By Laura Moncur in The Disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde
When were unable to find Rosie’s family, I was tempted to go back to West Virginia and my beloved Ohio River, but returning to my family would have been a mistake. I had killed a man. The papers plastered my photo all over the Arizona papers with no mention of Cameron or Rupert, the man I had savagely stabbed to death in a vain effort to save Glen. I knew that if I resurfaced as Bessie Hyde, Cameron would have no qualms identifying me as the woman who had murdered his man. There were even rumors that I had killed Glen, even though they never found his body. No, Bessie Hyde died that day on the side of the river where I left Glen’s lifeless form.
Instead, I put on the skin of a murdered woman and raised her daughter as if she were my own. Rosie never forgot the grisly end of Rupert at my hand, despite my vain hope that she would. At times, she acted as if I had always been her mother. She would try to reminisce with me about past times that I had never experienced.
“Remember when you took me to see Daddy?” I so desperately WANTED to remember this event that had never happened to me. “No, what happened?” Rosie was cutting the tomatoes and zucchini for the ratatouille. We didn’t have enough money for meat, but my strong and oil-stained hands made us enough to eat every day. “You remember.” She laughed, thinking that I was pretending not to know. “Tell me anyway,” I replied.
“Daddy was going to take me to the fair and he asked you if you wanted to go, too. You didn’t wanna go, but you went anyway.” I stopped her story to correct her pronunciation. “I didn’t WANT to go. Slow down so you can speak correctly.” She sighed and continued, “You didn’t WANT to go, but you went anyway.” She pushed out the words with exasperation. “Daddy won me a teddy bear. Remember?” I smiled at her and nodded, even though I had never been able to find her father, much less go to the fair with him.
The next time she would ask me, “Remember when you took me to see Daddy?” I WOULD remember. I would be able to reminisce with her, even though she was reminiscing about the fair and I was reminiscing about the evening when we made ratatouille and our tummies were full because I had finally truly learned how to rebuild a carburetor.
Poverty was a constant mar in our existence. The Great Depression was a terrifyingly difficult to survive. I struggled every day to put food in Rosie’s thin body. I tried selling my Wondrous Water Breathers, but no one would pay me what I knew they were worth. There wasn’t a company in America that was willing to spend money on innovation at the time and the military took one look at my chest and rejected my beautiful invention.
The day I was approached by a mysterious French man, however, changed all of that. “We are hearing that you have made an invention that makes a man a fish.” He was thin and wiry with a large nose. Rosie and I were boarding at the home of kindly woman who was mercifully deaf and nearly blind. Rosie’s nightmares never disturbed her sleep and my rough and oil-encrusted hands were invisible to her gaze. “They don’t make a man a fish so much as bring a supply of air along for the dive.”
I let the Frenchman into my room, but kept our door open so that my landlady wouldn’t think anything untoward. He swaggered into the room as only a European could. Our financial downfall had made The States the perfect vacation spot for the idle rich of Europe. This man was no different than those who bought cars just for their trip to America and became indignant when they learned that they would have to put oil and gasoline in them to keep them running.
“They are called Wondrous Water Breathers.” I brought out my dear inventions and showed them to the man. He looked at me with a question in his eyes. “Wondrous Water Breathers,” I repeated, but his face was still a question mark without an answer. I held the tank up and pointed, “This is a compressed air tank. It has enough air for a fifteen minute dive.” I lifted the tubing and held the regulator to my mouth. “The air comes through this tube and you breath in through the mouth, out through your nose.”
“It’s for underwater, no?” This was the first time anyone had shown an interest in my invention, much less understood. “Yes! It’s for breathing underwater.” He held up the tube above my head. “To the boat?” He thought that the air came from a pump on the boat like all the surface supplied diving that had been around for generations. “No, not to the boat.” I held up the tank. “Air.” Then I put the tank on my back and put the tube in my mouth, running the tube over my shoulder.
The man’s eyes grew wide and the excitement was bursting from every pore of his body. “WATER!” He exclaimed at me, eager to test my Wondrous Water Breathers. I grabbed Rosie and the Wondrous Water Breathers. “Let’s go swimming, Sweetiepie!” and I took the man to our nearest lake in my Model A that I had built from leftover parts at the shop.
Rosie was eager to show her underwater swimming abilities. She had reminded me of myself as a child, holding my breath in the Ohio River until it felt like my ears would burst through my eyes. She put on her child-sized version of my invention that I had created for her small frame and motioned for him to follow along. He was struck with wonder at Rosie’s comfort with my inventions, never knowing that the two of us were only alive today because of them.
We all suited up and I tried my best to explain to him how to hold the regulator in his mouth. When we dove, Rose took the lead and showed him all her favorite spots in the lake. The carp swam up to us, eager for the dog food in my bag. He was awestruck as they approached us. I didn’t tell him how many times we had eaten the garbage fish in our hungry desperation.
When we surfaced, the desire in his eyes was stronger than I had ever seen in a man. He paid me handsomely for my Wondrous Water Breathers, but not nearly as much as they were worth. I was so desperate to find a comfortable life for Rosie and me, that I was glad to sell them in exchange for a quiet existence of independent wealth.