by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 15: Rises and Falls
It was after nine when Toni and Maelene finally got around to breakfast and the challenge of what to do next.
‘Well, let’s start with the basics. We’re not staying at the airport any longer, right? So, do you want to see Chicago?’
‘Not especially. Didn’t bring my homburg ...’
‘Very funny, Toni. But I’d rather move on, too. Don’t have anything against the city itself, but I really enjoyed the Mojave Desert and the Grand Canyon, and I’d love to see some more big, dramatic scenery now we’re back on expenses-paid leave ...’
‘You have another grand plan, don’t you?’
‘Sure do. It can’t be more than two hours to Buffalo — and that means Niagara Falls!’
‘Brilliant, honey. Let’s fix it — now!’
* * *
It was not quite that easy. No direct flights from Midway. But they made their bookings and put their skates on, and just after noon a taxi was dropping them off twenty miles further north at O’Hare International.
They checked in for United 1142, grabbed some lunch, and were then whisked away. They set their watches on to Eastern Time, and landed at Buffalo at four o’clock, looking forward to chilling out again in another new city.
They had to wait in the taxi line for just five minutes, but that was five chilly minutes too long for South Carolina Girl.
‘Jeez, Toni! Below fifty and raining! It’ll be nearer seventy in Columbia! Hey, gimme a cuddle!’
‘Close to seventy in Bilbao too, I expect! Whose crazy idea was this?’
‘Mine! So now you need to have a bright one of your own!’
‘Hmm. Can I try and raise the temperature when we reach the hotel?’
‘Ooh, that’s my boy!’ She snuggled closer. ‘Hey, it’s working already. You always come up with something special when it really matters!’
The temperature outside was cooler still when they eventually left their room and went downstairs, both keen on an early evening meal.
‘D’you really wanna go downtown in this weather, Toni?’
‘Rather eat here with my uptown girl.’
‘Deal! But first we order us a rental car for tomorrow ...’
* * *
Maelene emerged from the shower.
‘Watching TV again, Toni? You know it can seriously damage your mental health ...’
‘No, this really is serious. Apparently there was an awful ice storm in this area a few weeks ago, and they’ve recently announced it’s now an official disaster, and set up a major relief fund.’
‘We get an awful lot of “natural” disasters in this big old country, Toni. Far more than you do over in Spain or Europe, as far as I remember from my college classes. You name it, we got God’s wrath pouring down on us every which way ...’
‘Oh, you ain’t religious, are you, honey?’
‘No, I’m not, but ...’
‘OK, I’m sorry. Uncalled for. It’s not his or her fault at all, of course. And you’re dead right about the ice storm — it is very bad news. Trouble is, there’s an increasing amount of that, here and all round the world, every year ...’
‘Hey, it’s too late for another sermon! We have a lot of touring to do tomorrow.’
* * *
Maelene awoke soon after five, deep in thought. She got up and tiptoed into the bathroom to avoid disturbing Toni.
‘Are you there, Lucia?’
‘And Quo and Carla?’
‘They’re running with a guy from the State Department. He’s just arriving in London. I’ll see if they can spare a few moments.’
‘Right, they’re both with us now, Maelene.’
‘OK, everybody — look, you didn’t tell Toni and me anything about the next steps in your negotiations.’
‘We do not yet know what they will be, my dear. The government men have all gone off to talk and make their complicated plans.’
‘Ah, Quo — so it is only men left on the board again ...’
‘In practice, yes.’
‘Well, I hope you’ll rope those ladies back into the show soon, and maybe find some others with a bit more drive than all those guys! And ...’
‘I haven’t forgotten what you said on the day you recruited me, you know — that all Domans are female. You must be feeling particularly frustrated.’
‘Yes and no, Maelene. We understand our own long history well. We appreciate the forces that drive the male. We came prepared to be patient, and to see and hear things we might not like. But your insight is good. Up on the Mater we often gently despair ...’
‘Well, that makes me feel a bit better, Quo — and even a little sorry for you all!’
Lucia spotted her moment.
‘It’s not all bad, Maelene. It has been fascinating to see how the other half lives down here! And although my “engagement” to Salvi was enforced and often aggravating — just like yours! — I found myself strangely and pleasantly attracted to the fine man he could one day become, rather than the very immature one he presently is ...’
‘And,’ added Carla, ‘I shall not fight shy, Maelene, of admitting the deep feelings I have always held for your Toni. It was marvellous even to meet and spend a lot of time in the company of a male, and to have done so with such a wonderful young man was simply a glorious bonus. But as you know, that was all in the past, and he is yours for the taking now!’
‘You girls are just amazing!’
‘We have to be, Maelene. In fact, we have to be everything.’
‘Thanks for being willing to talk.’
‘It is never a problem. And do you think you will be able to get back to sleep now?’
‘Oh no, Quo. But I’ve just spotted a good reason not to try ...’
Toni awoke a little later to find Maelene gazing through their window at a vivid upstate sunrise.
