Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, II (81)

We rode the elevator back up and then boarded the bus to head across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side, where we would get a good look at the rapids and whirlpool a little bit downriver from the Falls.[1] Gil and I dropped hands before we began to mingle again with our own group. I’m not sure who made the first move. I hope I didn’t do it. But I might have.
Gil’s energy was high as he stepped up into the bus. I guess the ride on The Maid of the Mist had gotten his adrenalin going because I could hardly keep up with him. We moved quickly to our assigned seats. Mr. Gisborne checked the roll (all present and accounted for) and then took the microphone.
“Okay, people, that was one heckuva ride, wasn’t it?”
Lots of clapping and cheering—even from Harriet, Gil, and me. A surprise. I’d never before applauded anything Mr. Gisborne had to say—and I was pretty sure I never would again, either.
“Now,” he said, “we’re gonna drive down to the rapids and whirlpool area for a little look-see. And then we’ll go back up into town where you can walk around and look at the shops and museums and junk for an hour or so.”
It was a quick time across the border, a quick ride to one of the parking areas. And we all got off the bus and looked at the rushing rapids and marveled at the whirlpool. I stood there with Gil and his mom and Harriet.
After a few moments, Gil said, “Didn’t you say you were going to tell a story here?” he asked.
“Yes!” I said. “It’s another quick story about Edward John Trelawny, who—”
“Was the friend of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley,” said Harriet, sounding authoritative. “And when they burned Bysshe Shelley’s drowned body on the beach—”
My story!” I cried, interrupting, but in a way I hoped sounded playful to Harriet and the others. “My story!”
Harriet grinned at me, her teeth flashing. “See how fun it is to listen to a SmartyPants,” she said. But I could tell she was joking, too, so I just prepared to go on with the story.
“What happened on the beach?” asked Gil.
“I’ll tell you another time,” said, flashing a silent warning from my eyes at Harriet. The last thing I wanted to do was to tell a story about death to Gil Bysshe, who was living his own death story as we stood there.
“About a dozen years after Trelawny had been with the Shelleys,” I said, “he came to Niagara Falls.”
The others were silent now.
“He wrote later that he was about where we are now—about a half-mile below the Falls. And he decided he was going to swim across.”
“That doesn’t seem possible,” said Gil, gesturing toward the river.
“Just listen,” I said, and I pulled from my pocket some pages I’d photocopied. I looked them. He said that the water above the rapids and whirlpool was—let me quote him here: ‘was too sluggish.’ So he swam downriver a little because ‘I was determined to try my strength in those places where the waters are wildest.’”
“How long did he last before he drowned?” asked Harriet.
“He didn’t,” I said. “In fact, he said he swam”—I looked at my sheet—“‘without much difficulty.’”
“I think he’s a liar,” said Gil.
“Well, swimming back, he overestimated his swimming ability, that’s for sure,” I said. “He saw himself getting closer and closer to the rapids and the ‘terrible whirlpool.’ He says that his fear really propelled him to safety—fear and luck.”
“I still think he’s a liar,” said Gil. “I don’t believe anyone could swim in this river—and survive it. And certainly not both directions.”
“Trelawny did have some trouble with the truth,” I said. “Or, at least, that’s what I’ve read.”
“Just like everyone else,” said Harriet. I glanced at her and saw her steady gaze fixed on me.

[1] In 1996 it was much easier to cross the international border between Canada and the United States. Remember that this was well before the horrible events of 9/11, and crossing into Canada was not much more difficult than crossing from Ohio to Pennsylvania.

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