I had read almost all of them [Mary Shelley’s books] by the time I was on that bus with Gil, and I had brought along Lodore because of its scene at Niagara Falls—a place that Mary Shelley had never seen. I wanted to show the book to Gil. But for the first hour of the trip he just slumped in his seat, his head aligned so he could see out the window. I think he was asleep for a time.
While I was flipping through Berton’s book, I saw Gil shudder and half sit-up. “You’ve been asleep,” I said.
“Yes, Sherlock. I have.”
I immediately adopted a British accent. “Could it be that you find the scenery along I-71 boring?”
“Yes, Sherlock. I do.”
I then went off on a long Sherlockian inference about him—based on what he was wearing—and ended with this: “And that is why I believe you have arrived from an undiscovered planet in the Milky Way and are here as a scout for hordes of invading aliens now in their ships hiding on the dark side of the moon.”
“Curses, foiled again,” joked Gil, who laugh quickly collapsed into a cough.
I decided not to say anything.
When the coughing spell eventually subsided, I asked him if he’d like to see the passage about Niagara Falls in a Mary Shelly novel. I already knew the answer.
“In the book,” I said, “Lodore is on a journey back to England from the United States—he’s been living in Illinois—and he has stopped at Niagara Falls. Listen,” I said, and I began to read …
One day, occupied by such thoughts, he stood watching that vast and celebrated cataract, whose everlasting and impetuous flow mirrored the dauntless but rash energy of his own soul. A vague desire of plunging into the whirl of waters agitated him …
“I’ve read about that phenomenon,” Gil said. “It’s hypnotic, I guess. Many people, staring at the Niagara River as it pours over the cliff, have this amazing urge to jump in.”
“Remind me to not to stare at it,” I said.
“I don’t think you’re susceptible,” he said. “Your mind is too … independent.”
“How about yours?”
“I’m like you,” he said.
“Well, in some ways.”
“Now,” I said, “may I finish? You so rudely interrupted …”
Gil smiled. And I felt a surge of tears arrive in my eyes. That sweet smile. How could it possibly go away? To avoid crying, I started reading again …
His existence appeared to be a blot in the creation; his hopes, and fears, and resolves, a worthless web of ill-assorted ideas, best swept away at once from the creation. Suddenly his eye caught the little figure of Fanny Derham, standing on a rock not far distant, her meaning eyes fixed on him. The thunder of the waters prevented speech; but as he drew near her, he saw that she had a paper in her hand. She held it out to him; a blush mantled over her usually pale countenance as he took it; and she sprung away up the rocky pathway.
“That sounds like a romance novel,” said Gil. “One with lots of big words.”
“It is. But it’s probably a lot better than most of the others you’ve read.”
“I don’t read romance novels!” he protested.
“Sure,” I said with some silly sarcasm. “And why don’t you read them?” I was playing along.
“Because,” he said, looking right at me, “I don’t need them.” And I could see he was not playing.