Watching Niagara

Submitted into Contest #105 in response to: Write your story from the perspective of a side character.... view prompt

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Drama Historical Fiction Sad

It was a pretty mild summer Sunday in august at Niagara Falls and I was just hanging around one of the cafes up there. At that time of year, you see plenty of newly married couples in just about every restaurant. I like to look around and amuse myself by guessing how long they'll stay together. I have no way to learn how accurate my guesses are, of course, but it's fun. There's not much else to do around town for a single guy like me. Makes me wonder why my parents stayed here when their own honeymoon was over. Fifty years of marriage and they seem to spend most of their time in front of the radio. They don't even seem to talk much anymore.

Anyway, that day I'd picked out three couples that I thought would probably split up within a few months, mostly because they barely looked at each other, when a stranger burst in and shouted “Somebody's going over the falls!”

Everybody stared for a few seconds, then some jumped up and ran out the door. It's not like they knew where they were going, so I can't imagine why they did that. Me, I was frozen to my seat with surprise. Over the falls? Whoever it was, how insane did you have to do that?

I've lived around Niagara most of my life. Living there, you learn about people who've tried going over the falls in the past. The first three tried it in 1853 and they all died. Then in 1901, a woman named Annie Edson Taylor made it down in one piece. Since then, there have been five more, all of them men and all of them over Horseshoe Falls in Canada, like Annie Edson Taylor.. Two of them lived. One of the ones who didn't was a baseball player named Ed Delahanty, who got drunk on a train, got kicked off, and then fell off the International Railway Bridge into the water. What a dope.

On this day in 1951, no one had tried going over the falls for twenty or twenty-one years. Now some other dope was giving it a go. Jeez.

Actually, we found out (I don't remember how we learned that, it all happened so fast) that the dope was going over Horseshoe Falls like everyone else had before. I'm not sure why they did that, but whatever. So I grabbed my binoculars, which I always carry with me just in case, as a lot of other people do, and we all raced out across the street and pointed our glasses across the border.

We stood there for, I don't know, maybe a half hour, staring at the top of Horseshoe, and finally a speck drifted toward the edge. Looked kind of like an ordinary boat, for God's sake.

It closer to the edge, and closer, and...

Over it went.

Not any too exciting. I don't know what we were expecting – some kind of huge eruption? But it was just a drop.

So everybody trickled back into the cafe, and I saw other people trickling into other coffee shops and news agent's and stuff like that up and down the street. Most of us seemed to be slouched over, like they were disappointed at what they'd seen. I sure was. Someone went off the falls and it looked like no more than a fly crawling down a windowpane or something. Big deal.

The next couple of days I was back at the cafe fr breakfast, dividing my time between looking over the honeymooning couples as usual and scanning the “Niagara News”. I don't often read the local paper, because there usually isn't anything of any interest going on in town, but Sunday's excitement I thought there might be something worth reading this time.

Sure enough, on Tuesday the “News” had coverage of the Falls daredevil. I learned that the guy's name was “Red” Hill, that he went over in a boat (well, not a boat – it was made of thirteen inner tubes) called “The Thing” that he designed himself, and that he shouldn't have – his body had been recovered at the bottom of the falls. It was a little troubling to notice that I didn't care much. That was a fellow human being, after all, and I was a cold-hearted about it as if Red had been a squirrel that got run over.

Then Margie came over to refill my coffee, got a look at my paper, and boy did she scream. I nearly jumped right up to the ceiling. Margie has always been the calmest waitress I've known, so I was doubly unprepared for that reaction.

The cafe owner, Biff, came tearing out from behind the cash register, and most of the customers dashed over too. By that time I was out of my chair and I had Margie in it, holding my napkin soaked in my water glass to her forehead. Her eyes were still open but completely unfocused, and she was wheezing like a steam engine – she sounded a little like those trains we often hear going over the bridge that Delahanty fell off all those years ago.

Biff took my coffee cup and tried to give Margie some of the coffee, but she wasn't really in any condition to swallow, so he put the cup down and chafed her wrists, all the while shouting toward the counter “Someone call the doctor, will ya!” and the rest of the customers stood around us, shifting from foot to foot and looking worried.

It probably didn't take longer that thirty seconds for Margie to get herself together, but it seemed like a couple of hours. Margie's a good friend, and I was about ready to shout at someone – anyone – because the doctor wasn't there yet, when Margie blinked, sat up, took her hands out of Biff's grip and muttered “I'm okay.”

Biff sat back on his heels. “What happened, hon?”

“It's Red,” she whispered, and started to sob. “I knew his dad.”

While we waited for the doctor, Margie told us everything. Turns out that Red Hill Sr. was a pretty well-known daredevil on the Canadian side. He loved the falls, and he used to take trips down the river to observe them. He never came close to going over, but he passed his enthusiasm on to Junior. Margie was a fan, and she got to meet him a few times. One of the highlights of her life, she said.

Turns out that Red Jr. wanted to set up some kind of memorial fund for his old man, and this trip over Horseshoe Falls was supposed to go some way toward raising the money for it. I guess that won't happen now.

A little while ago, the American and Canadian governments passed laws forbidding people from going over the falls, with big fines for those who try. Just as well, I say. But mostly I remember Margie and that scream, and that's mostly why I like those laws. I'd rather no one ever has to scream like that again.

August 06, 2021 01:52

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