‘Isn’t that beautiful, honey?’
‘Yes, it is. And we’re lucky to see it — there was more rain forecast on the TV last night, and look, it’s almost solid cloud up above, and the wind’s in the north-west ...’
‘Hey, you’re usually the realist around here. Just taking a leaf ...’
‘Well you can take this instead!’
And a furious pillow fight ensued.
That gave them an appetite for an early breakfast. Then they booked a room in a central Toronto hotel, for at least one night. Their car arrived at eight-thirty, and the receptionist waved them off with a warming ‘Have a nice day!’ They threw their bags in the trunk, and for the first time since meeting in Columbia they went on the road together.
* * *
Just over an hour later they had parked the car and were standing on the viewing platform at the U.S. end of the Rainbow Bridge over the stupendous river gorge, captivated by the force and the spray of the roaring, foaming American Falls.
‘Yeah. So beautiful. So natural. But you knew I was gonna say that, right?’
‘Of course I did. I think I have the measure of you now, Ms Bay!’
‘Don’t count on it, sunshine ...’
‘OK, maybe I’m wrong. We’re going to just stay quietly here together and enjoy it, are we? You’re not about to launch into another speech on ...’
‘Be careful, Toni.’
But it was Maelene’s turn to take the hint, and she did. And Toni had a vague feeling that he had not played things as well as he might have, so he kept his own head down too.
A couple of minutes later, however, their deafening shared silence was suddenly broken.
‘You know,’ said an Englishman standing quite close to them, ‘you get much better views from the Canadian side.’
‘Yeah, thanks — my uncle told me that once. That’s where we’re going right now!’
They walked to the car and drove back to Rainbow Bridge. They were waved straight through the American border, and their passports were examined only briefly as they entered Canada.
‘My uncle said you get the very best views by just pulling up on the River Road ...’
But there was definitively no parking at the roadside, and several traffic policemen were ensuring it stayed that way.
‘When exactly did your uncle come here, honey?’
‘Ah. It was his Dad, actually — about twenty years ago.’
‘Right. So we need another ...’
‘I’m on the case, Toni!’
It took them a long time to park, and as they negotiated their way back, Maelene became increasingly annoyed and embarrassed by the obviously huge expansion in tourist services of all kinds since her relative had visited this side of the Falls. She even found herself apologising to Toni for it. In particular, she told him as they hurried along in the chilly drizzle, the large number of new high-rise hotels represented, for her, a scandalous blot on this wondrous landscape. Toni tried twice to persuade her that, really, he had hardly noticed any of it. His honestly-given reassurances did not, of course, either impress or relieve her.
But when they finally reached the very best viewing point, they both knew it had been worth the effort, and the lady’s righteous indignation was eclipsed by the awesome spectacle before their eyes. To their left the American Falls were now revealed in all their raw power and glory, while to their right the sweeping, majestic curve of the Horseshoe Falls showcased a cloud-like vortex of fine mist, and above it shone a vivid, perfect rainbow.
‘Honey, I’m really grateful for all the wonderful trips you’re organising for us.’
Maelene smiled broadly and gave him a big kiss, and Toni’s subconscious learnt another tiny lesson on how to treat a lady.
‘My pleasure, baby.’
‘Actually, I’m surprised you haven’t been to all these exotic places already yourself, as part of your geology degree ...’
‘Hah! Families can only do so much on a regular wage, Toni. My parents aren’t well-paid professionals like yours. I was lucky to go to college at all. And my Mom and Dad both needed medical treatment when I was in my teens — nothing serious, but that stuff costs a lot of money over here — so there was never anything to spare for the big, exciting field trips. But I did all the research I needed in the Carolinas and Georgia, and I’ll have you know I picked up a very fine degree too!’
‘I bet you did ...’
‘And a fine job to follow — working for a very fine man!’
‘I know. I give in. But haven’t you thought about an adventure or two since you started earning good money yourself?’
‘Ah, you’ve cornered me now, baby. Unlike you, I don’t travel well alone.’
‘I didn’t mean alone. Any guy would love your company!’
‘You’re very sweet, Toni, but you’re wrong. I’ve never stuck with anyone for more than a few weeks. No, scratch that — no-one’s ever stuck with me. I reckon it’s ’cos I always say what I think, and I usually take the lead and get things organised, and all that stuff. I can’t help it. And most guys can’t handle it. So after a while they tell me they still think I’m real cute, and they’ve had a real good time, and “sorry Missy Bay, but now I’m on my way” ...’
‘You must be joking!’
‘Nope. And believe me, Toni, I’m not stupid enough to beg anybody like that to stay!’
‘But I’ve known you for more than three weeks already, and I’m very happy ...’
‘Why d’ya think I’m still smiling on this cold and rainy day, Mr Blue Sky?’
They found somewhere warm nearby for a relaxed and carefree early lunch, then hit the road for Toronto soon after one o’clock.
Lucia continued to keep her own invisible counsel.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd