It was a brutally hot and humid August day in our southern Ohio town when Harriet burst through our new screen door crying my name. I was sprawled out on the new couch reading a fairly new book about Niagara Falls.[i] It was so hot that I’d figured a book about a waterfall would cool me off—and it kind of did, mostly because I got so interested in it that I completely forgot about all the humidity and the heat. Then … here came Harriet …
I was used to this, though. She’d been doing it since we were little girls. No knocking. No announcements. Just in she came, usually with a whirlwind of words swirling around her. Today was no exception. She sometimes spoke so quickly that her sentences seemed like a single giant word. I’m going to give you an example, and I’ve put the first letter of each word in bold so you can at least figure out what she said—just to give you an idea what she was capable of.
It took her a while to slow down, but she didn’t add anything really new, so I’m not going to give you the rest. And I’m also not going to write her words like this again—but I just wanted to give you an idea what it was like. (I’ve sometimes thought that Vickie would have made a good German, for the German language loves to create l-o-n-g compound words and l-o-n-g sentences with the verb at the end.)
I looked up at her. She was hot. Sweating. She’d probably run all the way from the school, where she’d been going every day—sometimes twice a day—to see if they’d put up the tryout announcement yet. (There’d been an article in the paper about it.)
I said, “There used to be a huge rock above Niagara Falls, 6000 square feet. They called it Table Rock. It eventually all fell in the Niagara River.”
Harriet stared at me. She was used to this strategy on my part, too—talking about books I was reading while she was trying to tell me something she thought was really important. Like cheerleading tryouts.
“Charles Dickens—remember him? A Christmas Carol?—well, he once stood on Table Rock and wrote ‘Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart.’”
Harriet did not look happy. “Victoria”—she called me Victoria when she was on the edge of anger—“if you don’t—”
“And did you know that the Falls once just plain stopped falling?”
“Yes?” I asked calmly. I knew I’d reached my limit. Time to act civilized—time to act like a friend. Which I was.
“You know, Vickie, no person on earth can make me as mad as you can.”
“Sorry.” I paused. “What about Blue Boyle?”
She laughed. “I said ‘person,’ remember?”
And now I was laughing.
“So,” I said, “I guess you’re going to try out for cheerleader?”
She looked at me as if I were the dumbest duckling in the farmyard. “Of course!” she said. “You know I am! And it’s for two seasons, Vickie—football and basketball. It will be so much fun! And we’ll all be together till spring!”
Of course, I knew she was going to try out. How could I not know? I could hear her out in her yard, sometimes for more than an hour, chanting, presumably jumping up and down and waving and splitting and trying to look sexy—which, for her, was not getting to be too hard. Harriet had matured quickly—physically. She looked much older than she was—a look that had gotten us into trouble back on Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie.
“So …,” I began, “… you’re telling me this … because …?”
“Because, Vickie, I want you to try out with me.”
“Vickie? Won’t you?”
“Why not? You’re cute. And you—”
“C’mon, Harriet. You know I’m not interested.”
She got a pouty look on her face.
“Oh, look, I’m not criticizing you. You’re my best friend. You can do whatever you want, and it’s fine with me.” I paused. “Except sneaking aboard another yacht on Lake Erie and nearly getting us killed.”
Harriet no longer looked puffy with indignation. She softened, deflated, smiled. “Well, okay. I figured you wouldn’t. But I just want to ask. To make sure.”
“And that’s why we’re best friends,” I said. And I meant it.
“Awwwww,” said Harriet. She came over and tried to hug me—kind of hard to do when one person is standing, the other flopped on the couch. It was awkward, but each of us knew what it meant. “See you later!” she cried. And sprinted for the back door. “Gotta practice!” Her words floating back at me as she banged out the screen door.
“I’ll see you in the spring,” I said softly.