“Any bites?” Vincent asked. He traced the fishing line, or what passed as fishing line, from the bamboo pole that Devin was holding, down to the waters below. There was no sign of movement.

“Not yet.”

“You know, this might not be the best spot …” Vincent said. He was pretty sure there were no fish in the waters here at the falls, or anywhere else Below.Chan's Drawing of Young Devin and young Vincent at the falls, with fishing poles. They're both barefoot, and have their pants legs rolled up as if they've been wading. Devin wears a tattered straw hat. Vincent has one leg crossed, his foot resting on his knee, his arm behind his head, in perfect imitation of Huck and Tom, wiling away a summer afternnon on the banks of the river.

“You’re right,” Devin agreed with a shrug. “This isn’t the place.”

Vincent watched as Devin pulled the line from the water, set the pole down and stared off into the distance. Devin was wearing a frayed straw hat ‘borrowed’ from the stash of Halloween costumes he’d found in a storage chamber. An adventurer needs proper attire, he had said this morning as Vincent watched him extract the hat – and the overalls they both now wore – from where he had hid them under the bed.

“Wide open waters is what’s needed … something that’s got more life to it.”

“Like the Mississippi?” Vincent guessed. They’d been reading about the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in literature class, and the stories had set everyone to dreaming.

“Mmmhmm,” Devin responded.

Vincent sat up and stretched. He was getting stiff from sitting on the cold rocks and the idea of the soft, muddy banks of the Mississippi really appealed to him right now.

“I think maybe spring would be best.”

“Spring?” Vincent stepped down from his rocky seat and settled on the smooth ledge of the pool, dangling his bare feet in the water.

“The river would be highest then and full of fish … tons of ‘em, I bet.”

Vincent imagined those schools of fish, flashing silver across the glassy surface of the river as exotic birds, right off the pages of Father’s Audubon book, swooped around above them.

“Yeah, that would be the time … everything’s alive and big and green in the spring. The sun’s warm, but not so hot that it makes you tired.”

Vincent closed his eyes. He could feel the warmth of the few sunbeams that filtered into the Chamber of the Falls and wondered what that might feel like magnified ten-fold. He longed to feel the heat of the sun sinking into his bones. In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain. 1

“The mighty Mississippi would be swelled to overflowing, and there’d be a good strong current …” Devin continued, the excitement growing in his voice. “And the air always smells so good in the spring, like it’s all washed fresh and shiny … and perfumed with daffodils.”

Vincent chuckled a little at Devin’s description and was caught at it.

“What?”

“Shiny air and daffodils ...” Vincent looked up at Devin with a smile. “That’s so … poetic.”

“Hey!” Devin said in mock insult as he tossed a pebble in Vincent’s direction. “I can do poetic!”

Vincent laughed, then watched as his companion gathered more of the small stones and skipped them across the water.

“Devin …” He looked down now, intent on watching the rings of water sent rippling by the swaying of his feet.

“Yeah?”

“Can I come?” He heard the pebbles drop from Devin’s hand.

“Can you come?” Devin repeated.

Vincent kept his head down, afraid to look.

“You have to come.”

Devin had gotten up and now stood next to him. He watched him remove the straw hat from his head and put it on his own. It was too big and fell down over his eyes.

“Anyway …” Devin added as he gave the brim a tilt and he could see again. “I can’t handle a raft on my own. It’s at least a two man job.”

Relieved, Vincent scooted over to make room for Devin next to him on the ledge. Devin made himself comfortable, splashing his feet, letting the drops drip off his toes. “Can you steer a boat?”

“Sure.” He reached behind him for the imaginary tiller. “Which way?”

“Starboard,” Devin replied, taking up an invisible paddle and getting to work.

“Starboard?”

“Or maybe aft … or is it abaft?”

“How about ‘left’ or ‘right’?” Vincent suggested.

“Either oughta do,” he said. “You pick … it’s a big river and we’ve got plenty of time.” Devin gave up on paddling and leaned back on his elbows.

Vincent loved the ease with which Devin could drift off to other worlds. He had no trouble imagining Devin floating down that river without a care. And he could see himself right there next to him.

“What are we gonna do out there?” Vincent asked.

“Anything we want, I suppose,” Devin replied.

His mind filled with possibilities. “I’d like to catch some fish …”

“Definitely...”

“And explore …”

“... big fish - the size of your head.”

“And watch the stars ...”

“We’ll see lots of things ...”

“... out there in the middle of the river.”

“... all floating right by us.”

“We could sleep under ‘em.”

“Huh?”

“The stars - we could sleep under the stars,” he said, relaxed, leaning back against a boulder, hands clasped behind his head.

“And nap in the sun,” Devin added.

A glimmer of sunlight flashed across Vincent’s face, and he tilted the brim of the hat to shield his eyes. They sat quietly, together, drifting down the Mississippi.

Vincent knew he was Below, but he swore he could hear the cry of gulls. He knew he rested on bedrock, but he swore he could feel the flow of a current below him. And although cool tunnel air filled the chamber, he felt the fiery sun.

He was roused by a shake to his shoulder. “Come on ... we’d better get going,” Devin said. “It’s getting late and the old man will be missing us.”

Vincent got up, reluctantly. He took off the hat and handed it back to Devin.

Devin shook his head. “No, you keep it ...” he said with a smile. “An adventurer needs his proper attire.” He sat the hat back on Vincent’s head, pushing it over his eyes.

“Thanks ...”

Before he could finish his sentence, Devin flung an arm over his shoulder and steered him down the corridor. “You know, I was thinking ...”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a book in Father’s library ... on celestial navigation ...”

 

And so the adventure continued.

____________

Title: Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi.
1. Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

 

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