Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, II (82)

In town—without Gil, who went with his mother back to the hotel to rest—Harriet and I wandered around, poking in gift shops and other odd little stores and quiet museums. In one of them we looked at a display about people who’d gone over the Falls—on purpose and otherwise. Harriet was shocked when she saw one of the information cards on the display.
“Vickie! Look at that … thousands of people have died at the Falls.” She looked closely at the display. “Accidents. Suicides. Stunts that didn’t work out. I had no idea.”
“I didn’t either,” I lied, not wanting her to know.
She looked at me. “Are you lying?”
She paused. “Are you lying about the Falls? Or are you lying about whether you knew or not?”
Harriet couldn’t help it. She laughed so loudly that a nearby adult with a group of kids from somewhere gave her a sharp look—not something that really impresses Harriet too much.
“But it’s not just people,” I said. “Fish, of course, go over all the time, and a very high percentage of them survive and swim on downriver.”
“I’d actually wondered about that. About how fish manage the Falls.”
“And you want to know a weird one?”
“Of course!”
“In the 1820s some guys bought an old boat and loaded it up with a variety of animals. They announced what they were going to do, and tens of thousands of people showed up to watch.”
“That’s gross,” muttered Harriet.
“Yes.” I waited. “Want me to go on?”
“Of course.”
“Okay, well, on the boat they put two bears, a bunch of geese, a buffalo, an eagle, two foxes, a raccoon, and more than a dozen geese.”
“This can’t be true,” said Harriet.
“I wish. But it is true. So they launched the thing, but the ship was so rickety it fell apart before it arrived at the Falls. The big animals—the bears, the buffalo—jumped off, and one of the bears was saved. All the others went over.”
“That’s horrible.”
“Guess how many lived?”
“No, one goose. And that’s it.”[1]
“I’ll tell you something,” said Harriet as we were back outside, walking back to the bus. “I’ll bet Blue Boyle would survive it. He’d probably just swim right straight up the Falls itself.”
“I’d kind of like to find out,” I said.
Harriet looked shocked, then we both giggled and raced for the bus, not knowing whether our speed of foot was powered by happiness—or terror.

We had our simple Saturday night dinner in the hotel, and Mr. Gisborne gave us strict instructions to go to bed as soon as we could. We were planning to leave after a 7 o’clock breakfast in the hotel so that we could get home in the early afternoon on Sunday. I was ready for that. I was exhausted with all the walking, all the on-and-off-the-bus stuff. And I missed Father—not something that a lot of middle school kids would admit … missing their parents.
We saw Gil’s mom at supper, but she told us he was resting and wouldn’t come down. She was taking a few things up to him in the room. I asked if we could stop in a minute and see him. Which, of course, she was happy for us to do.
We found him propped up in one of the beds reading one of those little pamphlets about the Falls that he or his mom had picked up at one of the gift shops. There was a small pad of note paper beside him, too, and a pen. When he saw us, he closed the booklet and turned over the notepad.
“Writing your memoirs?” I joked.
He just smiled. He looked so pale, so weak. It was hard, in fact even to look at him and pretend I wasn’t seeing something that was breaking my heart.
“Something like that,” he said.
“Am I in it?”
“Oh, of course!” he said. “Major role.”
“And me?” asked Harriet.
“Your role is exactly the same size as Vickie’s.” He gave us a Gil-smile.
“It had better be!” joked Harriet.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” I said.
“You should feel pretty good,” he said. “It shows I like both of you.”
“So you say only good things about us?” I asked.
“Of course.”
Harriet said softly, “I don’t think you really feel the same about us, do you?”
He looked at us, now seriously. “I love both of you,” he said.
“I’m glad,” I said, not knowing what else to say or do.
“We love you, too, Gil,” said Harriet.
“Yes,” I said. “We love you, too.”
Gil dropped his head and suddenly—though this doesn’t seem possible—looked even more tired and drained that he had just moments before. I actually think he’d fallen asleep.
“You girls probably ought to go back to your room,” his mother said, her voice tight with emotion. “And I can’t tell you how much …” Her voice trailed off. She came over and hugged us both, and we returned to our room feeling a torrent of emotions.

[1] Unfortunately, Vickie’s story is a true one and can be found in Berton’s book Niagara.

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