Reading a book on famous Great Lakes
Shipwrecks in the sparse light from above that doesn't cover her
reading area at all, Sheila looks out the window to the sinking sun
over the ground which all looks blue. She stretches, blinks. Her mother
has cancer and she's taking the plane home to visit her in Hancock
County Hospital. She hasn't heard the details yet—it's
all very new, apparently—but that it is somewhere in her mother's
stomach, working its way either in or out.
She doesn't really know much about
cancer except the name itself often means death, from what she's heard
or read, though her friends have been reassuring her that it's very
often treatable, and her brother at home has said that he's not worried.
Though she knows better. He was elongating his vowels too much when
they were talking—under all his "don't worrys" and hilarious
anecdotes, there was a well of calm nervousness that echoed his words—dark
and so clear.
The magazines on this flight were all
useless, so she asked the man sitting next to her for a book—any
book—to read, since he had a stack. She said she was dyslexic.
He was obliging. He had a mustache which needed trimming.
She's read halfway through the shipwrecks
book, though she can't decide if it's actually interesting
or not. She suspects not, but keeps reading because it's getting
dark outside and she's trying to avoid thinking about what she
might find when she gets home—her mother hooked up to machines
with floating needles and green electronic readout screens. Sheila's
seen these before and they're almost scarier than the illness
itself. Science has found ways to transform the body into data, she
remembers thinking, seeing the EKG on her grandmother ping and ping
again, and then, out of the room on the linoleum hallway floor, she
was told it had finally dropped to nothing. There was a dullness in
the air that felt like it had substance itself. Death, reported by computer,
backed up by printouts. Her grandmother's collection of last moments
stored on magnetic tape, hard disk, or optical media. Everything being
fed into machines, blood circulating through filters and pneumatic pumps,
and back into the body.
Exactly the kind of contemplation she's
been trying to avoid, she says. Her voice surprises her. She gets back
to reading about the wreck of the Three Brothers:
The Three Brothers met her fate on September
27th, 1911 while hauling $4200 worth of hardwood from Boyne City to
Chicago. Just out of Boyne City, the vessel began to leak more than
usual due to heavy weather and the water soon overwhelmed her pumps.
The water quickly rose to a level of eight feet, flooding her hold
and coal bunkers, which forced the firemen to fuel her with kerosene
to keep her steam up. In this condition, Captain Sam Christopher chose
to run her ashore on South Manitou Island. At full steam, the
Three Brothers plowed ashore 200 yards east of the lifesaving
station. Upon impact, she split her bow open and knocked her pilot
house loose. However, her bow was still in 15 ft. of water, and she
was in nearly 50 ft. of water aft. The waves began to scatter her
deckload of lumber and she was soon spotted by Captain Kent and the
crew of the lifesaving station who took off Captain Christopher and
his 13 crewmen. The weather was such that the men chose to leave many
of their personal effects on the ship. The crew lodged with the lifesavers
until they were taken off by the wrecking tug Favorite. The
Favorite was unable to dislodge the vessel from the beach
and she was judged to be beyond salvage value. Some hardware was removed
from the Three Brothers, but when salvagers returned for
her boilers the next year she was already under water.
There are two kinds of shipwrecks, she thinks to
herself, offers up one thought that spins like a coin on a hardwood
floor: ones you leave, and ones you don't. As she passes over
Traverse City and the land falls away behind her, yielding to the wide
expanse of Lake Michigan, Sheila thinks of her mother and everything
that lies ahead, looks up from the pages in front of her, stretches
out, suspended above the choppy water that from up here looks solid
as a table.