In southern Ohio, spring comes fairly early. So by mid-May—the time for the Niagara Falls trip—the weather was often fairly balmy and pleasant … when it wasn’t pouring rain.
Not much worth writing about had really happened in the months since the science fair back in late November. I went to school, did my homework quickly, read as much as I could (I was nearing the end of the complete works of Mary Shelley), spent lots of hours in my basement laboratory, talked with Gil and Harriet on the phone—or at school. Had quiet meals with Father. Worried constantly.
About Gil, of course.
He was missing school more and more often, and when he did come, it was almost as if I could see his decline. He was changing, almost daily. He was thinner, whiter. His eyes seemed like small black stones on a bright white page.
Of course, no one else really noticed these changes—no one other than Harriet, who knew how I felt about him and was incredibly compassionate during this period. Otherwise, though, Gil was just not on other kids’ radar, not at all. In fact, after the science fair, some had even asked me who that Gil kid was. That’s how unnoticeable he was.
And as for that panicky sixth grade girl who had run into the gym and screamed Her homework ate my dog!
Well, she was right, kind of.
Her project had been to bake and decorate cookies in the shapes of familiar southern Ohio mammals. She had actually done a pretty good job—I mean, there aren’t many cookie-cutters in the shape of a possum. So she (and her parents?) had made their own cutters. Had done all the baking and decorating.
Well, what had happened is this: After the parents and guests had finished touring the exhibits and were assembling in the gym for the awards, Eddie Peacock had sneaked back to our display, stolen some of our refrigerator goop, and put some on other kids’ projects, including the head of a little dog that sixth grade girl had baked—a cute little terrier that had curlicues of cocoanut shavings sprinkled around to serve as the fur. I found out later that the little girl actually owned a dog that looked like that, so what happened with the goop was even more traumatic for her.
Still, the dog-cookie looked pretty good. But the nasty goop had eaten a hole in its head. So it looked like a cute dog with a gross head. Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis’ faces melted? Sort of the same thing. But with a cute little dog.
Anyway, no one believed that Gil and I had been stupid enough to sabotage other kids’ projects—especially ones that weren’t any threat to us. And Eddie was a terrible liar, so as soon as Mr. Gisborne asked him about it, he turned bright red and said it hadn’t been his idea. But since he was the only one who’d done it, that excuse didn’t seem too sturdy.
Eddie Peacock spent three days at home as a result—a punishment which I think he kind of liked. And although his accusation had ruined the excitement of our winning the science fair prize that night, the word of our innocence spread quickly. Though no one really cared. In fact, I think Gil and I would have been celebrated more if we really had messed up that girl’s cookies. So our victory remained among those achievements that earn no one any celebrity. When I walked down the halls in the days afterwards, no one said a thing to me about it. And if you ever look in your school’s trophy case, you won’t see a lot of science fair trophies I bet.
Which was fine with me, really. I didn’t want the honor, the celebration. I wanted Gil Bysshe to be able to see Niagara Falls. And that was it.