from a dark olive to steel green color, and how her fluid movement excited passions. With only a glance, she signaled to Gillie to follow her down deep. The couple traveled into shallow part and arrived at John D. Long Lake’s legendary spot, called “Lovers Bog Lane.” Minutes passed, and Gillie and Dewey Dell floated above hundreds of fish eggs over which a father fish kept watch.

“Well, since we come this far, do ‘ya care to…?” Dewey Dell exhaled a shy but impatient sigh.

“Uh, given I’m sort of ‘spoken for,’ and I didn’t reckon you’d really care to, Dewey Dell!”

PLOP! Something hit surface water and the fish hearts fluttered. Gillie thought quickly, he needed a break from sensual tension. He rose several feet upward and focused eyes upon the most enticing earthworm ever. Gillie did not necessarily want to get involved in an adulterous affair, but he planned to keep Dewey Dell dangling. He bit teeth, and confidently thought, “There’s no reason to fear now, and in seconds, I’ll strike worm, and then charm her with the most delicious meal in the lake!”

On John D. Long Lake shore, Bass fishing “out of season,” a black man held a fishing pole and intently watched a red and yellow “bobber” lay upon calm water, some 60′ from land. Sun and mosquitoes feasted upon the fisherman and suddenly his “bobber” went down! Excited, he tugged pole to chest, and reeled line inward. This was all the fisherman ever longed for, and experienced, he cautiously let “the catch” take line in rapid western direction. “Let the poor fish gain confidence and inevitably lose the battle,” he thought. 1.

Worm and hook in mouth, Gilligan streaked through water like a silver flash, until the line made him stop. Some twenty feet below, Steelkit lay prostrate on the Goodyear tire, and with one eye, he helplessly watched his son’s end and bitter towing toward east shore. Steelkit closed eye, and with cataract other, he looked into Goodyear darkness.

Gilligan trembled, he lost Dewy Dell forever, and had no strength to resist. The fisherman’s hook affirmed power over him, and in panic, Gillie cried out to both the Hawk Fish and his mother for help. Inside Mazda Protege, Michael’s expression tense and upright Alexander never experienced having to grapple with something strange like this. Gillie surrendered and let the unknown force direct his sail. Delirious, he simultaneously saw skinny-dippers off Myrtle Beach, sewage dumped from cruise ship and released into Atlantic Ocean, a mighty Destroyer in Mediterranean, and a shrouded corpse that lay upon bottom of an “Undisclosed Sea.”

Soon, Gilligan ascended and through a net’s holes, he saw the blueness which Steelkit vividly described. The fisherman proudly raised his catch from water, lowered it into a tin pail’s ten inches of lake water. Gillie violently shook tail against metal sides, swooned, and glanced into blinding South Carolina dawn. The fisherman opened the fish’s mouth, removed hook. Blind to new surroundings, Gillie tried to swim only inches in the pail’s north, south, east and west boundaries. Trapped against unmovable metal, he kept bumping lips which never got to kiss Dewey Dell goodbye.

  1. On July 22, 1995, Susan Smith was convicted of drowning her two sons, 3-year old Michael Daniel Smith and 14-month old Alexander Tyler Smith. Upon police questioning, she falsely testified that a “black man” carjacked her, and kidnapped children. At age 13, Susan Smith attempted suicide, and after graduating from high school in 1989, she made a second attempt to end her life. She married David Smith and gave birth to Michael and Alexander, but the relationship turned to hurricane, allegations of infidelity, and they separated several times. She is currently incarcerated at Leath Correctional Institution, Greenwood County, South Carolina. Come September 2, 1996, a family of seven people, including four children, came to see the spot where Susan Smith murdered her children. Their parked vehicle accidentally rolled into John D. Long Lake and the entire family astonishingly drowned.


Charles “Chuck” Orloski lives in Taylor, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at


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