George was a happy guy; some thought unnaturally so. Life had not been kind to him and yet he had a smile for everyone, friend and stranger alike. If you were a friend, he would stop and ask how you were and share a story or a joke. If the situation presented itself, in line at the bank or filling his tank at the gas station, he might do the same with a stranger. People who knew George always walked away remarking how wonderful it was that he was such a happy man, “In spite of it all.”
Ginny was the opposite of George. She led a comfortable life, born into a family that had more money than it knew what to do with. Good fortune notwithstanding, she went through life with a sour expression on her face. She never had a kind word for a cashier or a waitress, nor did she acknowledge anyone on the street, and woe to the person who knocked on her door to ask if she was familiar with their candidate for school committee. It was not unusual for people to mutter, after encountering Ginny, “Bitch.”
Barleyville wasn’t a big town; most folks knew each other, at least in passing. And if they didn’t, they certainly knew the stories. George’s wife had passed away suddenly when they’d been married for less than a year. Everyone agreed that it was a horrible accident. And it had happened so soon after he lost his parents. If the dog hadn’t alerted George he might have succumbed to smoke inhalation, too.
Ginny and George had gone through school together, all the way from first grade to high school graduation. Ginny always said there was something suspicious about George’s wife’s passing. Most everyone thought she was jealous because she’d had a crush on George in high school. Ginny was the only person in town that George didn’t smile or nod at when they passed each other on the street.
There was a pond in Barleyville that froze over in the winter. Saturday mornings the peewee hockey players would be out there as soon as the sun came up. They had to get an early start because the men’s team took the ice at eleven sharp. They had to get their game in before the afternoon shift at the factory. When they left, the figure skaters came out, mostly women practicing figure eights and such, but there were lots of young people, too.
One Saturday in February, when the peewees got there, the police turned them back. It was the damnedest thing. Ginny had fallen into the pond at the one spot where it wasn’t frozen over. Everyone knew to avoid that spot. It was there every year. People were so used to it, the town didn’t even bother to put a sawhorse in front of it anymore. George was the one who found her. He’d tried to pull her out, but was afraid of going in himself, so he’d called 911 from his cellphone. The rescue squad was too late.
No one was particularly sorry to hear what had happened to Ginny. They did, however, feel bad for George, “After all he’d been through.”
One peewee player, Timmy, had been early the morning of Ginny’s accident. He told his dad later that he saw George with his hands in the water. He wasn’t supposed to use bad words so he didn’t tell his dad that then he heard George say, “Bitch.”